As the play begins, sentinels are keeping watch on a platform outside the Castle, on a chilly night, at midnight. Francisco is on duty. Bernardo approaches to relieve him, sees Francisco as a shape in the darkness, stops and cries out, "Who's there?" The darkness and the mystery, of "who's there," set an ominous tone. Francisco goes off duty as Horatio and Marcellus arrive. Horatio has been told of a Ghost, but is skeptical, and has accompanied Marcellus to see for himself.
A Ghost appears that looks exactly like the recently-deceased King of Denmark, King Hamlet. The Ghost reacts to the men, but doesn't speak, and it vanishes into the darkness. The men discuss a military buildup in Denmark in response to Fortinbrasse recruiting an army in Norway. Although Fortinbrasse's army is supposedly for use against Poland, they fear he may attack Denmark to get revenge for his father's death, and reclaim land his father lost to King Hamlet. They wonder if the Ghost is an omen of disaster for Denmark, and they decide to tell Prince Hamlet about it.
|Ghost first entry #045-SD,||Ghost second entry #135-SD|
Jump down to the Notes.
Scene 1 [ ~ Who's There? ~ ] (Act 1 Scene 1)
#01-Setting: Elsinore Castle, the capital of Denmark; A guard post at a cannon platform outside the Castle wall; The Castle looms ominously in the background; A chilly night, under a partly cloudy sky; A distant church bell is tolling midnight.
#01-000-SD (Francisco and Bernardo enter)
#01-001 Bernardo: Who's there? Who's there? #01-002 Francisco: Nay, answer me! Stand and unfold yourself! No, answer to me! Stand forth and show yourself! #01-003 Bernardo: Long live the King! Long live the King! #01-004 Francisco: Bernardo? Bernardo? #01-005 Bernardo: He. That's me. #01-006 Francisco: You come most carefully upon your hour. You've arrived on time, but you approached with the greatest care. #01-007 Bernardo: 'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco. The bell has rung twelve, so go get some sleep, Francisco. #01-008 Francisco: For this relief, much thanks; 'tis bitter cold, Many thanks for relieving me; it's bitingly cold, #01-009 And I am sick at heart. and I feel heartsick. #01-010 Bernardo: Have you had quiet guard? Has your watch been uneventful? #01-011 Francisco: Not a mouse stirring. Not even a mouse stirring. #01-012 Bernardo: Well, good night; #01-012-SD (Francisco starts walking toward the Castle) Well, good night. #01-013 If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, If you happen to meet Horatio and Marcellus, #01-014 The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste. The sharers of my watch duty, tell them to hurry. #01-014-SD (Horatio and Marcellus enter, from the direction of the Castle) #01-015 Francisco: I think I hear them; stand ho, who is there? I think I hear them. Hey, stop! Who's there? #01-016 Horatio: Friends to this ground. Friends to this place. #01-017 Marcellus: And liegemen to the Dane. And loyal servants of the King of Denmark. #01-018 Francisco: Give you good night. I wish you good night. #01-019 Marcellus: Oh . . . farewell, honest soldier; who has relieved you? Oh . . . goodbye, true soldier - who has relieved you? #01-020 Francisco: Bernardo has my place; give you good night. Bernardo has taken my place, good night. #01-020-SD (Francisco exits) #01-021 Marcellus: Holla, Bernardo. Hello, Bernardo. #01-022 Bernardo: Say . . . what, is Horatio there? Say . . . Oh, is that Horatio with you? #01-023 Horatio: A piece of him. In body, but not in spirit. #01-024 Bernardo: Welcome, Horatio; welcome, good Marcellus. Welcome, Horatio, and welcome good man, Marcellus. #01-025 Horatio: What, has this thing appeared again tonight? Tell me, has that thing appeared again, tonight? #01-026 Bernardo: I have seen nothing. I haven't seen anything. #01-027 Marcellus: Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy, Horatio says it's only our imagination, #01-028 And will not let belief take hold of him And will not let the belief grip him, #01-029 Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us; Concerning this fearful thing we have seen twice. #01-030 Therefore, I have entreated him along, Therefore, I have implored him to come along, #01-031 With us, to watch the minutes of this night, To watch through the hours of the night, with us, #01-032 That if again this apparition come So if this apparition appears again, #01-033 He may approve our eyes, and speak to it. He may agree our eyes are good, and he may speak to it. #01-034 Horatio: Tush, tush, 'twill not appear. Nonsense, it won't appear. #01-035 Bernardo: Sit down a while Have a seat for a while, Horatio, #01-036 And let us, once again, assail your ears And, once again, let's assault your ears #01-037 That are so fortified against our story, Which are so fortified with skepticism about our story, by telling you #01-038 What we two nights have seen. What we have seen the last two nights. #01-039 Horatio: Well, sit we down, #01-039-SD (Horatio sits back on a cannon) Alright, "we" will sit down, in kingly style, #01-040 And let us hear Bernardo speak of this. And let "us" hear Bernardo talk about this subject. #01-041 Bernardo: Last night of all, It was just last night, #01-042 When yond same star that's westward from the pole, When that same star, yonder, that's westward from the North Star #01-043 Had made his course t'illume that part of heaven Had moved to light up that part of the heavens #01-044 Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself, Where you see it shining now, Marcellus and I, #01-045 The bell then beating one . . . As the bell was tolling one . . . #01-045-SD (the Ghost enters) #01-046 Marcellus: Peace, break thee off; look where it comes again! Please, stop talking, there it comes again! #01-047 Bernardo: In the same figure like the King that's dead. It has the same appearance we saw before, like our former King, who's dead. #01-048 Marcellus: Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio. You're an educated and fluent man, Horatio, speak to it. #01-049 Bernardo: Looks he not like the King? Mark it, Horatio. Doesn't he look just like King Hamlet? Observe it, Horatio. #01-050 Horatio: Most like; it harrows me with fear and wonder. It looks just like him! It overwhelms me with fear and wonder. #01-051 Bernardo: It would be spoke to. It wants to be spoken to. #01-052 Marcellus: Speak to it, Horatio! Speak to it, Horatio! #01-053 Horatio: What art thou that usurp'st this time of night What are you, that improperly intrudes at this time of night, #01-054 Together with that fair and warlike form Clad in that handsome and warlike costume, #01-055 In which the Majesty of buried Denmark In which his Majesty, the buried King of Denmark, #01-056 Did sometimes march? By Heaven, I charge thee, speak! Did march into battle In earlier times? By Heaven, I adjure you: speak! #01-057 Marcellus: It is offended. It's offended. #01-058 Bernardo: See, it stalks away. Look, it strides away, in silence. #01-059 Horatio: Stay, speak! Speak, I charge thee, speak! Stand still, speak! Speak, I entreat you, speak! #01-059-SD (the Ghost exits) #01-060 Marcellus: 'Tis gone, and will not answer. It's gone, and won't answer. #01-061 Bernardo: How now, Horatio, you tremble and look pale; What does it mean, Horatio? I see you're trembling and pale. #01-062 Is not this something more than fantasy? Isn't this something more than our imaginations? #01-063 What think you on it? What do you think about it? #01-064 Horatio: Before my God, I might not this believe I vow before God, I would not have believed it #01-065 Without the sensible and true avouch Without the direct perception and true affirmation #01-066 Of mine own eyes. Of my own eyes. #01-067 Marcellus: Is it not like the King? Isn't it like our late King? #01-068 Horatio: As thou art to thyself. The same as you are like yourself. #01-069 Such was the very armor he had on That's exactly like the armor he was wearing #01-070 When he the ambitious Norway combated; When he battled the ambitious King Norway. #01-071 So frowned he once, when in an angry parley He frowned like that once, when, in an angry confrontation, #01-072 He smote the sleaded pollax on the ice. He defeated a well-arrayed Polish army, on an icy battlefield. #01-073 'Tis strange. It is strange. #01-074 Marcellus: Thus, twice before, and jump at this dead hour, In that way, twice before, and precisely at this silent hour of the night, #01-075 With martial stalk, hath he gone by our watch. With a military stride he has passed by our sentinel post. #01-076 Horatio: In what particular thought to work, I know not; I don't know what to think about it, in particular. #01-077 But in the gross and scope of mine opinion, But in the extent of my opinion, as far as I can see, #01-078 This bodes some strange eruption to our state. It forebodes some strange outbreak in our state. #01-079 Marcellus: Good, now sit down, and tell me, he that knows: I agree. Now sit down again, Horatio, and tell me, Mr. Know-it-all, #01-080 Why this same strict and most observant watch Why this very strict and highly observant watch duty #01-081 So nightly toils the subject of the land, Thusly oversees the landscape every night. #01-082 And why such daily cost of brazen cannon And why there's such daily expense for brass cannons #01-083 And foreign mart, for implements of war; And in foreign trade, to buy equipment for war? #01-084 Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task Why so much employment of shipbuilders, whose hard work #01-085 Does not divide the Sunday from the week; Continues on Sunday the same as on weekdays? #01-086 What might be toward, that this sweaty haste What may lie ahead, such that this feverish speed of military buildup #01-087 Doth make the night joint laborer with the day; Has to make men work as hard at night as in the daytime? #01-088 Who is it that can inform me? Who is the person that can tell me? #01-089 Horatio: That can I; I can tell you about it, or #01-090 At least the whisper goes so: our last King, At least I can tell you the rumor I've heard. Our late King, #01-091 Whose image even but now appeared to us, Whose image appeared before us just now, #01-092 Was, as you know, by Fortinbrasse of Norway, Was, as you know, by the Elder Fortinbrasse of Norway - #01-093 Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride, Who was spurred by a highly ambitious ego - #01-094 Dared to the combat, in which our valiant Hamlet, Challenged to a single combat. In that combat our valiant Hamlet, #01-095 (For so this side of our known world esteemed him,) (I say "valiant" since he was so honored in our part of the world,) #01-096 Did slay this Fortinbrasse, who, by a sealed compact Killed that Elder Fortinbrasse - who, by an official, sealed agreement #01-097 Well ratified by law and heraldy, Amply supported by law and tradition, #01-098 Did forfeit (with his life) all these, his lands, Lost, when he died, all of these, his lands #01-099 Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror; Which he rightly possessed, to the victor, our King Hamlet. #01-100 Against the which, a moiety competent Against the land wagered by the Elder Fortinbrasse, an equal value of land #01-101 Was gaged by our King, which had return Was pledged by our King Hamlet, which was a gain #01-102 To the inheritance of Fortinbrasse For the estate of the Elder Fortinbrasse #01-103 Had he been vanquisher; as by the same covenant, If he had been the victor. But by that same formal contract I mentioned, #01-104 And carriage of the article design, And the carrying out of the agreement's terms, #01-105 His fell to Hamlet; now, sir, young Fortinbrasse, Fortinbrasse's land fell into the possession of King Hamlet. Now then, sir, Young Fortinbrasse #01-106 Of unimproved mettle, hot and full, Whose character is no better than his father, fervent and full of ambitious pride, #01-107 Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there, Has gone around the outskirts of Norway, here and there, and #01-108 Sharked up a list of landless resolutes Scavenged up a group of mercenaries #01-109 For food and diet to some enterprise To feed into and nourish some enterprise #01-110 That hath a stomach in't; which is no other, Of the hungrily ambitious kind - which is nothing else, (or #01-111 As it doth well appear unto our state, So it very well looks like it, to us in Denmark) #01-112 But to recover of us by strong hand Except to get back from us, by brute force, #01-113 And terms compulsatory, those 'foresaid lands And under compulsory terms, the aforementioned land, #01-114 So by his father lost; and this, I take it, That his father lost, as I described. And this, as I take it, #01-115 Is the main motive of our preparations, Is the primary motivation for our preparations, #01-116 The source of this, our watch, and the chief head The cause of this watch duty, and the principal reason #01-117 Of this posthaste and 'Romeage' in the land. For this urgency and stockpiling in our country. #01-118 Bernardo: I think it be no other, but even so, Yes, I think it's that, and nothing else, but even so, #01-119 Well may it sort, that this portentous figure Will things sort out well, after this ominous figure has #01-120 Comes armed through our watch, so like the King Appeared in armor during our watch, looking so much like the King #01-121 That was and is the question of these wars? That we used to have, and that now raises the issue of these wars? #01-122 Horatio: A moth it is to trouble the mind's eye; It's as unpredictable as a moth, and it puzzles my ability to foresee. #01-123 In the most high and palmy state of Rome, In the great and flourishing empire of ancient Rome, #01-124 A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, Shortly before the high and mighty Julius Caesar died, #01-125 The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead The graves were empty, while the shrouded dead #01-126 Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets, Shrieked and babbled in the Roman streets, #01-127 As stars with trains of fire, and dews of blood, Likewise fiery meteors, and dews of blood, #01-128 Disasters in the sun, and the moist star, Sunspots, and the watery moon, #01-129 Upon whose influence Neptune's Empire stands, Upon whose tidal power the "empire" of the ocean rises, #01-130 Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse; Was sick almost to death with eclipse. #01-131 And even the like precurse of fear events, And very similar precursors of fearful events, #01-132 As harbingers preceding still the fates, Like harbingers always foreshadowing the fates of men, #01-133 And prologue to the omen coming on, And a prologue to the ominous outcome, #01-134 Have heaven and earth together demonstrated Have been shown both on the earth and in the heavens #01-135 Unto our climatures and countrymen. #01-135-SD (the Ghost enters) In our own region, and to the people of our own country. #01-136 But soft, behold! Lo, where it comes again. But, quiet, look there! Take heed, where it approaches again. #01-137 I'll cross it though it blast me; stay, illusion! I'll intercept it even though it may blight me. Stop, apparition! #01-137-SD (Horatio steps in front of the Ghost and spreads his arms; the Ghost stops and also spreads its arms) (Horatio continues): #01-138 If thou hast any sound or use of voice, If you have the sound of a voice, or can make use of a voice, #01-139 Speak to me, if there be any good thing to be done Speak to me! If there is some good thing which can be done #01-140 That may to thee do ease, and grace to me, To help you rest in peace, and which would be a blessing for me, #01-141 Speak to me! Speak to me and tell me! #01-142 If thou art privy to thy country's fate If you have secret knowledge of your country's fate #01-143 Which happily foreknowing may avoid, Which knowing about might help us, fortunately and happily, to avoid, #01-144 Oh, speak! Oh, speak it! #01-145 Or, if thou hast uphoarded in thy life Or, if you hoarded during your life, and have the #01-146 Extorted treasure in the womb of earth - Treasure you wrested from the world buried somewhere in the earth - #01-147 For which they say your spirits oft' walk in death - #01-147-SD (a cock crows) Which is why, they say, a spirit will often appear after someone dies - #01-148 Speak of it. Stay and speak! Stop it, Marcellus! Speak of that. Wait and speak! Make it halt, Marcellus! #01-149 Marcellus: Shall I strike at it with my partisan? Should I try to hit it with my partisan? #01-150 Horatio: Do, if it will not stand. #01-150-SD (the Ghost flies!) Yes, try that if it won't stop. #01-151 Bernardo: 'Tis here! It's over here! #01-152 Horatio: 'Tis here! #01-152-SD (the Ghost exits) Now it's here! #01-153 Marcellus: 'Tis gone; It's gone now. #01-154 We do it wrong being so majestical, We've done it wrong, since it's so majestic like our late King, #01-155 To offer it the show of violence; To act violently toward it. #01-156 For it is as the air, invulnerable, Also, it's like the air, and cannot be harmed, #01-157 And our vain blows malicious mockery. And our vain strikes at it were only a bad imitation of an attack. #01-158 Bernardo: It was about to speak when the cock crew. It was about to speak when the rooster crowed. #01-159 Horatio: And then it started like a guilty thing, And it was startled by the noise, like a guilty man #01-160 Upon a fearful summons; I have heard, Who receives a legal summons he fears. I have heard tell, in folklore, #01-161 The cock that is the trumpet to the morn, That the rooster, the announcer of the morning, #01-162 Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat Calls with his high, shrill noise, to #01-163 Awake the god of day, and at his warning, Awaken the god of daytime; and upon hearing that alarm, #01-164 Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air, Whether a ghost happens to be in sea or fire, in earth or in air, #01-165 The extravagant and erring spirit hies The wandering and straying spirit hurries away #01-166 To his confine, and of the truth herein, To his enclosure. As to the truth of this idea, #01-167 This present object made probation. This thing presented to us put it to the proof. #01-168 Marcellus: It faded on the crowing of the cock; It did fade away when the rooster crowed. #01-169 Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Some say that just before the season arrives, #01-170 Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated, During which our Savior's birth is celebrated, #01-171 This bird of dawning singeth all night long, The rooster crows all night long, #01-172 And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, And then, so they say, no ghost dares to move abroad, #01-173 The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, The nights are wholesome, and then no planets afflict men's minds, #01-174 No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, No fairy casts a spell, and no witch has the power to bewitch, #01-175 So hallowed and so gracious is that time. So holy and so benevolent is that time. #01-176 Horatio: So have I heard, and do in part believe it; I have heard that, too, and I do partly believe it. #01-177 But look, the morn in russet mantle clad, But look how the red glow of the morning #01-178 Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill; Moves over the dew of that high eastern hill yonder. #01-179 Break we our watch up, and, by my advice, Let's leave this watch duty and, if I may advise, #01-180 Let us impart what we have seen tonight Let's tell what we have seen tonight #01-181 Unto young Hamlet, for, upon my life, To young Hamlet, because, I'd swear upon my life #01-182 This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him; This spirit that was silent to us will speak to him. #01-183 Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it, Do you agree we should tell him about it #01-184 As needful in our loves, fitting our duty? As required by our friendship for him, and it's fitting, in our duty to him? #01-185 Marcellus: Let's do it, I pray, and I this morning know Yes, let's do that, please, and I know, this morning, #01-186 Where we shall find him most conveniently. Where we'll most easily find him. #01-186-SD (they exit)
End of Scene 1
Go to: Scene 1 - Scene 2 - Scene 3 - Scene 4 - Scene 5 - Scene 6 - Scene 7 - Scene 8 - Scene 9 - Scene 10
Scene 11 - Scene 12 - Scene 13 - Scene 14 - Scene 15 - Scene 16 - Scene 17 - Scene 18 - Scene 19 - Scene 20
Jump up to the start of the Dialogue.
