Saturday 3 October 2015

Hamlet ~ Act I, Scene I

We have begun Hamlette's read-along of Hamlet for the month of October!  I'm happy to be guided by such an expert (she'll tell you that she's not an expert, but I'd hazard to guess that she has more understanding than most of us) through this play and I can't wait to learn some more insights into Shakespeare's masterpiece.  You can find the details at The Edge of the Precipice.


Hamlet  ~  Act I,  Scene I

As Horatio replaces Fransisco at his place as sentinel, the two other sentinels, Barnardo and Marcellus try to convince him that a ghost has appeared to them the last two nights while on watch. As they attempt to persuade the sceptic, the Ghost appears and Horatio, being the more learned of the three, attempts to communicate with him, in rather stern and commanding language, whereupon the Ghost disappears.

They recognize him as the late king Hamlet and wonder why he appears to them in his armour.  Horatio speculates with a story:  the late king defeated and killed king Fortinbras of Norway after an aggresive attack, yet his son is not honouring the tradition of lands to the winner, and it is rumoured that he's going to gather some mercenaries and mount an attack against Denmark. The two now understand why the Ghost has appeared in battle gear and add that, like in ancient Rome in the times before Caesar's death, there has been portents proceeding this possible altercation.

Yet once again the Ghost materializes, and Horatio has enough quickness and intelligence to question it about the fate of Denmark and to inquire if it knows of any treasure hoarded away.  The cock crows and, despite their efforts to waylay it with Marcellus' sword, the Ghost, once again, withdraws.

Marcellus laments that they chose to practice violence on it, but Horatio states that a cock crowing could signal the approach of morning and that all spirits must return to their "confine(s)".  It is said a cock also crows before Christmas, Marcellus adds, but Horatio stops him to herald the dawn:

"But look, morn, in russet mantle clad, 
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill."

He suggests that they fetch Hamlet for they are sure that the Ghost will speak with him.


Horatio's initial disbelief, and then his first encounter with the ghost, starts the building tension in this scene.  He is obviously the most intelligent and sensible of the three, as his surmises and observations are well reasoned and insightful and he recommends fetching Hamlet.

Listening to the Cock (1944)
Marc Chagall
source Wikiart
A parallel between the former battle with Fortinbras and a possible new fight with his son, also called Fortinbras, can be conjectured by the Ghost king's appearance in battle array.  It's also possibly important to note that he first appears to the sentinels.  Yet he declines to speak with them.  Is he put off by their manners, or is he wanting conversation with someone else, and, if so, why didn't he just appear to the person with whom he wishes to speak?

Importance might also be placed on the parallels between Fortinbras and his son, and king Hamlet and his son. With regard to Fortinbras Jr., already he has broken the traditional and honourable actions of forfeiting lands to the battle victor by legal document. And instead of raising an army from among his country's soldiers, he has chosen to build an army from among the city's hooligans.  Fortinbras Sr. & King Hamlet both esteemed obedience to tradition, honour and, to a certain degree, trust.  Fortinbras Jr.'s actions have shown disrespect and contempt, not only towards his enemy, but towards those important customs.  What will Hamlet's actions prove?

The cock crowing is also a significant occurrence.  Certainly, cocks crow to herald a new day, but more importantly, in the New Testament, a cock crowed to portend the betrayal of Jesus by Peter:

"Truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."  Matthew 26:34

Betrayal just has to be an upcoming theme, but betrayal of whom and why?  We shall find out in the upcoming acts!

Hamlet Read-Along Posts

Act I  Scene I


  1. Again, I love your bringing out the relation of the cock's crowing to betrayal. Nicely done!

    One quick thing -- Horatio isn't part the guard. He's just tagging along because the guards know he's a smart and learned man, and they want his help and advice.

    1. Thanks, Hamlette! So with regard to Horatio, it says, "If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, the rivals of my watch .....", so I assumed that Horatio "competes" for the same position and it's a friendly way of introducing him (and Marcellus) as another guard. But Barnardo replaces Francisco, and what you say does make sense because he appears to be a friend of Hamlet's. Would a Prince have a guard as a friend? Seems unlikely.

      I'm reading a No Fear Shakespeare because I discovered that I don't have Hamlet in my beloved RSC editions. What a terrible oversight that I must rectify! ;-) I sometimes wonder if the text is missing something with the No Fear versions.

    2. I actually haven't tried a No Fear version, except I do own the No Fear Hamlet graphic novel. Is it paraphrased into more modern English, or does it present both? Is it basically like this?

      Horatio seems to be not actually from Denmark, or at least not familiar with the ways of the castle. He says in this scene that he's a "friend to this ground," not a "liegeman to the Dane" like the others. And he later asks Hamlet questions about customs. He seems to have been somewhat familiar with King Hamlet, but maybe just he'd visited Elsinore with Hamlet during a school break, long enough to meet some of these guards and see the king a few times, but not often enough to really be familiar with Danish ways? That's my personal take.

    3. I think the No Fear is reasonably accurate, but I feel more comfortable with the RSC versions.

      Thanks for the further information! I'll be sure to pay close attention to Horatio.

    4. I saw a copy of the No Fear Much Ado About Nothing at the thrift store yesterday and flipped through it, as I'm also fairly familiar with that play, and it did seem to be the same text I'm used to, so I'm guessing it's pretty accurate.

      BTW, some readers do think Horatio is from Denmark -- I don't know if there's any consensus on it. I feel like there are too many things he says that point toward him being an "other" for him to be a Dane, but that's my reading. I'll be interested to find out if you agree or disagree!