Act 1, Scene 1 The play opens in Denmark as midnight strikes at Elsinore Castle. Horatio, a scholar, and Marcellus, a sentinel, join Barnardo's nighttime watch. From their guard-post, Marcellus and Barnardo have twice witnessed a mysterious phantom roaming the royal lands. Marcellus anxiously asks Barnardo whether or not "'the dreaded sight twice seen of us....'" Act 1, Scene 1, line 23 has again appeared tonight. A skeptical student, Horatio was invited to the watch for two reasons: to verify the guards' ghost story; and to speak with the apparition if it should appear for a third time.
Soon dispelling Horatio's doubts, the dread ghost enters in complete armor. The warlike ghost wears its beaver raised and bears a truncheon in its fist. Fear struck, Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo realize that the armored spook closely resembles the recently deceased King Hamlet. Horatio speaks to the spirit, but the ghost stalks away in silence.
Troubled by the raised spirit of King Hamlet, Horatio warns the guards that "'This bodes some strange eruption to our state.'" The present commotion, Horatio reasons, must be the result of recent quarrels with young Fortinbras of Norway. In the past, King Fortinbras challenged King Hamlet to a battle over disputed territory. The two monarchs mutually agreed that the loser's land would be forfeited to the winner. Hamlet slew Fortinbras and accordingly acquired Fortinbras' lands. Young Fortinbras, intent on recovering his father's lost land, has since gathered a rabble of fighters to challenge Denmark. Barnardo agrees that Fortinbras' impending assault must be the cause of the current disturbance. As evidence, he points out that the ghost wears the very armor which King Hamlet wore to defeat old Fortinbras.
The ghost suddenly reappears with spread arms. Horatio pleads with it to speak while the guards attempt to halt it with useless blows. When the crowing rooster signals the coming of morning, the armored spirit quickly retreats. Horatio suspects that the phantom king will break its silence only to young Hamlet. He quickly resolves to tell Prince Hamlet of his father's wandering ghost. Act 1, Scene 2 Speaking to his assembled council, King Claudius mourns the recent death of King Hamlet, his brother. At the same time, he rejoices in his speedy marriage to Queen Gertrude, his widowed sister-in-law. Claudius dispatches Valtemand and Cornelius to Norway with a letter instructing the King to suppress young Fortinbras' advances against Denmark. Laertes, dutifully visiting Denmark for King Claudius' coronation, seeks Claudius' permission to return to France. Claudius complies with Laertes' wish as a favor to Polonius, his highly-valued advisor who is also Laertes' father.
King Claudius calls out to Prince Hamlet, affectionately referring to him as both cousin and son. Bitter that his uncle has married his mother so soon after his real father's death, Hamlet grumbles darkly, "'A little more than kin and less than kind.'"
… passes through Denmark on its way to fight Poland. Hamlet criticizes himself for his inaction. Compared to Fortinbras, who takes action readily against Poland for a trivial piece of land, Hamlet feels like an idle coward. Hamlet vows to think of nothing but avenging his father's murder, saying, "'O, from this time forth / My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!'" Act 4, Scene 4, lines 95-96.
… returns victorious from Poland and passes through Denmark during the royal massacre. Hamlet uses his dying voice to support Fortinbras as the next elected monarch of Denmark. Minor Characters
Ghost of King Hamlet: The unsettled spirit of Denmark's late king. The Ghost appears at midnight, stalking the royal grounds in the armor King Hamlet wore during his battles with Fortinbras. The phantom king remains…
… midnight air, Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus resume their ghost watch. A rowdy party hosted by the drunken King Claudius reels in the background. Suddenly, the spirit appears and Hamlet breathlessly prays, "'Angels and ministers of grace defend us!'" Act 1, Scene 4, line 20 The young Prince begs the phantom to reveal what discord robs his father's soul of peace. The ghost beckons Prince Hamlet to follow…
… Claudius that Queen Gertrude speak to her son about the matter in private.
Act 3, Scene 2 Hamlet warns the players not to overdo their upcoming performance. The Prince commends Horatio for his honesty and asks him to closely watch King Claudius during the play. If Claudius appears uncomfortable during the murder scene, Hamlet and Horatio will both know that the Ghost was truthful and that Claudius is…
… city arrives in Denmark. Pushed out of the theaters by newly popular companies of boy-actors, the troupe has resorted to traveling performances. Hamlet hires the players to perform 'The Mousetrap' before the royal audience. Mirroring Claudius' assassination of King Hamlet, the play depicts the murder of Duke Gonzago in Vienna by the villain Lucianus. Like Claudius, the player Lucianus pours poison…
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