- Place - The platform.
This Scene is set on the cannon platform which is directly beside Elsinore Castle, on the side toward the Sound. The Castle looms huge, dark, and ominous in the background. A good stage performance will use a backdrop of a castle.
The platform is explicitly stated, in Scene 2, as the location for this Scene. An invasion from the fictional Norway would have to cross the Sound. This would have struck a chord with Shakespeare's original audience, because of the Spanish Armada trying to invade England, by sea of course, in 1588. Everybody in England, in Shakespeare's day, would have been familiar with the idea of an attempted invasion by sea. So, the sentinels are keeping watch over the Sound, alert to the approach of Norwegian warships.
The sentinels have no fire, for two reasons: 1) The light of a fire would impair their night vision; and 2) firelight would give away their exact position to an enemy, and give an enemy a clear aiming point at them from a distance. We'll soon learn that Denmark fears attack from Norway, which is why sentinels have been ordered to keep watch all night. The possibility of military attack is the reason these sentinels are on duty. Military considerations take priority over personal comfort. The sentinels hope to see any approaching enemy, so they can sound the alarm, before the enemy sees them.
- Weather - Chilly and partly cloudy. No mention of wind.
According to the various statements in the dialogue, the sky is probably partly cloudy. The sky can't be overcast, since Bernardo will be able to point out stars. The Scene can't be brightly moonlit, or Bernardo would be able to identify Francisco from a considerable distance. However, the moon can't be new, because Hamlet will refer to seeing it tomorrow night, shortly after 1 am. That implies the moon being above the horizon on this night, but nevertheless, there's a lack of moonlight. The reasonable answer is that the moon is behind clouds, which darkens the area, while some of the sky is clear, so that some stars are visible. (Further on the moonlight, or lack thereof, while Horatio will refer to an eclipse, nothing is said to imply an eclipse is in progress during this Scene.) It all adds up to the ordinary sky condition that the weatherman calls partly cloudy.
- Time of Day - Explicitly from midnight until dawn. As the Scene begins the midnight bell is striking, and toward the end of the Scene the men expressly speak of dawn.
The bell we know about is the Elsinore Town church bell, which gets mention in Scene 19, the Graveyard Scene. While Kronborg Castle has a bell tower, there's nothing to identify an Elsinore Castle bell being used in the play. So the bell sound which begins the play is probably supposed to be understood as the church bell in the town. Elsinore Town is quite close to the Castle, just as the town of Helsingor is close to Kronborg Castle.
- Calendar Time - The pre-dawn hours of Day 1 of the administration of King Claudius.
(Francisco and Bernardo enter)
Francisco is on duty, as Bernardo approaches to relieve him. Francisco is keeping watch over the sea, while Bernardo is approaching from the Castle. That is why Bernardo will see Francisco first. Francisco is facing away from Bernardo.
A distant church bell is striking midnight.
Action - It is not correct on stage to have Bernardo completely upstage Francisco. That is, Francisco must not be forced to turn his back on the audience when he turns in response to Bernardo calling out. Bernardo should enter from a wing, while Francisco is turned toward the other wing by, oh, 45 degrees or so, perhaps. Of course this is worked out in rehearsal.
Bernardo: Who's there?
When Bernardo first glimpses the human shape of Francisco, ahead of him in the darkness, he knows of three possibilities for what it may be: 1) Francisco; 2) the Ghost; 3) an enemy scout from Norway who has crossed the Sound and sneaked up to that position. Two out of three of those are cause for anxiety. Bernardo stops, crouches with his partisan in fighting position, and calls out, to demand who or what it is.
The question of "who's there" will recur in the play, in a different way, especially for Hamlet, as his behavior changes, so that one may wonder if he's the same person. That will also occur with Ophelia.
Francisco: Nay, answer me! Stand and unfold yourself!
answer me - Francisco is startled by the call from the darkness, and he quite rightly responds that anybody approaching must answer to him, since he's the sentinel on duty.
Francisco, like Bernardo, crouches into fighting position, and holds his partisan ready for combat. Thus, he mirrors Bernardo's posture. Implicitly, via the action, this is the first instance of the Mirror Motif in the play, as the sentinels mirror each other's fighting posture.
stand - stop, except that Francisco is ordering whoever it is to move into view, to be identified, as friend or foe, so "stand forth" is a better equivalent in this case.
unfold - reveal, or in the most general term, "show." This line, then, has the first instance of the Show Theme in the dialogue.
Bernardo: Long live the King!
Long live the King! - Bernardo speaks so that Francisco can hear his voice, and know who he is. He says the first thing that comes to mind.
Bernardo's response is not a pass phrase. No pass phrase is in use, as we know from the variety of responses as the passage continues. This is a secured military location, and nobody is allowed here who is not known to the sentinels, no matter what any person might say. A pass phrase would be superfluous. They are relying on personal recognition.
Their procedure, personal recognition, cannot handle the case of the Ghost, who looks like King Hamlet. By appearance, the Ghost should be allowed, and indeed, welcomed here. However, the Ghost is not even any real person. It has defeated their security.
Bernardo thinks of that phrase, long live the king! because he yelled it recently during the celebration of the new King's coronation, the same as everybody else was yelling it. The line is ironic, since, as we'll see in the course of the play, the King isn't going to live much longer.
Bernardo? - Francisco thinks he recognizes Bernardo's voice, but he isn't certain. People sound different when they raise their voices, as Bernardo did.
He - It's a paradoxical feature of English that "he" can be used to mean "me" sometimes, depending on the exact context and statement.
There's irony that Bernardo, identifying himself, uses a word that normally refers to somebody else. This is a brilliant followup to the initial question in the first line, "who's there?" Who is Bernardo, is he a "me" or a "he?" Well, both. Bernardo is "me" and he is also he at the same time.
Francisco: You come most carefully upon your hour.
You come most carefully upon your hour. - This line seems to be universally misinterpreted. Francisco's word carefully is an observation on how carefully Bernardo approached, that he stopped and called out. That's extremely careful behavior. (Francisco is not remarking on the mundane fact that Bernardo is on time, more or less. In point of fact, Bernardo is a little late, but they didn't have wristwatches, and did not expect, and demand, the kind of punctuality we do these days.)
Bernardo: 'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
now - already. An ironic use of now to refer to the past; now struck twelve = already past twelve.
get thee to bed - Bernardo doesn't explain why he was so especially careful. He dismisses that subject, and simply says Francisco should go to bed. Bernardo doesn't tell Francisco that one reason he was so careful was because of a ghost. This is part of what informs us that Francisco doesn't know about the Ghost.
Francisco: For this relief, much thanks; 'tis bitter cold,
much thanks - many thanks. The phrase still appears in idiom, but reversed: "thanks much."
bitter - I paraphrase this as "bitingly" in advance of how Hamlet and Horatio will describe it later, in Scene 4. Hamlet will say "bites" and Horatio will say "nipping." According to lexicographers, the word "bitter" is probably related to the word "bite." although they don't seem quite certain. Considering the sequence of statements about the cold, from Francisco here, and Hamlet and Horatio later, it appears Shakespeare took "bitter" as related to "bite," and that is good enough for me.
tis bitter cold - The statement cannot be seen as a simple weather report. There are other factors involved that we know about, besides the actual temperature. 1) Psychology - Francisco will immediately go on to say he's heartsick, and we know that psychology is a factor in how cold, or warm, one feels. 2) The Ghost - although Francisco has not seen the Ghost, he's in the area where it's active, and ghosts are a "cold" supernatural phenomenon because of their association with the coldness of death. So, in addition to the temperature, Francisco is psychologically cold, and the area is supernaturally cold.
And I am sick at heart.
I am sick at heart - It's no mystery why Francisco feels that way. Denmark's great King Hamlet, a war leader of renown, has recently died, his replacement is untested as a national war leader, and this while the nation is facing the possibility of an attack from Fortinbrasse of Norway (all of which we'll soon hear about.) It's enough to make anybody a little heartsick, and especially a professional soldier, who's so dependent on the quality of the military leadership. Francisco especially misses King Hamlet, we can easily guess. He's grieving some.
sick at heart - heartsick; despondent.
The phrase "sick at heart" is one to keep in mind in connection with... something else.
Bernardo: Have you had quiet guard?
quiet guard? - This is Bernardo's cautious way of asking whether Francisco has seen the Ghost, and also whether he's observed anything else notable. But we will soon see how much the Ghost is on Bernardo's mind, so that must be the primary point of his query.
Francisco: Not a mouse stirring.
Not a mouse stirring - In other words, there hasn't been even the smallest thing of note.
Later will come the 'Mousetrap' play, which Hamlet designs to "catch" Claudius. Ergo, at that time of the 'Mousetrap' play, Claudius is the "mouse." Tomorrow night, we will hear a lot of noise, from here on the platform, as Claudius carouses. Tonight however, the "mouse" Claudius must be asleep, or at least he isn't having the drums and trumpets sound, and the cannons fire while he gets drunk. So, knowing the future events, Francisco's line can be read in that roundabout way as an observation that Claudius isn't stirring. The Francisco character, himself, isn't trying to say that, but Francisco didn't write his own lines, and the man who did knew the whole play.
Since the mice aren't stirring, it follows they must be asleep, which is how Francisco would like to be. "Even the mice are all asleep, so I wish I was, too," can be heard as a subtle undertone. He'll get his wish soon, now.
Bernardo: Well, good night;
good night - Bernardo leaves it at that. No mention to Francisco of any ghost. We'll soon see how skeptical Horatio is of the Ghost, and Francisco would be even more so, since he's been there and hasn't seen it.
The Ghost poses a perplexing problem for Bernardo and Marcellus, as to whom they can tell, since the Ghost has appeared while they're on duty. The reaction of the other military men, who wouldn't believe it, could be a) they're making a stupid joke, b) they're falling asleep on duty and dreaming, c) they're unfit for duty, or d) they're getting drunk on duty. None of that is good, for how the other military personnel would look at them, and especially since Francisco would say he hasn't seen it. Bernardo and Marcellus certainly don't want word to get to their commanding officers, who could easily think one of the above, which could land them in bad trouble.
(Francisco starts walking toward the Castle)
In performance, Francisco needs to exit in the same direction Bernardo entered. We keep the setting in mind. The audience might never notice if Francisco theoretically falls off the platform into the ocean, but still, it's best to keep the directions straight - that's unless we want to account for Francisco not being seen in the play again by drowning him.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
Informs us that Bernardo will soon have company, and they're expected to be here approximately coincident with the watch change.
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
rivals - "sharers," in this case.
Rival is from Latin 'rivalis' which refers to a person who uses the same stream as another. So, from the Latin root, rivals are persons who share a stream. Bernardo is using it in a broader sense, to mean those who share the watch duty with him.
Poetically, based on the root meaning of rivals, one can view the men as watching the river of the night, as it flows by.
bid them make haste - Bernardo doesn't like the idea of being out here all alone for very long. One can't blame him.
(Horatio and Marcellus enter, from the direction of the Castle)
We must again be careful of direction, in stage performance. They are not to emerge from the sea like Venus rising.
Marcellus and Horatio enter from the same direction Bernardo did.
Francisco: I think I hear them; stand ho, who is there?
think I hear them - reminds us that the sense of hearing is important out here in the darkness, (and at any number of other times and places, too.) There is a Sense/Senses Theme in the play, and it includes hearing. People used to say they were going to hear a play, where we now say, see a play.
stand ho - stand again, same as earlier.
who is there? - now Francisco says, who's there? The query is contagious. This way Shakespeare did the entries is not only dramatic, it gives opportunity to emphasize the identity issue.
Horatio: Friends to this ground.
Friends - Horatio, who is there as a friend of the sentinels, and of Hamlet (as we'll learn,) identifies himself as such. Horatio is there as a friend. (He is not a military sentinel, he's a civilian.) His plural correctly includes Marcellus.
this ground - Both the ground they're standing on, and Denmark in general. The sentinels aren't guarding only that patch of ground, their duty is in connection with the security of the nation. But Horatio means primarily that place, that military position.
It is notable that Horatio's first word in the play is friends. That is his role, he is the friend of Hamlet.
We can take it that Horatio speaks up more promptly because he's more sensitive about being here, and perhaps being misidentified. This business, of going to a military position in the middle of the night, is all new to Horatio, but military activities are rather old hat to Marcellus. The point there being, it's fully authentic that Shakespeare had Horatio speak first, even though Marcellus is the military man.
Marcellus: And liegemen to the Dane.
liegemen to the Dane - Marcellus identifies himself by a statement of loyalty and service to the King (who happens to be Claudius now.) Marcellus, a military professional, is sworn in service to Claudius and owes him allegiance.
"The" Dane = the King of Denmark. All the professional soldiers are now sworn to serve Claudius.
That is a point to note about Marcellus, in advance of Scene 5, the passage where Hamlet talks to Horatio and Marcellus after the Ghost has spoken to Hamlet. Hamlet knows Marcellus's primary duty is to Claudius.
Marcellus's plural, liegemen, is not correct for Horatio, but he's following on Horatio's plural, and Marcellus is not the kind of fellow to be too fussy about exact grammar. Marcellus can be understood as meaning "(one of the) liegemen to the Dane."
But Horatio is not sworn in service to Claudius, and is not paid by Claudius.
Francisco: Give you good night.
Give you good night - May God give you a good night. It's the same as saying only "good night" (when the cultural context is recognized.) His duty done, Francisco is headed for bed.
Marcellus: Oh . . . farewell, honest soldier; who has relieved you?
Oh - Marcellus says "oh" when he realizes the one who issued the challenge was Francisco, while Marcellus was expecting Bernardo.
honest - true. Marcellus is complimenting Francisco as a "true solder" because Francisco rightly issued the challenge even though he had been relieved from duty. Doing his duty, even when he's off duty, is the behavior of a "true soldier." This implies Marcellus is superior to Francisco in rank, but it is not patronizing, it is a sincere compliment.
who has relieved you? - Marcellus is checking whether Bernardo is there as he's assigned to be.
Francisco: Bernardo has my place; give you good night.
Bernardo has my place - Francisco confirms that, yes, Bernardo is there. At this point in the play one might wonder at all the concern about who's there, but we'll soon hear of a military threat.
