Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1 Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Setting the Scene
  • 1:23 Ghostly Apparition
  • 2:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

In this lesson, we will discuss Act 1, Scene 1 of ''Hamlet,'' in which we are introduced to the backstory of the play by seeing Horatio encounter the ghost of Hamlet's father.

Setting the Scene

What could grab an audience's attention better than to begin a play with a ghost who hints at something being amiss? This is what William Shakespeare does in Hamlet. The play begins with a climactic and significant moment where Horatio, Hamlet's friend from school, encounters the ghost of King Hamlet, Hamlet's father who died before the events of the play began. Horatio, upon seeing the ghost and trying to talk to it, concludes that the ghost's appearance is a warning of military hardships for the future of Denmark and thinks the ghost will speak to Hamlet.

Act 1, Scene 1 opens with two guards, Bernardo and Francisco, trading posts at Elsinore Castle in Denmark at midnight. Francisco, the guard being relieved, says, ''For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart,'' letting the audience know that the play begins in the winter. Horatio and Marcellus, another watchman of Elsinore, enter the scene and the watchmen convince Horatio to watch with them to see if the ghost reappears. Horatio scoffs at the watchmen, not believing the ghost is real, to which Bernardo replies, ''…let us once again assail your ears, / That are so fortified against our story / What we have two nights seen.'' While Bernardo is telling the disbelieving Horatio about the ghost they had seen for two nights, the ghost enters the scene.

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