From Hamlet OnLine
Jump to: navigation, search

Francisco is one of the Danish army sentinels. He is the first character on stage.


Francisco is on watch duty at the beginning of the play. He is relieved at midnight, actually soon after midnight, by Bernardo.

Francisco is apparently not of very high rank, or he would not have been assigned to nighttime guard duty. However, he must be of high enough rank to be considered fully loyal and trustworthy, and able to carry out important assignments on his own. The sentinel duty is vital, as Denmark fears attack from Fortinbrasse's forces from Norway, an attack which could come at any time (that's why the watch is being kept.) In modern terms, it means Francisco has to be more than a private, but almost certainly less than a captain. He could be anything from a corporal to a lieutenant, with the rank of sergeant (as the modern equivalent) a fair bet.

Francisco is called "honest soldier" by Marcellus, which means "true soldier." Marcellus compliments Francisco as a "true soldier" because Francisco behaves correctly, as a military man, when he issues the challenge even after he has been replaced on duty. A "true soldier" does his duty even when he's off duty.

An important observation about Francisco, in relation to the play events, is that he does not know of the Ghost. He has neither seen it, nor been told of it. Those facts follow directly from the dialogue. Common sense provides solid support for those conclusions, as well. Francisco simply leaves, after Bernardo arrives. If Francisco knew of the Ghost, he would want to stay and see it again, along with the others. To think otherwise is to deny Francisco normal human curiosity, but the play is supposed to present natural persons, to the extent that goal can be achieved in a fictional composition like Hamlet. Shakespeare had Hamlet speak to that point directly, that a play performance should appear natural, when Hamlet talks to the Players before the 'Mousetrap Play.' To suppose Francisco knows of the Ghost, but just walks away from a chance to see it, is to view him as a very unnatural fellow. Francisco's ignorance of the Ghost is a mark of how closely Bernardo and Marcellus have held the secret that they've seen it. Secrecy is a motif of the play, and it begins there, early in the first Scene.

  • Costume - military. He should be costumed either as a higher-level noncom, or as a lower-level commissioned officer. He should probably carry a partisan, as Marcellus does.


The name, Francisco, is not at all Danish. It can be seen as either Italianate, or Spanish. The name probably carried over from an older source play which contributed to Shakespeare's Hamlet, that earlier play being set in Italy. Shakespeare may have kept the name because researching correct Danish names was more trouble than it was worth, for a character who appeared only at the start and so briefly. Also, since Hamlet is a "mad" play, there's a kind of appropriateness for a Danish character to "madly" have a name associated with a different country, which leaves even less reason for Shakespeare to have changed it.

It is possible that the names Francisco and Bernardo are based ultimately on Saint Francis and Saint Bernard.

First Quarto

In the First Quarto publication, 1603, the character corresponding to Francisco is given only the numeral 1 as a speech prefix. The name, Francisco, is not used. The reason is probably that the playing company for whom the First Quarto was printed intended to change the name, but had not yet decided on a replacement.


Significant lines spoken by Francisco:

  • I am sick at heart - the first instance of the Heart Motif. Also, this line has astonishingly far-reaching significance. The line also has the first instance of the Disease Motif, simply from its use of the word "sick."
  • Not a mouse stirring - first instance of the Mouse Motif.

Themes and Motifs

BOOKMARK complete these links

Those most relevant to Francisco's character and dialogue:

Heart, Duty, Mouse, Ear/Hearing.

Though sick at heart Francisco is still on duty, he speaks of mouse, and he expressly mentions hearing.

On Stage

Francisco appears in: Scene 1, only.

© 2014 Jeffrey Paul Jordan

All rights reserved. See the Copyright page for further information.