A lone sentinel, Francisco, has been replaced by two sentinels, Bernarado and Marcellus. We can view this as being because of the time. It's easy enough to stay awake until midnight even if a person is not accustomed to doing so. After midnight, it becomes more and more difficult to stay awake. Two men can help keep each other awake through the most drowsy hours.
Marcellus: Holla, Bernardo.
Holla - hello. Marcellus says this as he gets close enough to Bernardo to see his shape in the darkness.
Bernardo: Say . . . what, is Horatio there?
Say . . . - Bernardo sees a human shape near Marcellus. He wonders about it, momentarily.
what, is Horatio there? - Bernardo quickly realizes the shape must be Horatio, and probably not the Ghost. The word what is idiomatic, a usage to introduce the question. It's like saying "tell me what, ..."
Horatio: A piece of him.
A piece of him - Horatio can be understood as meaning that he is there in body but not in spirit, or, that his heart isn't in it. Either way, he's only "partly there," so to speak.
In connection with the Madness Theme of the play, it is perhaps worth noting, one can say of a mad person that he "isn't all there." We might infer Horatio thinks he was crazy to let them talk him into this.
Anyway, Horatio's heart isn't really in it, and he's there in body, but not in spirit. This is a delicious contrast to the Ghost, since only a "piece of him" will be there, but the other way around, there in spirit but not in body.
Bernardo: Welcome, Horatio; welcome, good Marcellus.
Welcome - the welcomes are fully sincere. Bernardo is glad of their presence.
Bernardo may shake Horatio's hand, but his correct action toward Marcellus is a military salute. The salute will be perfunctory, since they have more pressing issues on their minds than formalities.
good Marcellus - good man, Marcellus (to bring Horatio along.) In those days, the word good was attached to a name, or to a title, as a sign of friendliness.
Horatio: What, has this thing appeared again tonight?
has this thing appeared - Horatio asks right away because if he's missed it he can leave immediately and go get some sleep. He's hoping he's too late for whatever the thing is, because he's sure it's nothing important. (His What at the start of the line is again idiomatic, to introduce the question.)
Bernardo: I have seen nothing.
nothing - literally "no thing," which is an exact reply to Horatio's exact question.
The addition of "yet" is implicit; Bernardo is expecting to see "some thing" again tonight.
Bernardo affirms Francisco saw nothing by leaving him unmentioned. There's nothing, no thing, to talk about from that quarter.
Marcellus: Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
fantasy - imagination, and can be taken in the sense of "phantasm," a figment of the imagination. Horatio thinks the thing they claim to have seen is only their imaginations at work.
The word fantasy ultimately goes back to Greek 'phainein' meaning "to show" so it's a "show" word, which makes it perfect to include in the dialogue of a show, like Hamlet.
Marcellus goes on to clarify why Horatio is there. It's explanatory for the theater audience, however, we should not take it for granted that Bernardo already knows everything Marcellus says. It appears that Marcellus in particular has become acquainted with Horatio, so Bernardo may only have been told by Marcellus, earlier, that Horatio would be coming with him, without all the details of why. Observe that Bernardo has said nothing about why Horatio would be there.
And will not let belief take hold of him
take hold of - grip, seize, grab. The same figure of speech occurs in the modern question, "How does that grab you?" It refers to an idea, a belief in this case, getting a grip on the mind.
There is a grip/seize Motif in the play, closely related to "bite" (which is another Motif, or a part of the same general one.)
Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us;
Touching - pertaining to, concerning. Touching is the perfect word to follow take hold of.
dreaded sight - a sight they dread to see again, although they expect to. Dread is an ominous word, in this line.
twice seen of us - seen twice by us. Shakespeare's word of admits the possibility it saw them, as they saw it.
Therefore, I have entreated him along,
I have entreated him along - Marcellus takes responsibility for Horatio's presence. Marcellus must have some command authority. Ordinarily, civilians would not be allowed at this military position. Marcellus has enough rank to bend the rules. This is part of the implication that Marcellus is a captain of the guard.
entreated - earnestly requested, implored. From Shakespeare's usage elsewhere (2 Henry VI, A4 s4, for one) entreated hints of a lot of debate involved, as there must have been with Horatio.
Entreat goes back to Latin 'tractare' which means "to handle" so entreat is a "grip"/"take hold of" word at root, in that way.
With us, to watch the minutes of this night,
watch the minutes of this night - to watch, as the minutes go by. There is a double meaning, of watching every minute (tiny) thing that happens, such as, for example, if a mouse stirs. There is even a further meaning, as in the minutes of a meeting; that can be taken as referring to anything notable (literally worth a note.)
As Shakespeare gave him the line, Marcellus means all that, at once: to observe as the minutes go by, to watch for any minute thing that happens, and to watch for anything notable. There are words in English which have so many definitions that they can be used in more than one sense at the same time, depending on how the sentence is phrased, and the context, and Shakespeare took advantage of that in Hamlet.
That if again this apparition come
apparition - ghost. At root, apparition ultimately goes back to Latin 'ad' ("toward") + 'parere' ("come into view,") which makes it especially interesting because the Ghost will soon "come into view," "toward" them.
come - the singular here is idiomatic, not a grammatical error.
He may approve our eyes, and speak to it.
approve - the idea is that of complimenting their eyes, for seeing truly, rather than criticizing their eyes for not seeing well. The idea of "proof" is implied as well.
speak to it - presumably a university educated man should know how to talk to a ghost, and what to say.
It was not an odd idea in those days, since theological training was a large part of university education then, and the University of Wittenberg, where Horatio has been, was directly associated with Martin Luther, who was once a professor of theology there.
The sentinels are sure Horatio should know more about the apparition than they do. Perhaps they think some Latin phrase like vade retro satana ("get back, Satan") might be needed, but the sentinels don't speak Latin. (Indeed, a chant of vade retro satana would be appropriate, because of what that thing is, but the men don't know what it is.)
Horatio: Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
Tush, tush - nonsense; tut tut. An expression of skepticism. Horatio doesn't believe they've seen anything important.
Bernardo: Sit down a while
Sit down a while - Bernardo is inviting Horatio to sit down, and grant Bernardo an audience for what he has to say. He is not saying they are all going to sit. Bernardo and Marcellus remain standing.
And let us, once again, assail your ears
assail your ears - "attack your ears" with words. Bernardo is going to try to storm the castle of Horatio's skepticism, so to speak, via the gateway of Horatio's ears. The "soldierly" language is right in character for Bernardo, a military man.
The Ghost will later tell Hamlet that Claudius "assailed the ears" of King Hamlet literally, by pouring poison into them.
That are so fortified against our story,
so fortified - fortified like a castle. Bernardo is continuing the soldierly figures of speech, in this setting beside the castle. In plain English Bernardo is just commenting that Horatio is resistant to their story.
The typical action of a person who doesn't want to hear something is to put his hands over his ears, and Horatio can do that briefly at this point, but with a smile at Bernardo. Horatio is a friend, but he's sure this is a wild goose chase.
What we two nights have seen.
What we two nights have seen - what we have seen for the last two nights.
we two nights - the phrasing is intentional from Shakespeare to give the amusement of Bernardo seeming to call himself and Marcellus "two knights." Well, they are military men, but apparently not knights. The Bernardo character, himself, isn't trying to say he's a knight.
When the Ghost appears, it will be wearing knight armor. The hint of "knight" in this line anticipates that. Overall, it sketches the droll word picture of two knights seeing a knight, at night, on two previous nights, and expecting to see it tonight.
Horatio: Well, sit we down,
sit we down - Horatio is using a "royal" we as he plays with the idea of a king being seen out here on the platform. He's teasing Bernardo and Marcellus after being told, as we'll hear, that they have seen something that looks like King Hamlet, the late King of Denmark. Horatio doesn't believe it, and Bernardo did request Horatio give him an audience, so Horatio plays it up like "The King" granting an audience.
With reference to the play Themes, Horatio is 'Putting on a Show' of being "The King."
(Horatio sits back on a cannon)
Since this is a cannon platform, the available "furniture" is a cannon. Horatio sits back on the cannon in a dainty, put-on way.
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
let us hear Bernardo speak of this - Horatio's us is again "royal," as he plays "The king" granting Bernardo an audience. Horatio, in his skepticism, is having fun with the king idea, being "The King" himself. He doesn't take their story seriously in the least.
Bernardo: Last night of all,
Last night of all - means simply "last night" but the way Bernardo says it, it sounds like the end of the world. Literally, the last night of all would be the end of existence. For a man, the last night of all would be the last night of his life. Bernardo, himself, isn't that clever with words, but he didn't write his own lines.
Of all can be understood in the more mundane way as meaning "of all previous nights." Thus, in total, "the last night, of all previous nights," which would be the night before. Nobody, in ordinary conversation, elaborates remarks to that extent.
When yond same star that's westward from the pole,
yond same star - probably Capella. Jenkins was probably correct in 1982. (See the Extended Note.)
The reason for thinking so, is that Capella is the brightest star in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. In Greek mythology Auriga is identified with King Erichthonius of Athens. "Erichthonius" means "troubles born from the earth." He was half man, half snake. Some who saw him went mad.
So, Capella points to Auriga, and the mythology behind Auriga includes ideas of madness, the serpent, and "troubles from the earth," which can be read in connection with the Ghost. The commonality of concepts is suggestive. Shakespeare was not doing astronomy in Hamlet but he was absolutely doing the symbolic and the conceptual.
By the way, Capella is far enough north that it never sets at the latitude of Helsingor, Denmark (or at the latitude of London, either.) This would mean that as Bernardo points out the path of the star, if it's Capella, he swings his arm in an upward circle, never pointing down. The issue of the action is relevant to visual cueing on stage. The Ghost is about to enter, and Shakespeare's company had no microphones.
It can be discerned from this passage that the Ghost enters stage left.
westward from the pole - the word pole means the Pole Star, Polaris, the north pole of the sky. An actor's "true north" is the audience direction. Generally, an actor on stage must turn toward the audience, to be heard, the same way a compass naturally turns to the north. So, acting on stage, the audience direction is your "true north." Now point high to the west. Which direction are you pointing in stage terms? You are pointing stage left.
When the Ghost actor sees Bernardo do that, point high in his direction, he steps on from the left wing, and begins his approach (in the darkness, not yet seen by the men.) This works whether the Ghost actor can hear the dialogue spoken on stage or not. There's no dependence on having microphones and an amplified sound system, which Shakespeare's company did not have. It's visual cueing.
Shakespeare wanted a stage left entry for the Ghost here. That's why he wrote westward instead of "eastward." His Bernardo actor was probably right handed, as most men are, so he was holding his partisan in his right hand, leaving his left hand free as the one he could point with, and that gives westward, stage left.
The Ghost gets his entry in the dialogue when he's close enough for the men to see him emerge from the darkness, and it affects the dialogue.
Had made his course t'illume that part of heaven
Had made his course - Bernardo waves his arm around upward, tracking a circle in the sky, to indicate the course of the star. In performance, this is more visual cueing, in case the Ghost actor somehow missed the pointing in the previous line. It's mandatory the Ghost actor approach and enter at the right time, whether he can hear the dialogue from the wing or not.
his - its. It used to be that English, like Spanish, personified things by classing them as feminine or masculine. The masculine form was also used as the neuter. The word "its" is a relatively recent addition to English, and was only then, in Shakespeare's time, gaining general acceptance.
t'illume - to illuminate; to light up.
heaven - the sky; the heavens.
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
Where now it burns - where it is now. By the stars, it's the same time of night as when they saw the Ghost on the previous nights. In earlier times it was common for people to tell time by the sun and stars, and some of them were probably very good at it.
burns - Shakespeare worked a Fire Motif into the play, and this word usage is an instance of it. He had Bernardo say burns instead of another word such as "shines" to conform with his desired motif.
Further, the word burns can be played with an upward motion of the arm, as if to show a flame leaping up, and that action can inform the Ghost actor of exactly where they are in the dialogue, even if he can't hear it, to give very precise timing. This demands precise timing because as we see in the dialogue, the Ghost must be in position to interrupt Bernardo in the middle of a line. The Ghost has to toe his mark right on time.
The bell then beating one . . .
beating one - same as "striking one."
The word beating is used for action. Bernardo raises his fist then brings it down, like beating something, then he elevates his index finger for one. Shakespeare may have avoided the word "striking" here because the idea of "strike" can refer to a mental influence (e.g. "moonstruck,") particularly since that very meaning, influence, appears in the dialogue in this Scene. So, "strike" does not necessarily imply a physical blow, but the physical action is required in performance.
The beating action cues the special effects bell ringer to be ready, then he hits the bell when he sees the raised index finger for one from Bernardo. This gives perfect timing whether the bell ringer can hear what the actors on stage are saying or not. Simultaneously, the Ghost actor's toe touches his mark, and the men now see the Ghost emerge from the darkness.
The word beating is no stretch for speaking of the bell, by the way. In standard phrasing one refers to the pealing of a bell. "Peal" is from Middle English 'pele' which is akin to ME 'peal' ("to beat.") Think about the pealing of a bell, and if you know enough about words, as Shakespeare did, you think of the beating of the bell, which is the word he used.
(the Ghost enters)
Timing is crucial. Observe the exact placement of the entry in relation to the lines in the original Second Quarto.
As mentioned, the Ghost is entering from stage left. There's more that can be discerned about the positioning on stage.
For best visibility of the visual cueing actions, for the Ghost, Bernardo is to the stage left side of the three men. We then put Marcellus in the middle, at stage center facing forward, and Horatio is to the stage right side, angled toward Bernardo as he sits back on the cannon.
Bernardo is therefore angled toward stage right, as the Ghost is entering from stage left. The Ghost is approaching from behind Bernardo.
Bernardo is so worried about the Ghost, and now as he's talking to Horatio, the damned thing comes up behind him!
So, as Bernardo is speaking of the Ghost, here it is. Well, speak of the... It's an old saying.
Marcellus: Peace, break thee off; look where it comes again!
Peace - quiet. The first reaction of Marcellus, the military man, is to call for peace. That's ironic.
break thee off - discontinue talking.
look where it comes again - Marcellus is the first to raise the alarm because the Ghost is behind Bernardo, as described, and Marcellus, at stage center, is a little closer to stage left than Horatio, so of the three, Marcellus sees it first.
We can be sure Bernardo whips around, and jumps back a foot, if not a yard.
Bernardo: In the same figure like the King that's dead.
figure - as in the cliche, "a fine figure of a man." Figure refers to everything about the Ghost's appearance, it's size, shape, and features.
the King that's dead. - the first we hear that a King has recently died, and that's what the apparition looks like.
Marcellus: Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.
a scholar, speak to it - as already mentioned, presumably a person of learning should know what to say to the Ghost.
This is why Marcellus especially wanted Horatio along. Horatio is supposed to establish communication with the Ghost, find out why it's there, and perhaps dispel it, using Latin, if necessary.
Horatio wasn't expecting to see anything like that, and he's so taken aback he has no idea what to say.
Bernardo: Looks he not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.
Looks he not like the King? - This question from Bernardo is sincere, and not just an exclamation. The sight is so remarkable, Bernardo is wondering if Horatio really does see the same thing he does. Later we'll see Hamlet turn to Horatio for verification on certain points. Horatio is that kind of fellow. This is part of the characterization of Horatio, that others tend to turn to him on important points.
he ... it - Bernardo is so flustered he doesn't know whether to call the Ghost a he or an it, and he ends up calling the Ghost both in the same utterance.
Mark - take note of. Since Bernardo is a military man, and mark can mean "target" there is a slight hint of Bernardo telling Horatio to "target his eyes" on it.
Horatio: Most like; it harrows me with fear and wonder.
harrows - Picture the use of a harrow to plow a field. The harrow overwhelms the plants growing there, uprooting them. So, I use "overwhelm" as the paraphrase.
One keeps in mind the Ghost is in armor, and the men are aware of the possibility of a military attack on Denmark. Agricultural cliches appear in historical descriptions of lopsided battles, along the lines of "our army went through the enemy like a scythe through a wheat field," or more simply, "we mowed them down." Horatio can be understood as meaning he feels "defeated" by the Ghost in that "agricultural" way, like he is a weed run over by a harrow.
Action - The word harrows dictates a certain action. (Shakespeaere tells us in the course of the play, "suit the action to the word," and that is not just an idle remark.) Curve your fingers, of both hands, like the teeth of a harrow, and rake your hands, alternately, across your chest, mainly over your heart. The curved fingers are the "teeth of the harrow," and the chest is the "field being tilled." It is a classic action of a horrified person. (That is not just coincidental in Shakespeare's choice of word.)
Bernardo: It would be spoke to.
It would be spoke to - Bernardo knows that because of action the Ghost did. Plays have action. The Ghost has made a small beckoning gesture such as you would make if you wanted somebody to go ahead and speak.
It would be correct for the Ghost actor also to cup his ear. There is an Ear Motif in the play, and we will later learn the importance of the ear when the Ghost speaks to Hamlet. So, it is best that the Ghost actor cup his ear, and make the beckoning gesture. That's how Bernardo knows to say what he speaks in the line. The Ghost has acted "let me hear it."
It was accepted in those days that a ghost could not speak unless first spoken to.
spoke - the word form is idiom, dialect that is, not grammatical error.
Marcellus: Speak to it, Horatio!
Speak to it, Horatio! - and that's an order! Marcellus has gone military.
Horatio: What art thou that usurp'st this time of night
usurp'st - usurps, literally "takes by force," which then means in the case of a king, "unjustly rules." For normal conversation, It can be understood in the sense of an improper or untoward intrusion; that's what Horatio, himself, means, simply put.
But we can understand he's talking about the Ghost, in the figure of the former King, "unjustly ruling" this night. The former King is dead, so for him to still "rule" is unjust. Even if the apparition were the late King, it isn't proper for him to be here.
time of night - King Hamlet's time to rule is past. So again, even if Horatio were to grant the Ghost is somehow the King, which he doesn't, this is not his time to rule.
Horatio is covering all the bases. The late King, or not, this isn't right.
Hamlet will cast the current King, Claudius, as a usurper, later in the play, while talking to Horatio. Horatio knows nothing of that as he speaks here, or that there's more implied by his word than the Ghost.
The word "usurp" has a Latin root of 'usurpare,' "seize for use" so it's a "seize" word, following on take hold of earlier, in line 028. Horatio will himself use the word "seized" later in this Scene.
Together with that fair and warlike form
Together with - of a piece with, i.e. wearing.
form - the armor. Armor is in the form of a man. So the full meaning of together with is, the form of the man together with the form of the armor the Ghost is wearing.
warlike form - armor is a warlike form in that you'd think a person who's wearing it is going to war. We'll soon hear how the men are worried about this, whether Denmark is going to war, and how they'll wonder if the Ghost is an omen of war in the near future.
In which the Majesty of buried Denmark
the Majesty - his Majesty. Can also be read as meaning grandeur, or royalty, which is an intentional ambiguity.
buried Denmark - the buried King of Denmark. In concept, the King was the state. But it can also be read to mean the state of Denmark was buried. That is not accidental in the phrasing.
So, the Majesty of buried Denmark - "his Majesty, the buried King of Denmark," for plain reading.
However, the line is phrased to imply the grandeur of Denmark was buried when King Hamlet was, or that the whole concept of royalty in Denmark was buried then, or that the state, itself, was buried. The ambiguity is intentional, not from Horatio but from his author. If you try to pin down the phrasing to one certain, absolute meaning it will make your head spin. Shakespeare knew that, which is why he wrote it that way.
Did sometimes march? By Heaven, I charge thee, speak!
did sometimes march - did occasionally march; did march sometimes. Reference is to the King marching into battle, of course. He wasn't marching to the duck pond to feed the ducks in that armor.
charge - command; order; but also...
By Heaven, I charge thee, speak! - has the form of imposing an oath. I paraphrase charge as "adjure" to go along with that, since "adjure" goes back to a root meaning of "oath."
Horatio is imposing his demand in a proper way, by Heaven, that the Ghost should speak. Horatio is coming across a little heavy, though, like he's the voice of God, demanding a sinner should repent. Horatio is obviously not convinced that thing is the spirit of the former King, or he wouldn't address it in such a way.
Marcellus: It is offended.
It is offended - it's ambiguous whether the Ghost is offended at being spoken to in such a way, or whether by Heaven offended it. If it's offended by the former, that goes along with it being the spirit of King Hamlet; in the latter case, it's a devil in disguise.
The latter is correct. We'll know that for sure, later. The men don't know it, however.
Marcellus knows it's offended because of the action it did. It frowned (as Horatio will mention,) then elevated its nose, and turned in a pointed way. You've probably seen that rather stylized action of someone expressing offense.
Bernardo: See, it stalks away.
it stalks away - the Ghost's stride is now not in a military way, but in an offended way. You may be familiar with the way a person "stalks" when he's offended, and angry. It can look rather like a military walk. There are different kinds of stalks.
Stalking is also something a predator does. One might notice that on the way by. Shakespeare chose the words in Hamlet sometimes to tell things directly, and sometimes, not so directly.
Horatio: Stay, speak! Speak, I charge thee, speak!
Stay, speak! Speak, I charge thee, speak! - Horatio is frustrated, and embarrassed, because it was his job to get the Ghost to speak, and it didn't. It isn't his fault.
In action, Horatio follows the Ghost for a few steps, as it stalks away, while he says the line.
(the Ghost exits) - probably stage left, back the way it came. Keeping the men in the same arrangement, left to right, explains why Horatio will see it first when it reenters. He'll be angled toward stage left as he speaks to the men to his left. Horatio's visual cueing actions, as he says the lines just before the Ghost's reentry, are more obvious if Horatio is facing the Ghost's direction of entry. So, taking it that we still have the order, from stage left to stage right, as Bernardo - Marcellus - Horatio, this is a stage left exit for the Ghost.
In terms of the dialogue the Ghost disappears into the darkness, and the Ghost actor then continues off at the left wing, and waits there for his entry cue to come on again.
Marcellus: 'Tis gone, and will not answer.
Marcellus is disappointed, and puzzled. If it's there for a reason, it should have something to say, even if it was offended. Can it speak? Perhaps not, as far as Marcellus knows.
Bernardo: How now, Horatio, you tremble and look pale;
How now - how goes it with you now.
pale - "as pale as a ghost" is the trite expression, but the Ghost isn't pale, it looks just like a man.
However, pale here can be understood as "wide-eyed." That meaning goes along with the dialogue they'll have with Hamlet in the next Scene.
Bernardo is pleased, or more like relieved, to be proven right, but he's too worried and frightened himself to gloat.
Is not this something more than fantasy?
something - we see the thing idea applied to the Ghost again (by the fellow who wrote the play. Hint, hint. Shakespeare called the Ghost a thing a lot.)
Horatio has now approved their eyes. He saw it, too.
What think you on it?
Bernardo, after being proven right, is still deferential to Horatio, in hopes Horatio has some idea about what's going on.
on it - to "think on" (something) is idiom. One might still hear somebody say, "I'll think on it." The phrasing is used to imply pondering something, carefully.
Horatio: Before my God, I might not this believe
I might not - Horatio is so shaken he isn't absolutely sure of anything at the moment, so he says might instead of the more certain word "would." It's a sign of how discombobulated he is.
Without the sensible and true avouch
sensible - used in the root way, "sense," as in perception. Horatio is referring to his own direct perception.
He saw the Ghost was sensible = able to be sensed.
It's also sensible he should believe his own eyes. Shakespeare's phrasing implies that now he sees their story as sensible whereas before he did not. The ambiguity between "the ability to sense" and "making sense" is intentional. It's "sense" in both senses.
true avouch - "honest testimony;" true affirmation. His own eyes have vouched for it. Horatio still takes it that his eyes are true despite what they've just shown him. He takes it for granted his own eyes are "under oath" to him to always tell him the truth, as best they know it.
Horatio is not saying the Ghost is what it appears to be, but now he knows it really exists, whatever it is.
Of mine own eyes.
mine own - a manner of speaking in Shakespeare's day, it's merely the use of mine rather than "my."
Marcellus: Is it not like the King?
Well, no, in fact, it is not like the King. The King is Claudius, but the Ghost looks like King Hamlet. However, we know what Marcellus means, but he should have said the late, or former, King, to be perfectly fussy about it. He just isn't being fussy. Logically, though, Horatio ought to reply, yes, it is not like the King.
This may seem mere frivolity, but Shakespeare knew what he was doing in every line of the play, so one must consider such points. Sometimes they matter.
Horatio: As thou art to thyself.
As thou art to thyself - the same as you look like yourself. It's cliche that a person looks like himself, but Shakespeare phrased it briefly and in a way the cliche doesn't intrude. This is an instance of the Mirror Motif.
Such was the very armor he had on
the very armor - it's no mystery how Horatio knows that armor. He saw it on display as part of King Hamlet's memorial exhibits, with an attendant there to talk about the exhibits (and help guard them.)
Memorial exhibits are explicitly mentioned in the play, when Laertes returns in Scene 16, and it's also explicitly stated that Horatio returned to Denmark, from the University of Wittenberg, for King Hamlet's funeral. The memorial exhibits for a King, especially one who ruled for many years, could be almost like a museum.
Horatio may have seen that exact armor the previous afternoon, or at any time since his return to Denmark.
Armor is steel, and it does not, of course, evaporate and rise like the dew when it's taken off. It continues to exist, and can outlive the wearer if it's cared for. Everybody knows that, or should. Some suits of armor worn by Henry VIII are on exhibit now in the Tower of London.
In other presentations of Hamlet, you may see the question raised of how Horatio knows the armor, as if that's some gigantic mystery, as if Horatio's knowledge of it makes him 50 years old, or something. No such thing. That the question ever appeared in the first place is a proof of how shoddy Hamlet scholarship has been, historically. Horatio's recognition of the armor is no mystery at all. One has to read the play carefully, something most persons who presume to comment on Hamlet have never done, by the way, and then use some common sense and general knowledge.
As to the armor's appearance, the suits of armor back then were all custom made for the wearer, and they were not necessarily all shiny steel so they looked alike. See the image.
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
the ambitious Norway - the ambitious King of Norway. Here again, the country name is used for the King, under the principle that "the King is the state."
It is vitally important to know that this Norway is the same man who is the King of Norway during the play. This is not a reference to the Elder Fortinbrasse who will be mentioned later. That Elder Fortinbrasse was the King of Norway's brother.
ambitious - we are told the current King of Norway is ambitious. He wants more. Horatio is using ambitious in a critical way; it is not a compliment.
combated - went to war against.
We are told that King Hamlet led Denmark in war against a Norwegian army under the command of the current King of Norway. This war was probably after the single combat, between King Hamlet and the Elder Fortinbrasse, that will be described later, and resulted from the King of Norway trying to get back the formerly-Norwegian land his brother had lost. King Hamlet beat both Norwegian brothers. He first killed the Elder Fortinbrasse in single combat, then beat the King of Norway (but did not kill him) in a war.
The sight of King Hamlet, in that armor, implies national war against Norway.
So frowned he once, when in an angry parley
So frowned he once - Horatio is probably referring to a facial expression he has seen in a painting. Paintings were done in commemoration of historical events, and some of the artwork from that time is virtually photographic.
The painting of Henry VIII is good enough you'd probably know the gent if you saw him. This line does not imply Horatio was present and looking at the King's face at the time. It does mean, of course, that the Ghost frowned.
an angry parley - can be read in two ways (what else is new in Hamlet?) The simple meaning is that of an angry argument, a verbal confrontation. Literally, parley refers to speech.
Second, the word parley can be read figuratively, as reference to the "speech" of weapons in battle. The second meaning, of weapons "speaking," can still be heard today, as when the hero in an old Western movie says something like, "I'll let my trusty six-shooter do my talkin' for me, pardner." By that, King Hamlet's Danish axe was the most eloquent "debater," and it took the prize.
He smote the sleaded pollax on the ice.
The phrasing sleaded pollax is so odd because Shakespeare has given us a word puzzle. Word puzzles were popular in those days (and indeed they still are, although not usually in plays, now.) We must figure it out.
By the way, this is part of the evidence that Shakespeare provided a manuscript written especially for publication in what we now know as the Second Quarto. There are many touches in the Second Quarto printing of Hamlet that are only perceptible in print, and it is impossible the printer is responsible for all that.
smote - can be either "struck" or used in the Biblical way to mean "defeated resoundingly," "annihilated."
sleaded pollax - can have three meanings, anyway. One keeps in mind the dialogue was written to be spoken.
1) Poles using sleds, in wintertime conditions (thus the ice.) By this, the weapons "spoke" and a Polish force was soundly defeated by King Hamlet's forces in a wintertime battle. This is the simple meaning, as you just hear it spoken on stage. For that, sleaded is pronounced to mean "sledded."
2) "slay-dead head axe" - The word sleaded in those days, if drawled only slightly, sounded like "slay-dead." Then, the word poll means "head." That makes a pollax a "head axe," an executioner's axe. The idea of an executioner's axe appears in the play, later, in connection with both Hamlet, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The Danish axe does rather resemble an executioner's axe.
Altogether then, sleaded pollax can be read as "slay-dead head axe." King Hamlet was the one swinging that axe, so we are told he swung it like an executioner's axe. He left enemy heads rolling loose on the battlefield. This goes along with King Hamlet being likened to Hercules, later.
Combining the above, we're told that the Danish army fought against a Polish army using sleds, in wintertime conditions, and the Danes destroyed the Poles, with King Hamlet swinging his Danish battle axe more like an executioner than a warrior.
3) Now then, having written all that, sleaded is also a spelling variant of "sleided," which is a weaving term. "Sleided" appears elsewhere in Shakespeare, in both Lover's Complaint, and Pericles (both times in reference to silk.) "Sley," in weaving terminology, has to do with arranging the warp threads, which are the threads that are prearranged nice and straight and correctly spaced. (The weft threads are then woven through the warp threads.) So, the word sleaded (sleided) can be understood as referring to an arrangement in well-ordered lines, like the warp in weaving.
By that, the sleaded pollax were Polacks, the Polish army, well arrayed in proper military order, in orderly lines. Since this works directly to account for the spelling sleaded, which is a known variant of "sleided," and also since the idea works directly in reference to an army preparing for battle, I use the term "well-arrayed" in the paraphrase. The word sleaded can certainly be understood as "sleided" for plain reading.
More can be drawn from the line - a "pollock" is a fish, and "pollack" is a variant spelling, and then there is the star Pollux who in mythology was a brother, and the name of which goes back to a root meaning of "many twos" - but goodness, I'll spare you all that in a regular note. By the way, the reader should not be put off by all this. The plain meaning of most of Hamlet is fairly easy. Just follow along using the paraphrase. It's only when you go digging into it that you start to feel like Theseus in the Labyrinth.
For plain reading, just take this line as meaning King Hamlet defeated a well-arrayed Polish army, under icy conditions.
The mention of Danish - Polish conflict has importance to the plot. It connects to what we'll soon see, when Horatio speaks about Fortinbrasse recruiting an army, supposedly against Poland. Taking from this that the Poles are enemies of the Danes, the Danes shouldn't mind if Fortinbrasse attacks the Poles. However, we'll see there's concern that the idea of Fortinbrasse wanting to attack the Poles may be a deception, with Denmark his true aim. Of course Fortinbrasse would frame a deception in terms the Danes wouldn't mind, and we need to understand Denmark vs Poland here to know how his attempt at deception could gain any credibility with the Danes. Poland is an enemy of Denmark, so Danes would like to believe Poland will be attacked.
Indeed. There is a whole mouthful of tongue-in-cheek in this line from Shakespeare. He knew perfectly well, the sleaded pollax line is a strange one. Here he has Horatio immediately remark 'Tis strange. It darn sure is.
Horatio, himself, is pondering the issue of the Ghost.
Marcellus: Thus, twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
jump at - right at; just at. This sense probably derives from the "matched" meaning of jump, that is, if a time is "matched with" an event, the event occurs exactly at that time.
The word usage implies the men jumped.
this dead hour - an hour when normally nothing is happening, and it's silent. It's still silent in that the Ghost didn't speak. The phrase this dead hour can be seen as "this hour of the dead," which makes a direct reference to the Ghost.
Tritely, the phrase is a variation on "the dead of night," but Shakespeare didn't express it tritely. The "dead of night" in this passage is the Ghost.
With martial stalk, hath he gone by our watch.
martial stalk - military stride. There's stalk again. It's twice now we've been told the Ghost is stalking.
Marcellus, himself, only means the military way the Ghost walked.
our watch - this place where we're on watch duty.
Horatio: In what particular thought to work, I know not;
particular thought - thought in particular.
to work - a reference to seriousness. It refers to "putting the mind to work," as opposed to only playing with ideas.
However, Horatio can't identify exactly what to put his mind to work on, this is all so new to him.
But in the gross and scope of mine opinion,
gross - bulk; overall extent.
scope - as far as one can see. The Senses Motif in the play points to a "sense" reading for this.
Since scope can be understood as referring to vision, we might say Horatio is trying to envision the meaning of the vision he just saw. The word "vision" in Middle English meant a supernatural apparition. That's just by the way, although that idea of "vision" is perfectly apt.
So, the gross and scope of mine opinion - the extent of my opinion, as far as I can see.
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.
bodes - forebodes. Horatio thinks the Ghost is probably an omen. Bode connotes a bad outcome.
eruption - outbreak; upheaval. it literally means an outbreak, or an outburst, per the Latin root. It's a word that goes along with one speaking of disease, and there's a Disease Motif in the play.
So, strange eruption - unknown outbreak; and suggesting an unfamiliar malady. Horatio thinks it means something is going to plague them. Plagues were a constant worry in Shakespeare's day.
One can also read strange eruption as meaning an eruption of strangeness, an eruption of the strange. We will indeed see that.
The word strange is so manifold in meaning, then and now, I leave it that in the paraphrase. Horatio has now said strange twice, in quick succession.
We'll soon hear, specifically, that they're worried about the outbreak of war.
our state - Denmark is currently at peace, in a state of peace. The phrase can be read both in reference to Denmark, itself, and also to the state, of peace, Denmark is in. Horatio worries that the Ghost may mean that state of peace, in Denmark, will soon end. (Also, the idea of a "state of mind" is so common it can't be overlooked here, and we know about the Madness Theme in the play.)
Marcellus: Good, now sit down, and tell me, he that knows:
Good, - very good; I agree. It's a word of agreement, or at least acceptance.
now sit down - addressed to Horatio, as before. Bernardo and Marcellus remain standing. They're on watch duty, Horatio is a guest.
tell me, he that knows - addressed to Horatio, meaning "tell me, you who know everything." Horatio scoffed at them and teased them earlier, and Marcellus is now tossing some of that back at Horatio. It's perfectly natural.
Why this same strict and most observant watch
same - used for emphasis. Now the word very is more often used like that, e.g. "he's the very man."
strict - they're under strict orders. A Middle English sense of strict was "restricted in space," and that's compatible with this; they're required to be there on the platform.
most - for emphasis, again. Very. They're very strictly ordered to be right there, and to be very observant.
Who so very strictly ordered this watch duty, by the way? At first glance you'd think the new King Claudius did, but that can't be right. When we see Claudius in the next Scene it'll be his first day of issuing orders as the new King. We know that from some things he says. He couldn't have ordered this.
King Hamlet? No, he's been dead too long, as we'll hear later. Who, then?
During that interim period, between the death of King Hamlet and the assumption of Claudius, Denmark still had a head of state. Queen Gertrude was still there. She gave the orders during the interim.
Gertrude ordered, very strictly, this watch duty. Hm. We now know Gertrude is not just "the little woman." She's been ordering the country to prepare for war.
Shakespeare's real Queen Gertrude is not the frivolous entity, or nonentity, you may see described elsewhere, or presented on stage in modern productions. She is "something else." That's a factor to keep in mind to interpret the play correctly.
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
So - thus, thusly.
nightly - every night; and, all night. Both.
toils the subject of the land - is very figurative and poetic. The land is personified, cast as a person, who is a subject that requires supervision, and has to work all night, every night. The sentinels are the overseers of the land's labor, making sure the land works, all night. Think of the land personified, as a laborer, and the sentinels as the land's overseers.
Their duty is not to let the land "rest," as in the modern expression about a subject, "give it a rest." If somebody were going on and on about land, you might tell him, "give the land a rest" as if you were speaking of the land as a belabored person. That's essentially the same as the idea here.
Toils the subject of the land can be approximated by, "oversees the 'land person' to make him work, every night, all night."
It is Marcellus's own personal complaint, about working all night every night, projected onto the land he watches over, as if that land were the one at work. Marcellus finds it tedious, but in his duty, he cannot "give the land a rest."
And why such daily cost of brazen cannon
daily - contrasts with nightly. Those who order the cannons and ships work by day, (theirs is daily toil,) while others work by night (and theirs is nightly toil.)
cost - is the correct word. You may see "cast" elsewhere, but that is a mistake. The word has to go along with "foreign mart" in the next line, and foreign imports have a cost.
Even more telling, Shakespeare wrote the play to be acted. Act cost. Easy. Rub the coin. That is, rub your thumb against your fingers as if rubbing a coin. It's a universal gesture for money, and anything to do with money. It's been known since, oh, probably the ancient time when coins were invented. There's no such clear, universally recognized action for "cast." So, playing Marcellus on stage, say cost and "rub the coin," with full confidence you're saying, and doing, exactly what Shakespeare wanted.
brazen - brass; and also, cannons are noisy and bold, they "speak out" brazenly.
And foreign mart, for implements of war;
foreign mart - foreign markets; foreign trade.
implements of war - equipment for war; armor, weaponry, and the many other items needed for an army to go to war. The tools of war.
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
impress - literally, impressment; forcible employment. However, the sense is probably figurative, and not reference to an actual drafting of shipwrights. (One always looks first for the figurative, in Shakespeare.) Reasonably, the "press" is the urgency of the situation, which motivates the men to work (and at good pay, following on the mention of cost.)
sore task - work that's hard enough to make you sore. Hints of "grievous" task. The idea of "grief" emerges powerfully in the play, later, to become at least a Motif, or even a Theme.
Does not divide the Sunday from the week; - doesn't distinguish Sunday from any ordinary weekday. They're taking no "day of rest."
Divide goes back to a root meaning of "remove" (Latin 'dividere.') As far as the work week is concerned, Sundays are supposed to be "removed" from that week, ordinarily. Marcellus means Sundays are not now being "removed" from the work week.
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
toward - ahead. The direction toward which we're all moving in time, is the time ahead. The suffix '-ward' is Germanic, and is used in words of destination, so by that, the word toward by itself implies some destination. Marcellus is asking what the destination is, where all this activity is leading.
sweaty haste - sweaty is a word that for once means what it says. Men are working hard enough to sweat. Haste by golly also means what it says. If you just want something different, "feverish speed."
Doth make the night joint laborer with the day; - is poetic, as night and day are personified as the laborers.
joint laborer - jointly labor. Poetic, again. Ordinarily, night and day don't jointly labor, that is, they don't work together. Day works, and night sleeps.
Who is it that can inform me? - Marcellus is talking to Horatio, but Marcellus is playing it up, big time. Earlier, Horatio was doing the teasing, but now it's Marcellus's turn.
Marcellus is 'Putting on a Show.'
Marcellus plays it like, oh, he's a Roman senator addressing an assembled multitude, asking if there's anybody in that huge throng who can inform him on this vital issue. Marcellus looks all around, at his imagined crowd, (everyplace except at Horatio.) He's pulling Horatio's leg now, with a vengeance. One might say. You may already be aware of the Revenge Theme in Hamlet.
This is Marcellus's "revenge" for the teasing Horatio gave him earlier.
By the way, the correct oratorical style for this "show" by Marcellus, from line 079 or 080 onward, is that of "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears..." The play Julius Caesar gets some reference in Hamlet.
Horatio: That can I;
Horatio plays along. He rises like another Roman senator, who will try to respond to the question posed to the assembly.
Horatio stands up straight here.
At least the whisper goes so: our last King,
whisper - gossip; rumor.
Horatio is making it clear that he is only repeating what he's heard. He is not saying that he knows for a fact that what he goes on to describe is the reason for the military buildup in Denmark. This is a mark of Horatio's honesty and intellectual integrity, that he clarifies whether he can personally vouch for something, or has only heard it.
Rumor/gossip is a Motif of the play.
By the way, it shouldn't be taken that what Horatio goes on to say is news to Marcellus and Bernardo. We've heard how the military men, and others, have been extremely busy. The sentinels haven't had a lot of free time out in the "real world" beyond the military barracks to talk to people. They're genuinely interested whether the ideas circulating among the civilian population are the same as they've heard kicked around in the barracks. What they want from Horatio is basically a "second opinion" on the situation (and that is absolutely true to life from Shakespeare.)
our last King - our late King, but yes, the image at least of King Hamlet is the "last King" they've seen.
Whose image even but now appeared to us,
image - figure; visual appearance. Semblance. Horatio is far from accepting that the Ghost is somehow really the late King in any respect, but Horatio now grants that it truly does look like him.
even but now - just this minute. It's a way of stressing the idea of "just now."
Was, as you know, by Fortinbrasse of Norway,
as you know - Horatio knows Mardcellus and Bernardo already know this part. Horatio, the good university scholar, is presenting his remarks in a rather formal style, proceeding from "accepted postulates" to whatever conclusions he can draw. It's how he's learned to speak about serious subjects. Horatio does this in a way suggestive of a professor lecturing students. He isn't patronizing Marcellus and Bernardo, it's natural to Horatio as a product of his university experience.
Fortinbrasse of Norway - the Elder Fortinbrasse, the King of Norway's brother. Elder Fortinbrasse, himself, was not the King of Norway. Had he been, from what we're told, King Hamlet would have won the whole of Norway, and there would be no separate Norway in the play. Fortinbrasse was apparently a Norwegian Duke of Zealand (Shakespeare's fictional Zealand, that is.) Horatio is telling us how Zealand became part of Denmark, in the world of Hamlet.
(The story of Amleth by Saxo states the location as Jutland, which is the main body of Denmark. Horwendil, the father of Amleth, and Horwendil's brother Feng were both appointed by Rorik to defend Jutland. Shakespeare moved things around to suit himself, we can see, since Helsingor is on Zealand, and Shakespeare probably knew that - if he even cared to know. "The play's the thing.")
Elder Fortinbrasse, then, corresponds to Claudius, a king's brother. Claudius acted against his own brother; Elder Fortinbrasse did not. Elder Fortinbrasse directed his ambitions toward foreign conquest; Claudius committed treason. Elder Fortinbrasse, even though he lost, as we shall hear, provides a moral contrast to Claudius, even though Claudius "won" and is now the Danish King.
Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride,
pricked on - spurred. His emulate pride rode him like a horse, so to speak.
emulate - has a root meaning of "rival." Fortinbrasse wanted to rival his brother, by having a kingdom of his own. He was trying to emulate his brother, King Norway.
pride - arrogance; conceit; egotism; a too-high opinion of himself. He was "puffed up."
So, emulate pride - means his egotistical attempt to emulate his brother (spurred him on.)
Fortinbrasse was engaged in "sibling rivalry" with his brother, the King, one might say in modern jargon.
Dared to the combat, in which our valiant Hamlet,
Dared to the combat - exactly the idea in, "I dare you to fight me." The combat here is a personal one, a single combat.
The phrasing the combat casts the combat in special, or classical terms, like the way people speak of "the marathon."
valiant Hamlet - the Middle English idea of valiant includes "robust" (since it's from Latin 'valere,' "strong.") That applies here since we'll hear King Hamlet likened to Hercules. Valiant also carries its familiar meaning of "courageous." Valiant = powerful and courageous.
(For so this side of our known world esteemed him,) - Horatio is explaining why he phrased valiant Hamlet the way he did.
this side of our known world - Europe, the west, as opposed to India or China, the east, on the other side of the known world. Horatio is granting that in India or China they probably never heard of King Hamlet. At the university, Horatio has learned to take a "world view" and not be provincial.
Wherever King Hamlet was known, throughout Europe, he was esteemed, we're told, and considered to be valiant. Horatio is affirming that isn't just his opinion.
Did slay this Fortinbrasse, who, by a sealed compact
this Fortinbrasse - the Fortinbrasse I mentioned. The phrasing sounds as if there could be another Fortinbrasse, and indeed, we'll learn there is.
a sealed compact - a signed and sealed agreement; an official agreement.
compact - from Latin 'com' ("with") + 'pacisci' ("make a covenant.") Elder Fortinbrasse and King Hamlet made a covenant with each other.
The idea of "a covenant with" is something to mull because of the Isaiah 28:18, Geneva Bible (1599) wording:
And your couenant with death shalbe disanulled,
and your agreement with hell shall not stand:
when a scourge shall runne ouer and passe through,
then shall ye be trode downe by it.
It's the well-known "covenant with death" passage. In the "covenant" between Elder Fortinbrasse and King Hamlet, for a single combat, they agreed one of them would die. One could call that, in a way, a "covenant with death." By the Bible, a "covenant with death" is no different from an agreement with Hell. It could be seen as ominous for a "scourge" that will pass through, and people will be trodden down. The whole Danish royal family, and more, are going to end up dead, at the end of the play. Shakespeare had good familiarity with the Bible, so this is worth mentioning.
Well ratified by law and heraldy, - well approved both in law and by precedence (correct ceremony.) Tradition makes ceremony important in such things. Law and heraldy - basically "law and tradition." Laertes will speak of precedent in Scene 20, just before the fencing match.
Well ratified - amply approved. There was plenty of law and tradition to back it up.
heraldy - probably Shakespeare's exact word since from the "omen" idea of a "herald" it implies foretelling the future (better than the exact form "heraldry" does. Albeit, the distinction is extremely subtle, and perhaps not worth making.)
Anyway, heraldry/heraldy is "the law of arms," so to speak. It's nearly indistinguishable from "chivalry" in this usage.
We know how much it's on their minds as to whether the Ghost may herald something. Is the Ghost a herald, with an important message? Horatio, himself, is speaking of heraldic tradition, proper precedence and practice.
So, the agreement for a single combat was both legal, and proper according to tradition. Horatio mentions this to clarify that King Hamlet was doing nothing wrong, and that indeed, his participation was honorable.
Did forfeit (with his life) all these, his lands,
Did forfeit (with his life) - he lost his lands when he lost his life. Well, one would anyway - "you can't take it with you" - but Horatio means the land became no longer part of the Elder Fortinbrasse's estate. That means his son, Young Fortinbrasse, the Fortinbrasse in the play, did not inherit the family land, as he normally would have upon his father's death.
these, his lands - it is important to understand that the land they're standing on is part of what the Elder Fortinbrasse lost. These means exactly what it says. Their feet are on part of the land in question, as Horatio speaks.
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror;
stood seized of - "stood in possession of." The word stood is used in the approximate sense of "had a position." You may have heard the expression about a stock trader "having a position" in a company's stock, meaning he owns some company stock. It's the same idea. Stood seized of is an actual term of art in English law.
Well, even better for grasping stood is the current term of "standing." You've heard it said of somebody that he has "standing," to do something. That's a modern variation on stood the way Shakespeare used it (and the way it's used in the term of law.) Especially, one hears about legal "standing." That's the idea. Elder Fortinbrasse stood seized of the land because he had "standing" to "hold" it.
seized - used in the sense of "hold," a holding.
Elder Fortinbrasse "had a position" of "holding" the land, (until he lost it) is what we're told.
the conqueror - the winner, King Hamlet.
Against the which, a moiety competent
Against the which - against that of which I just spoke.
a moiety competent - a suitable half (of the total wager.) That is, Elder Fortinbrasse put up half the amount of the total wager, and King Hamlet put up half. It was not an "odds" situation, where either was risking, say, 10 to win 100. Each risked half the total amount, to try to win the total.
King Hamlet's bet was judged competent i.e. adequate/suitable, to make up half the total at risk.
Horatio is really getting into this, dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's as he goes. This is part of Shakespeare characterizing Horatio as a very careful and thorough university student. Horatio makes good grades at the U. of Wittenberg.
So, Elder Fortinbrasse risked his entire possessions, his entire Norwegian duchy, which looks like the northern, or northeastern, part of Zealand where Helsingor/Elsinore is, north of Copenhagen. The implications in the dialogue are that "the city" (Copenhagen) was no part of this. "The city" is mentioned in Scene 7.
Against that, King Hamlet risked land of equivalent extent or value. An equal land area of Zealand, running toward the western side, would have been possible, contiguous with that northern part. King Hamlet would not have risked Copenhagen against Helsingor, that is not equal. The point of going into this is that it could really work, for the actual geography, which I find interesting.
Perhaps King Hamlet risked Roskilde, and its Cathedral, against Helsingor, and its Castle. Now, I am not being entirely serious here, but it gives an excuse to post an image of that fine Roskilde Cathedral (which is where Kings and Queens of Denmark are buried. Were King Hamlet buried in the real Denmark, that is where he would be.)
Was gaged by our King, which had return
gaged - pledged. Wagered; risked. Another well-chosen word since a gage is also the glove thrown down in a challenge to fight. Horatio simply means "bet."
which had return - return is used here as in speaking of the return on money. It means the gain in value. The land King Hamlet risked would have been the return - the gain - for Elder Fortinbrasse if he had won.
had return - would have been the gain. If something "has return" it's a profitable venture. From the view of the Elder Fortinbrasse, the land King Hamlet risked had return for his estate. It "had profit" if added to his estate.
Or, to skip those technicalities, one can simply see that to return from a place is to go to a different place. To return is to go. By that, had return = had gone/would have gone. Read it like that, and really, you're close enough.
To the inheritance of Fortinbrasse
inheritance - legally, an "heir" is anybody who receives property from a deceased's estate. People think of an heir as a relative, but the term is broader. In unusual circumstances, even an enemy can be an heir, and receive an inheritance, as here.
To the inheritance of Fortinbrasse - plainly, the name means Elder Fortinbrasse, but the same phrasing applies to young Fortinbrasse. It's intentional ambiguity from the Bard.
Had the Elder Fortinbrasse killed King Hamlet, he would have inherited the land King Hamlet risked. Then eventually, in the natural order of things, the younger Fortinbrasse would have inherited it as part of his father's estate. To the inheritance of Fortinbrasse can be read for both those.
When King Hamlet won, the inheritance was his, of the land that had belonged to the Elder Fortinbrasse, whose estate plummeted to zero.
The word inheritance as used here is close to being synonymous with "estate," as far as just a plain reading goes, so I call it that in the paraphrase.
Young Fortinbrasse has ended up with no inheritance of land. In those days, a nobleman with no land was a sad creature. A "lord" was basically a landlord then, so if you think about a landlord with no land, you can see the problem.
"What are you?" -- "I'm a lord, of the land." -- "Ah, how much land do you have?" -- "None."
Whoops. Not good, for young Fortinbrasse. The Elder Fortinbrasse played "double or nothing" with his son's inheritance - and lost his entire estate.
One keeps in mind, that was not only Fortinbrasse family land that was lost to King Hamlet, it was Norwegian land, so it was also land lost by King Norway. We suspect he doesn't like that.
Had he been vanquisher; as by the same covenant,
as by the same covenant - There is the word covenant expressly used. "Because ye haue said, We haue made a couenant with death..."
Looks ominous. But Horatio only means the agreement he mentioned.
And carriage of the article design,
the article design - the way the article was written; what it required. The design of the article. Nowadays we might use the plural, "designs." To have "designs" is to have intentions. The article design is the agreement's intent.
carriage - conveyance. The idea of "conveyance" implies a change of ownership.
One can also picture a carriage as something that carries, and carries through.
And carriage of the article design - and the carrying through of the intent of the agreement. I'm a little more verbose in the paraphrase. More succinctly, "and conveyance as the agreement laid out."
His fell to Hamlet; now, sir, young Fortinbrasse,
fell - like a fruit from a tree, to be picked up.
As fell appears later in the play it has a "death" connotation, or outright means death (e.g. "fell sergeant Death.") The "fall" here was in connection with a death.
Of unimproved mettle, hot and full,
unimproved mettle - unimproved character. No better than his father was. Mettle = character; personality.
There's a pun with "metal" (and indeed, "metal" and mettle were once the same word.) Think "metal" also, then.
hot and full - can be read as "fully hot." When metal at the forge is "fully hot" it is "ready to strike." (There's reference later to Vulcan's anvil.)
Or, hot and full can be understood, for plain reading, not so poetic, as fervent, and full of himself, meaning he has the same ambitious pride, the same emulate pride, as his father.
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there,
skirts - the outskirts; the more remote areas. The border areas.
The word skirt has a Norwegian origin. It goes back to Old Norse 'skyrta' which however meant "shirt."
skirts of Norway - sounds like "skirting" King Norway, going around him. We will later hear that, yes, that's what Fortinbrasse is doing, skirting his uncle. Supposedly. According to rumor. (Which, we recall, is what Horatio said he was repeating.) This second available meaning in the line is because of intentional ambiguity from Shakespeare.
Sharked up a list of landless resolutes
Sharked up - scavenged up, in a predatory way. Predators, such as sharks, are also scavengers.
a list - an enlistment. This is an archaic meaning of list. It's fine to see it as meaning a list of names, a group, and I paraphrase it as that.
landless resolutes - men of no land, who are paid. Foreign mercenaries.
Landless = lacking fealty to, having no sworn loyalty to, the land (of King Norway.) We can be absolutely certain of this meaning, because if they did, they'd know their duty was to King Norway, not Fortinbrasse, and they wouldn't sign up for anything not approved by King Norway. That is exactly what Horatio is talking about, men who are not loyal to the land, of (King) Norway.
Landless in this usage is is not a reference to whether any of these men owns land himself, in Norway. (Horatio would not know that. He has not done a real estate survey of them.) He is talking about men who can be found in Norway, but who have no loyalty to King Norway, since they are not of his land. Re Norway, they're landless. Foreigners, to Norway, is what they are.
In sum, landless = not of the land, of (King) Norway.
Resolutes = paid men. The word resolute in late Middle English meant "paid" (in particular it referred to rent being paid, but Shakespeare was never confined to strict definitions.) Beyond that, it goes back to Latin 'resolutus' ("loosened," "released," "paid.") Men who are loosened from bonds, or other servitude; men who are released from imprisonment; men who are just paid hires, is what the meaning of the Latin root implies.
Horatio is talking about foreign mercenaries. That is exactly the kind of men you'd find in the outskirts of a country. You'd encounter them in ports, and in border areas where smuggling is happening, and so on, as Horatio says, here and there.
But who is paying those mercenaries? Fortinbrasse has no land income, none at all. We know that, and in those days an aristocrat's land was essentially identical to his income. Lord=landlord. Horatio is wondering about the Ghost, though, and is trying to focus on the possible meaning of it, and he is not mulling the details of how Fortinbrasse is doing what he's supposedly doing, according to rumor.
it all sounds quite plausible, until you start wondering who's paying for it. Fortinbrasse has a rich uncle...
But now then, to address what Horatio, himself, means. Oh dear, that's one of the things about Hamlet. What Shakespeare is telling us can be different from what a character means. Shakespeare was so good with words, he could do that. He could use a line to tell us something about the story, but in the same line his play character can mean something different. One must often address both. It may apply here.
Horatio, himself, might take those landless resolutes as being some men who left, or were expelled, when King Hamlet won the former-Norwegian land, and it became part of Denmark. They then scattered across Norway, but are now "resolved" to return, even if it takes war. Thus they would be landless resolutes in that way, and found here and there for that reason. It's possible Horatio only means that, but Shakespeare is telling us more than that.
For food and diet to some enterprise
For food and diet - to feed into, and nourish. Non-poetically, to build up.
some enterprise - some military enterprise. Some undertaking. The Latin root of enterprise means "take." Fortinbrasse wants to "take."
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other,
That hath a stomach in't - that's hungry. Things with a stomach get hungry. There's an old expression about having a stomach for fighting.
The early 16th century sense of "to stomach" was "to resent." That also works here. That hath a stomach in't - that has resentment in it; the resentment being that of Fortinbrasse, because of not inheriting the land he should have.
Fortinbrasse has a stomach for fighting because he can't stomach losing that land.
As it doth well appear unto our state, - as it very well looks like, from our Danish point of view.
state - can be understood as the Danish administration, hence the purchase of the cannons, etc., but the meaning here isn't strictly limited to just the government.
All you ever really know, yourself, is how something looks, from your point of view.
Point of view is extremely important within Hamlet. The characters see, and understand, only from their own points of view. Shakespeare did a masterful job of that.
But to recover of us by strong hand
to recover of us - to recover from us.
by strong hand - by force. By seizure, as with a strong hand.
And terms compulsatory, those 'foresaid lands
terms compulsatory - terms of compulsion; mandatory terms. Terms of surrender.
Compulsatory is a Shakespeare coinage, probably on the pattern of "mandatory" and "predatory." The suffix '-atory' is used to mean action. A predatory creature does the action of predation, something compulsatory is an act done under compulsion.
those 'foresaid lands - those aforementioned lands. The word those here refers to the lands mentioned elsewhere in the remarks, not elsewhere geographically. They're still standing on it.
So by his father lost; and this, I take it,
I take it - I think. But notice another use of a "take" word, this time the word itself. There's seizings and holdings and takings all over this Scene 1 dialogue.
Horatio is still being very honest, that this is just what he thinks. He claims no absolute knowledge.
Is the main motive of our preparations,
the main motive - The major motivation. The prime mover.
main goes back to an Old English word meaning "strong" which I mention because we just saw "strong." The main motive is that which "strongly moves" an event.
The source of this, our watch, and the chief head
source - goes back to Latin 'surgere' ("rise.") The source of something is what "gives rise" to it. A source is a "rise giver." Horatio means he thinks what he mentioned "gave rise" to what he goes on to say.
One thinks of the source of a river, and we recall the word rivals with its poetic implication of "the river of the night." The word source is compatible with that poetic imagery.
For plain reading, source just means "cause." Yawn. It's getting to be that time of night, by the way. In performance, a yawn here or there among the men would be appropriate, and hint of why there are two sentinels on duty.
our watch - Horatio says our watch because, emotionally, he's "joined the army." He's fully with the sentinels now, at least as far as seeing the Ghost goes. And indeed, he is helping keep watch now, so it's a fair use of the pronoun. He's ended the teasing of using "royal" pronouns.
chief head - this is cutely phrased by Shakespeare, because chief goes back to Latin 'caput' ("head.") Horatio is speaking of the "head head." Well, no, the Horatio character, himself, doesn't mean that. It can be understood as chief = principal, and strangely, head = source (like the headwaters of a river being the source of the river.)
One can also take it that reason is of the head ergo head = reason. Your "reason" in the sense of your reasoning ability, is your head. By that, chief head = principal reason. The idea of the head in association with "reason" is Thematic. We know of the Madness Theme of the play.
Of this posthaste and 'Romeage' in the land.
posthaste - urgency. Posthaste is a word that originated around the time Shakespeare was born, and it comes from people writing "haste, post, haste" on letters. It comes from telling the mail carrier to hurry up.
Romeage - the meaning for plain reading is "rummage," however it does not mean rummaging through things. It has the earlier meaning, obsolete now, of stowing items on a ship, or ships. This follows on the earlier mention of shipbuilding.
Modern dictionaries confirm that meaning. For one, the Oxford Dictionary online says of "rummage" - "ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from Old French 'arrumage,' from 'arrumer' "stow (in a hold)," from Middle Dutch 'ruim' "room." In early use the word referred to the arranging of items such as casks in the hold of a ship."
Ironically, the Century Dictionary, from which I took the lower image, quoted Hamlet under the wrong definition! They quoted Hamlet under a "hustle and bustle" definition, while they had a correct definition, as you see, not far away under the same word. Well, Hamlet is tricky.
So, in this case, to "rummage" means to stock a ship's hold. Shakespeare used the term more broadly, in a figurative way, to mean the stockpiling of military equipment in the country. "Rummage" doesn't mean the hectic activity, it means the stocking up. You will find it glossed incorrectly elsewhere. It is all too easy to read as "disturbance."
"posthaste and rummage" - urgency and stockpiling.
However, as you see in the first image, the Second Quarto word is spelled Romeage with a capital-R. Litterally, that is "Rome age," while we have Marcellus standing right there. Later in the play we will hear mention of Julius Caesar, and in the final Scene Horatio will call himself more an ancient Roman than a Dane. What you see is Shakespeare's exact spelling to bring in the "Rome" idea, the idea of the "Rome age."
The play Julius Caesar apparently immediately preceded Hamlet and the development of the two may even have overlapped. Seeing things like this in Hamlet, one is inclined to think so.
That exact spelling has direct pertinence to the Scene, also, concerning the Ghost. When it talks to Hamlet, later, the Ghost will imply that it's in Purgatory, which is a concept of the Roman Catholic Church. So, Romeage with "Rome-" in it provides wordplay in advance allusion to what the Ghost will say later, about it being confined to Roman Catholic Purgatory. In that beautifully subtle way, we thusly return to the Ghost, which got all this going, in the last line of Horatio's speech.
Bernardo: I think it be no other, but even so,
I think it be no other - yes, I also think that's it.
but even so - Bernardo thinks that what Horatio mentioned is the cause of the military buildup, but he wants to know what the Ghost might have to do with all that.
Well may it sort, that this portentous figure
Well may it sort - will it turn out well, is what he's asking. We still speak of how things "sort out." It has a reference to fate, or fortune, and is an instance of the Wheel of Fortune Theme.
sort - goes back to Latin 'sors,' 'sort-' (which means "lot," as in the phrase "lot in life," a reference to fate or luck; "lot" as in "lottery." The word "lottery" entered English about the same time Shakespeare was born.)
portentous - ominous. Secondarily, "monstrous" in the sense of being strange and unnatural, which was the usual meaning of "monstrous" in Middle English. So then, portentous - ominous, and also, strange and unnatural. Mostly, Bernardo wants to know whether the Ghost is an omen, and his use of portentous implies that, for himself, he thinks so, or fears so.
Comes armed through our watch, so like the King
armed - in armor. The emergence of "firearms" as common weaponry greatly biased the meaning of armed toward the weaponry side.
That was and is the question of these wars?
(the King) That was - the late King, King Hamlet.
and is the question of these wars? - King Hamlet is the question in the sense that he raises the question. The current trend in English is to speak of "raising an issue," which is the same kind of idea. Thinking about King Hamlet, after seeing the Ghost that looks like him, has "raised the issue" of the earlier wars, and a possible future war.
The lack of a comma in the line, in the original printing, is an intentional ambiguity from the author. That was and is the question of these wars can be read as either "who was, and also who now raises the question about these wars," or it can be read as "who was the question before, and still is, about these wars." Shakespeare did that to us intentionally. Read it either way you want. I put the former in the paraphrase.
Horatio: A moth it is to trouble the mind's eye;
moth - is the correct word in the playscript. Horatio is using moth as a figure of speech, to mean "an unpredictable thing." In practical experience, it's unpredictable where a moth will go, when it flutters around at night. Horatio means that he can't foresee how things will turn out, based on the Ghost. He doesn't know where the Ghost moth will "land," so to speak.
There is probably an intended pun on "mote" in connection with "trouble ... eye." The "mote" pun has almost universally been used as the dialogue word in publications of Hamlet. However, "mote" does not carry an idea of unpredictability. Moth does. "Mote" is only an implicit pun, and is not supposed to be the word in the playscript.
Horatio is talking about predictability. He is not just saying the Ghost bothers him.
The moth figure of speech is, further, an advance allusion to what the Ghost will tell Hamlet later. Although the fluttering of a moth is generally unpredictable, it's common for moths to be attracted to light, such as firelight. Later, the Ghost will say that it renders itself up to "sulfurous and tormenting flames." Thus, the Ghost moth landed in flames, figuratively speaking. There is, of course, a well-known expression: "like a moth to a flame."
Further, when the men try to stop the Ghost, later in the Scene, it will flutter from one place to another, then disappear from sight. That's moth behavior. (I have concluded that Shakespeare's company flew the Ghost at the Globe Theater, using, I suppose, pulleys and ropes and a spar that extended out over the stage. In the passage where Bernardo and Marcellus try to attack the Ghost, starting at line 149, the crew flew him.)
Even further, there is a herald moth, Scoliopteryx libatrix. It is a eurasian moth found throughout Europe, including England and Denmark, and beyond. In this passage, the men are wondering what the Ghost may portend, or herald; that is, one can view them as wondering, is the Ghost figuratively a "herald moth" but in the literal sense of "herald?"
Still further, herald moths are of the family noctuidae, sometimes termed "owlet moths." Noctuids typically fly at night, and are strongly attracted to light. Herald moth caterpillars feed on willow (consider that Ophelia will fall from a willow.) As to "owlet" Ophelia will say "owl" in Scene 16.
Performance considerations also firmly support moth as the word Horatio speaks (even when the stage crew doesn't fly the Ghost.) Imagine you're watching a moth that's fluttering, back and forth, from flower to flower, a few feet in front of you. As you watch the imaginary moth, you'll move your head side to side to follow it. You'll do a slow shake of the head. That is exactly the kind of action that goes along with uncertainty, which is what Horatio is expressing. It would be correct in stage action for Horatio, as he speaks, to do a rather slow side to side head shake.
The word moth withstands scrutiny from every angle, and is, to a reasonable certainty, the word from Shakespeare's hand. Hamlet publications that print the word "mote" are wrong. The original Second Quarto is correct, exactly as printed.
trouble - create difficulty for; raise a difficult problem for; puzzle.
mind's eye - the imagination; in particular here, the ability to foresee events.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
In the most high - at the highest; at the height. It can be read as "great" for a quick, plain reading. Horatio means Rome at its height.
palmy - flourishing. See the Bible, Psalm 19 line 12, "The righteous shall flourish like a palme tree" (Geneva wording.) Then, if still in doubt, see Hamlet's line in Scene 20: Scene 20#043 As love between them as the palm should flourish.
Further - yep, there's always more - a palm leaf is a classic symbol of victory. Palmy can be understood as "victorious" as well. This applies to Denmark, after King Hamlet's victories, so the analogy with Rome includes this idea of being victorious.
Thus, palmy - flourishing, and victorious. At the moment.
Plays have action. Horatio actor, act "palmy." Lift your hands up to shoulder level, palms outward, elevate your gaze slightly, and open your eyes wide as if gazing at something amazingly wonderful. A "behold" posture. The palms of the hands are key to that pose.
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
mightiest - most mighty; high and mighty.
Julius - Julius Caesar.
fell - died. In the play, there are several uses of fell / "fall" to mean death, or to imply death (even when the character, himself, is not trying to say that.) Here, Horatio is of course speaking of Caesar's death. In Old English, influenced by Old Norse, fall ('fallen') could mean a "downfall," which fits the context perfectly here, as Horatio speaks of the downfall, and death, of Julius Caesar. The aptness of the English word roots is a constantly fascinating aspect of Shakespeare's writing.
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
The graves stood - the graves were in the state of... This use of stood is clever, in that graves don't "stand" they "lie" in more prosaic terms. This use of stood relates to the word "stead," meaning "place." Literally, stood just means "were," but just writing "were" obviously wasn't good enough for Shakespeare.
A "homestead" is a "home place," a house. In the phrase The graves stood Shakespeare is casting the grave as a house. The expression is exactly the same as if one now said, "the house stood (empty.)" The identical idea.
The idea of the grave as a house is more common in French than in English. The term 'maison mortuaire' is still current in French, as far as I know, and means literally "house of the deceased," and also 'maison mort' means "death house." The idea of the grave as being the "house" of the dead will appear again in Scene 19, the Graveyard Scene.
As Horatio says, it was literally the dead who stood, but Shakespeare applied the word to the graves from which the departed had departed.
tenantless - unoccupied.
sheeted dead - shrouded dead, the dead wrapped in their burial cloths.
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets,
squeak and gibber - what it says. squeak = shriek, cried out. gibber - prattle, babble, in an unintelligible way.
There is the point that the noises those dead made were not intelligible as speech. The men have still not heard the Ghost speak intelligibly, or make any vocal noise. The question remains of whether it can.
in the Roman streets - the dead mingled with the living, like the Ghost is doing here.
The Ghost looks exactly like King Hamlet. Could it somehow be his actual body, restored and enchanted, and reanimated? One might wonder.
How can it be proven on stage that the Ghost is a spirit, and not an animated corpse, a zombie? If the question occurs to me, it certainly occurred to Shakespeare. He found a way. It confirms that moth is the correct word in the playtext. Moths fly.
As stars with trains of fire, and dews of blood,
As - Likewise. Likewise as ominous events, that is.
(If you look in older publications of Hamlet you may encounter a lot of conjecture that a line has been lost in this passage. Previous editors and commentators have thought that, just because they didn't understand the use of as here. They did not see that as means "likewise." They were wrong; ignore all that historical blather if you happen to encounter it. There is no line missing.)
stars with trains of fire - could be either meteor showers, or comets. Both could be considered ominous, depending on how heavy the meteor shower was. The usual gloss is "comets" and that's reasonable, especially because of the rarity of bright comets. It's entirely possible Shakespeare meant us to understand both. I paraphrase it as meteor showers, because that possibility gets less mention in other publications, and does need to be mentioned.
and dews of blood - blood raining from the sky, to fall on things where it looked like drops of red dew. We'll hear Hamlet speak of dew.
Disasters in the sun, and the moist star,
Disasters in the sun - It may have reference to sunspots, or it may refer to solar eclipses. In Hamlet it might mean both at the same time.
The word disaster comes from a root meaning of 'ill star,' which can be understood as either "bad star" or "sick star." Astrology holds that astronomical objects are influential in human events.
Sunspots were known in Shakespeare's day. The first drawing of sunspots was done by John of Worcester in 1128, as shown in the image. The sun, being a heavenly body, was taken to be perfect, normally, and any defect in its appearance was seen as ominous.
Likewise, eclipses were seen as ominous. There was a total solar eclipse on February 25, 1598, with a path of totality that ran from Cornwall, at the southwest of England, to Aberdeen, on the east coast of Scotland. So, solar eclipses were in the news around the time Shakespeare was composing Hamlet as we now have it.
In either event, there is an implicit sun/son pun. Hamlet is the notable "son" in the play, so "disasters in the son" is implied, and is ominous for Hamlet. The phrase implies Hamlet being under a "bad star" astrologically speaking. Horatio isn't trying to say that, and he doesn't realize the ominous implication, for Hamlet, in his words.
moist star - the "watery" moon. Star can be used poetically for any bright heavenly body. The moon is associated with water because of the tides, and because of shining at night when dew and fog, and such phenomena, are most likely to form.
Upon whose influence Neptune's Empire stands,
influence - we've now gotten all scientific about gravity, and don't think of it in terms of an influence any more.
Neptune's Empire - the oceans and seas, the "empire" of the sea god, Neptune.
stands - rises, to subsequently fall. Empires will do that, witness the Roman empire. Neptune's empire rises, and falls, noticeably, every day.
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse; - got the passage censored. See the Folio Difference Note.
sick - is another instance of the Disease Motif in the play. It follows on Francisco's use of the word, in this Scene.
to doomsday - to death, to its Day of Judgment. A figure of speech as if the moon were a person (as this whole line is.)
eclipse - the usual meaning. Eclipse goes back to Greek 'ekleipein' which refers to a failure to appear.
The idea is that of the moon being so eclipsed that it nearly failed to appear at all, implying it was nearly dead.
In poetic stereotype, a king is associated with the sun, and a queen is associated with the moon. The line can be read as implying the death of a Queen, as will indeed be the case in Hamlet in Scene 20. When Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine, and then exclaims about it being poisoned, she will be in the condition stated here. Horatio certainly has no idea that he's implying the sickness, and death, of Queen Gertrude.
This has a certain compatibility with Bernardo earlier speaking of the "last night of all."
And even the like precurse of fear events,
even - a word to add emphasis. Pretty much the same as modern "very," when "very" is spoken with a little stress.
precurse - a curse before; a curse in advance. For example, the ghosts gibbering in the streets were themselves a curse, and they foreshadowed a greater curse, the death of Caesar. The curse of the death of Caesar was preceded by a lesser curse. The dead in the streets were frightening, but unlike in a modern movie, they didn't eat people. They were just a scary nuisance. The death of Caesar changed the known world, and history. So, a precurse is a predictor of a curse, or it can mean a curse that foreshadows a greater curse.
In Hamlet we'll see curses preceding curses, so to speak, through the play, until the accursed catastrophe at the end.
fear events - events of fear; events to fear. Basically the same as "fearful events," but more poetically phrased.
As harbingers preceding still the fates,
harbingers - omens; portents. The mid-16th century meaning was "herald," so Shakespeare's word literally means "herald," but with him we do not live by literal meaning alone.
still - always. Every time. Horatio, the skeptic about ghosts, does appear to accept that there are always omens. In Hamlet, he's right.
the fates - the fates of men. However, the mere phrase implies the Fates of mythology, and one has to suppose Shakespeare knew that, especially when it comes to Roman mythology, where he appears to have been adept. (He knew Tellus, which is unusual.)
In Roman mythology, the Fates are called the Parcae. Three in number, they are female personifications of the powers that rule the lives of men. They are in control of the Thread of Life.
The three are:
- Noma, who spins the Thread of Life,
- Decima, who measures the Thread of Life, and
- Morta, who cuts the Thread of Life.
In Greek they are the Moirae: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos.
The image is a Rubens painting from within a year or two of the time the FIrst Folio of the Shakespeare plays was published. Click the pic.
The Fate of particular concern to the sentinels and Horatio is Morta.
And prologue to the omen coming on,
prologue - the "advance speaker," so to speak. In theater, the prologue is an actor who speaks before the play, to introduce it. Prologue is a classical role in theater. We will see a Prologue in Scene 9, at the 'Mousetrap' play.
Prologue is from Greek 'prologos' = 'pro-' ("before") + 'logos' ("saying.’) A prologue is therefore a "saying before," or a "speaking before." An omen is a kind of "speaking before" an event (and leading up to the event.) So, in its use here, prologue means "omen."
Great, so what the heck does omen mean, sitting right there in the same line?
omen coming on - ominous outcome. The on coming event, that was omened. Shakespeare flipped the word around, and used omen to refer to the event foreshadowed (by the earlier omens.)
But, is any event ever the end of the story? No, not while this old world keeps turning. Thus, one can see any notable event as an omen of some future notable event, and then that future event as an omen of whatever will follow it, and so on, until the Day of Judgment. in saecula saeculorum, world without end, amen. As they say. So, Shakespeare's use of omen in this way is no error at all, nor even a stretch. Whatever event the Ghost may foreshadow - if it is an omen - will be an omen, itself, for the next event. It's really just the simple notion in, one thing leads to another, but expressed far more subtly by Shakespeare. There is a vulgar saying, that life is just one damned thing after another, and then you die. Not to toss a morbid saying into a play with a Death Theme, so let's move on.
In practical terms for the play, Shakespeare used omen like that to get a reference to the Ghost, which is about to enter again. Horatio doesn't know that he, himself, is being a prologue, a "speaker in advance" of the Ghost's reappearance.
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
together - both.
demonstrated - shown.
The line expresses it as if heaven and earth are both playing roles, to Put on a Show of what's going to happen. This is another subtle instance of the Putting on a Show Theme.
When Horatio says heaven he extends his arm fully overhead, pointing upward; as he says earth he swings his arm down, to point downward. Those are visual cueing signals for the Ghost actor, so he can time his entry correctly whether he can hear the dialogue spoken on stage or not.
The move can also be done in a big way - a big action is required to be sure the Ghost actor sees it - by Horatio pointing up with one arm, at heaven, and downward at the earth with the other arm, and then clasping his hands together when he says that word.
Unto our climatures and countrymen.
our climatures - our climes; our part of the world. Horatio has been speaking of Rome, in southern Europe, but they are in Denmark, in northern Europe. He means that what he's been talking about, in Rome, isn't irrelevant to them in Denmark.
countrymen - same thing. It isn't just the Romans who have seen such things in the past, but so have Danes, says Horatio.
Horatio extends his arms, to "embrace" his surroundings, as the saying puts it, when he says climatures. This is another big arm action for the Ghost actor to see, so the Ghost actor knows where they are in the dialogue even if he can't hear it.
(the Ghost enters)
Timing is crucial. Observe, in the image, the exact placement of the stage direction in relation to the preceding lines.
Taking Horatio as right handed, and the men in the same arrangement as earlier, a stage left entry is implied for the Ghost, once again.
But soft, behold! Lo, where it comes again.
Means what it says. The interesting thing is that the tone is so Biblical, like an ancient prophet speaking of a miracle. That tone is not accidental.
Oh, I could mention, Horatio is saying soft to himself, not the others. He's the only one who's talking at the moment. He politely told himself to shut up.
I'll cross it though it blast me; stay, illusion!
cross it - intercept it. A crossing path is an intercepting path. Horatio steps in front of the Ghost and extends his arms out wide, to block its path. This is the "traffic cop" posture we all recognize to mean "stop."
Horatio crosses the Ghost in two different ways at the same time. He crosses it by intercepting its path, and he "crosses" it by standing in the shape of a cross. (Horatio does not take a Christian cross from his pocket, or from around his neck, and hold it up at the Ghost, rather, he becomes a "cross" himself, with his posture.)
blast - infect; blight. Transmit some malady to. Folklore says ghosts can be catching. The idea is, apparently, that there must be something wrong with a spirit if it's wandering around, instead of resting in peace, so if you touch it, your own spirit could be infected by some malady.
though it blast me - Horatio is taking a risk here. He could be risking his life, if the folklore idea about ghosts is right.
illusion - since the Ghost looks exactly like the living King Hamlet, which it can't be, Horatio still casts it as an illusion which it does have to be. Its appearance is in some way illusory.
(Horatio steps in front of the Ghost and spreads his arms; the Ghost stops and also spreads its arms)
the Ghost stops and also spreads its arms - according to the original Second Quarto publication. The Motifs of the play tell us that is correct.
The Ghost is "mirroring" Horatio. This is an instance, in the action, of the Mirror Motif. The Mirror Motif informs us that both Horatio and the Ghost are standing with their arms spread wide, in a "traffic cop" or "cross" pose, and facing each other.
One wonders why the Ghost does that. Cross has been stated, and that posture is not only a "traffic cop" pose, it is also the position of Jesus Christ on the Christian Cross, of course.
The Ghost could be simply mirroring Horatio, in an innocent, friendly way. Then, if it's intentionally imitating the position of Jesus, as well, that could be highly symbolic of friendly intention. But if the Ghost is an evil creature from Hell, its pose is a malicious mockery, both of Horatio, and Jesus.
If thou hast any sound or use of voice,
any sound or use of voice - any sound of a voice, or any use of a voice. Horatio is not asking if it can just make some sound. He doesn't particularly care whether it can gibber, like the sheeted dead of ancient Rome. He wants to know if it can talk intelligibly, somehow.
The phrasing could be interpreted as hendiadys: sound or use = useful sound.
The Ghost could talk if it has a way to make a sound of a voice, or if it has the actual use of a voice. Either way would work. As usual, Horatio is being as thorough as he can, citing all the possibilities.
Speak to me, if there be any good thing to be done
any good thing to be done - one of the reasons, in folklore, for why a ghost might appear, was to ask somebody to do something important, something that the ghost did not do during its life. Only after the required action was taken could the ghost rest in peace.
Horatio would only do a good thing for the Ghost, so he doesn't just say "any thing."
That may to thee do ease, and grace to me,
to thee do ease - let you rest.
and grace to me - and be a blessing for me. Essentially, "be good for my soul." Horatio isn't about to do anything evil for the Ghost.
Speak to me!
Horatio wants to know, are we there yet? Is that what your appearance means? If so, as he says, speak to me.
If thou art privy to thy country's fate
thy country's fate - this is what the sentinels are most concerned about. Same for Horatio, personally, but he put the question of grace first. That is quite proper.
If the Ghost knows the future of the country, they would sure like to hear about it. Fate implies "doom," which is what they would hope to avert.
Which happily foreknowing may avoid,
happily - means both "fortunately" and "cheerfully." Think of "happy happenstance." Good luck, if you can get it, is a cheerful thing.
avoid - prevent; avert. Perhaps their fate is not written in stone, and foreknowledge of the future could identify a way to ward off disaster.
Is that it, the country's fate? Are we there yet? Horatio wants to know.
Or, if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
uphoarded - "hoarded up" (valuables.)
Horatio is addressing the possibilities in moral order: "grace" first, then the country, and now to things at the personal level.
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth -
extorted - I paraphrase this in the sense of its Latin root, 'extort,' which means "wrested." I prefer a mild paraphrase here, so as not to bias the interpretation too much. Horatio might mean only that.
However, Shakespeare did use extort with the meaning of gaining money from others by force, in Cymbeline.
Indeed a harsher interpretation may be more reasonable. Horatio still retains his skepticism, no longer about the Ghost's existence, but now, about its nature. His line can be read as tantamount to accusing the Ghost of exaction, if not outright extortion, which would be a sharp insult to hurl at a king (although no insult is too strong for a devil.)
the womb of earth - goes along with the wrongness of burying treasure. Treasure is a production of the earth, not properly returned to the earth by man, anymore than forcing a baby back into its mother's womb would be proper. It's contrary to the natural order.
For which they say your spirits oft' walk in death -
they say - thinking better of it, Horatio ameliorates his statement by citing conventional wisdom. That's more polite than a personal accusation of wrongdoing (and more likely to get a response.) Horatio recalls the Ghost being offended earlier, and remaining silent at that time.
Horatio turns aside, a bit, from the Ghost, toward Marcellus and Bernardo, when he says this. It is not a full-fledged aside. He's saying it to the men and the Ghost, both.
We see from Horatio's questions that he does know something about ghosts. He knows why they might appear, according to the conventional wisdom of theology and folklore. Marcellus was right to bring Horatio along, as far as that much goes.
(When Marcellus met Horatio, in an inn in the town, we suppose, it's very easy to imagine how the conversation went. They chatted in a friendly way for a while. Marcellus asked, with it so much on his mind, "do you know anything about ghosts?" Horatio's reply, "oh, a little bit. Why?" Marcellus: "any idea why a ghost would appear?" Horatio: "there are reasons that are commonly accepted. But why do you ask?" And etc., which led to Marcellus inviting - with insistence - Horatio along.)
(a cock crows)
This has to be cued visually, in a way the rooster imitator can be sure to see, in case he can't hear the dialogue, and also in a way that justifies Bernardo's line 158.
There's a well-known action that a person does when he has something to say. He simply raises an index finger. You've probably seen people do that. Here, the Ghost simply raises an index finger, prominently. It's an action visible from a distance, to cue the rooster imitator, for perfect timing, and it also justifies Bernardo's later line.
Simultaneously, the Ghost opens his mouth to speak, just as the cock crows. Madness is a Theme of the play. We know that. It gives the impression, just for a moment, that the Ghost has crowed.
After all the insistence that the Ghost speak, it opens its mouth, and what do we hear? - ERR-uh-ERR-uh-ERRRR! What?? Oh, then we notice the rooster silhouette that the stage hand is holding up in the background.
By the way, in the image, the word "death" has a period after it because of the change of voice there, from Horatio to the cock. A little technical note. That Second Quarto punctuation is exactly right, and it confirms the exact timing.
Speak of it. Stay and speak! Stop it, Marcellus!
The Ghost has turned again, as it did on the earlier occasion, and is starting to leave. It has turned stage left.
Stop it, Marcellus! - Marcellus is stage left of Horatio, and in better position to intercept the Ghost. Horatio is now behind the Ghost, but Marcellus still has an angle to move in front of it. All three men were keeping pace with the Ghost, but after Horatio says this line, Marcellus runs a few steps to get in front of it.
Marcellus: Shall I strike at it with my partisan?
Marcellus is now in front of the Ghost, holding his partisan in both hands, crosswise (we can be sure of that - there's the "cross" again) as he asks whether he should try to strike the Ghost.
partisan - a formidable pole weapon like a large spear, but with additional blades, or spear points, at the sides of the main spear head. Partisans had a much greater reach than a sword, and were long enough, and strong enough, to be used by ground troops against cavalry. The sentinels are well armed.
The word partisan entered English via Italian 'parte' ("part") which makes partisan the ideal choice for a weapon that "plays a part" in a show.
Horatio: Do, if it will not stand.
Horatio says, yes, if the Ghost doesn't stop because of Marcellus "crossing" it with his partisan, he should try to hit the Ghost.
The Ghost starts to go around Marcellus. He winds up to hit it with his partisan. The Ghost raises its arms, in the "cross" position again, but higher this time, and brings its arms down. And, with that sort of "flapping" motion...
(the Ghost flies!)
The Ghost FLIES!! It soars into the air.
You've got a Ghost that looks exactly like a man. It has to look exactly like a man, according to the premise. How then, since it looks just like a man to the audience, do you prove to the audience it's supernatural?
Fly it. If it were merely a man, could it fly? A moth it is...
Here's another reason why it helps so much, in interpreting Hamlet, to get the dialogue right.
There was apparantly a trapdoor in the "heavens" over the stage at the Globe. It was used to lower actors as if they were angels descending, or Mercury, or some such. What comes down, can go up.
For more, if the setup you had at the Globe already wasn't enough, there are Sailors in the play, they appear as characters in Scene 17. Say you're a theater fellow who wants to fly somebody, on stage at the theater, in 1600, the era of the tall ships, the sailing ships, with their amazing rope rigging. Who would you get who would know precisely how to rig it up, and fly a man on stage, if you needed more than you already had for a theatrical setup? Enter Sailors. There you have not only fellows who knew how to rig it, but strong backs to help hoist that poor Ghost aloft. As compensation, give them some money, of course, but also a small part in the play. (They already had their own "sailor" costumes, since that was their actual clothing.)
Sure, the audience saw the ropes when the Ghost flew, but they also saw a man in armor get whisked up into the air, and swung around the stage, probably pretty wildly. Cool.
Marcellus stands open-mouthed and speechless, as he looks up into the darkness where the Ghost disappeared above his head.
Bernardo: 'Tis here!
'Tis here! - the men have spread out a little, looking in different directions for the Ghost. It lands nearest Bernardo.
Since Horatio okayed striking at the Ghost, Bernardo prepares to take a swing at it with his own partisan. Again, the Ghost spreads its arms, does a graceful flap, and soars into the air.
Horatio: 'Tis here!
Again the men spread out, looking up and around for the Ghost. This time it lands nearest Horatio. Horatio has no weapon, he points at it.
Marcellus and Bernardo converge on the Ghost, at which it once again does a graceful flapping motion, and soars aloft.
(the Ghost exits)
The crew sets the Ghost down over at the wing, farther away than the men can see in the darkness, and he exits the stage.
Trying to catch the Ghost was like trying to catch a moth that's fluttering around at night.
Why did the Ghost do that? As an hypothesis, let's say the theological, or folklore, of ghosts is right, at least for this one. It's contagious, so that touching it would infect a person's spirit. However, these men are not the ones it wants to "touch." Who would it want to touch, then?
Marcellus: 'Tis gone;
The men continue to wander the central area of the stage for a time, looking up and around, until Marcellus draws the obvious conclusion.
There's a brief pause during Marcellus's speech while they regroup at downstage center.
We do it wrong being so majestical,
Marcellus now regrets the attempt to hit the Ghost. One always knows things in hindsight.
being so majestical - Marcellus is referring to the Ghost looking so much like the late King. Because of that, they shouldn't have presumed to try to hit it.
There is a double meaning. We'll soon hear of King Claudius's action against his brother, King Hamlet. Going by the pattern of King Claudius, if you're majestical you'll take hostile action against a King. The men here were majestical by acting like kings, taking hostile action against another king. That's a facetiousness in the phrasing, it isn't what the Marcellus character is trying to say.
To offer it the show of violence;
the show of violence - an explicit instance of the Show Theme. Marcellus realizes that all they achieved was to Put on a Show for the Ghost, as if they were trying to entertain it. The Ghost "walked out" on the show, so to speak, and didn't even stay around to watch it for very long. The idea of leaving during a show appears with great prominence, later, during the 'Mousetrap' play Scene, Scene 9.
For it is as the air, invulnerable,
as the air, invulnerable - like the air, unable to be harmed by just swinging a partisan at it, for example. The air is not hurt by humans waving weaponry around in it. From the Latin root, invulnerable could be read literally as "woundless," a word which will appear in the dialogue later.
And our vain blows malicious mockery.
vain blows - attempts to strike, in vain. Fruitless, worthless, silly attempts to strike it.
malicious - bad. Bad in various respects, that is: rude, hostile, and well, just plain "bad." A pointless attack on someone is rude, hostile, and simply what we call bad.
malicious mockery - bad imitation, bad in all respects. For example, say that, oh, a devil posed in imitation of the Passion of Christ.
A bad imitation is a bad Show, of course. Their Show was not good, Marcellus means. It's another instance of the Putting on a Show Theme.
Bernardo: It was about to speak when the cock crew.
about to speak - I addressed this earlier, in the Note for the "cock crows" stage direction, line 147-SD. Bernardo recognized what the raised index finger meant.
Horatio: And then it started like a guilty thing,
started - jumped; flinched. Horatio thinks the Ghost overreacted to the rooster.
Horatio is perhaps not taking into account how it sounded to the Ghost, himself, when the rooster crowed just as he opened his mouth to speak. Consider, you open your mouth to start to say something, but the sound you hear is a rooster crowing. That could set you back for a moment. Good gosh, did I make that noise?? Oh, it's that rooster over there.
Oh, and by the way, would that not be an actor's nightmare? "Bad dreams" get mention in the play, and actors do have them. You're out on stage in front of a big audience, you have an important line to say, the audience is all looking at you, you open your mouth to speak, and instead of saying the line you crow like a rooster. An actor in Shakespeare's day would have had that nightmare just when he was supposed to rise and shine in the morning.
guilty thing - there's the thing terminology applied to the Ghost, once again.
Alright, granted, the Ghost does appear, and further granted, it does look just like King Hamlet. Nevertheless, Horatio still has serious doubts about that thing. Horatio is a young man wise beyond his years.
Upon a fearful summons; I have heard,
(like a guilty thing) Upon a fearful summons - Horatio casts it like a burglar feeling a tap on his shoulder, and turning to discover a policeman there. Horatio thinks the Ghost is doing something "against the law," either the laws of man or those of morality and religion.
summons - there is a very old idea that spirits can be summoned. One says certain magical words, in the right setting. The concept of a spirit summoning will come up in the Closet Scene, Scene 11, another Scene in which the Ghost appears.
I have heard - Horatio continues to clarify whether he knows something from his own experience and knowledge, or if it's something he has only heard.
The cock that is the trumpet to the morn,
trumpet - like a heraldic trumpet, or trumpeter. There's the hint of an omen, a herald, again. For plain reading it means "announcer," or "introducer," like a prologue.
the morn - the morning; the sunrise. (Morn puns with "mourne," by the way. That has no immediate significance, but we'll hear of grief and mourning later. With respect to the rest of the play, one could take it this is all ominous of mourning.)
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
lofty - high in tone, but also "proud," self-important. In stereotype, roosters are viewed as self-important creatures. Indeed, the status that goes with waking up the sun would be quite high class, a noble position.
shrill - piercing; "cutting." With an "edge" to it. There is an Edge Motif in the play.
Awake the god of day, and at his warning,
the god of day - Helios, the personification of the sun, and the son of Hyperion. We know this because of the mention of Hyperion later in the play, where there is implicit wordplay on "father of the sun (son.)"
We may now conclude that the crowing of the rooster woke Hamlet, the son. Something must, because we will see Hamlet soon in the next Scene, up and around. The rooster woke the sun ("son.")
warning - that night is ending.
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
sea or fire, in earth or air - the four classical elements of alchemy, per Aristotle. So it refers to wherever a spirit might be "in his element" so to speak. We still speak of somebody being "in his element," but we no longer take it to mean quite like that.
So, Horatio does know something about ghosts, yes.
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
extravagant and erring - wandering and straying. Erring does indeed carry an implication of some error being made. Horatio is still sure something is wrong in all this.
As for extravagant - from Latin 'extra-' ("outside") + 'vagari' ("wander.") So, an extravagant thing is one that "wanders outside." The Ghost is wandering, outside its confine.
hies - hurries; speeds. There's a concept of speed, or lack thereof, that appears here and there in the play. Speed could be considered a Motif.
To his confine, and of the truth herein,
confine - wherever a spirit is normally confined, which we suppose should be a grave. An angelic spirit, though, would normally have a cozy spot in Heaven. A devilish thing, well, we know where he'd normally be.
In most general terms, confine = an enclosure of some kind, so I use that in the paraphrase. One can further take it as the place where a spirit rests. Spirits are supposed to do that, normally: Rest in Peace.
herein - in what he just said; in folklore.
This present object made probation.
This present object - the Ghost is no longer present, and it isn't a material object. However, the phrase isn't reference to an object present. The word present is the "other" one, the noun, as in, birthday present.
object is from medieval Latin 'objectum' ("thing presented to the mind.")
present goes back to Latin 'praesentare' (in medieval Latin "present as a gift.")
So, present object - "thing given to my mind." Getting literal about it. In vernacular, "this thing we're given to think about," as Horatio speaks to the men.
A present object is a "gift to the mind." Thereby, something to think about.
made probation - the idea of putting something to the test. Probation goes back to Latin meaning "test." A probation is a test, so made probation = made a test; thus, put to the test.
Marcellus: It faded on the crowing of the cock;
faded - faded in the distance, in the darkness.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Some say - as long as we're into what people say, Marcellus has heard a tidbit now and then, himself. Since we're just out here shooting the breeze now, might as well toss that in. Perfect. From Shakespeare, I mean.
ever - always.
'gainst - against - before, in this case. Marcellus is a military fellow. By those terms, to be against an enemy is to be "before" him. It can be read as "in anticipation of when," or "in advance of when."
that season - the Christmas season, as Marcellus goes on to say. Christmas time.
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
Wherein - during which.
our Savior's birth - Christmas.
Why does Marcellus think of this? He's thinking it would be nice if the rooster would crow all night long, at this season, to keep that damned Ghost away. Is Marcellus going to have to put up with it, out here on sentinel duty every night? He hopes not. It's too spooky. If it's a tradeoff between the Ghost and the rooster, he'll take the rooster.
This bird of dawning singeth all night long,
This bird of dawning - This bird of the beginning (of day.)
singeth all night long - for joy, one supposes.
The rooster would therefore sleep all day, which Marcellus would like to do, after being up all night.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
stir - move, with connotations of "disturb" and "awaken." An explicit instance of the Stir Motif.
abroad - at large. There is a connotation of being in a foreign land. The natural world is generally "foreign" to spirits.
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
wholesome - healthy. There is a Disease Motif in the play.
strike - influence, often adversely. Used in the sense of a person being "thunderstruck" or "moonstruck." It doesn't refer to a physical blow but rather to a mental influence. Like, oh, being "touched in the head."
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
takes - casts a spell, upon someone. The word take goes back to Old English 'tacan' ("capture,") and before that, to Old Norse 'taka' ("grasp," "lay hold of.") Someone who has a spell cast upon him is in a way "captured," or "grasped" by it. So, a spell can be expressed as a "taking."
nor witch hath power to charm - means the witch can't bewitch. She loses the power to "do her thing" as a witch. Charm also refers to spell-casting, the same as takes. However, this "spell" meaning of charm is more direct, since that's exactly what it did mean in Middle English: "to use spells."
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.
hallowed - holy. Consecrated. Sacred. Basically, it means what it says.
gracious - benevolent. Divine. In weak synonym, favorable. Same here, gracious means basically what it says. It would be possible to read the phrasing, so hallowed and so gracious as a hendiadys meaning, "so divinely consecrated," if one so desired, for any real reason.
Horatio: So have I heard, and do in part believe it;
So have I heard - Horatio has heard the same thing, from somebody. There must be a lot of talk going around about this stuff.
do in part believe it - the part Horatio believes now is about spirits skedaddling when the cock crows. He's seen that. As for the fairies and witches around Christmastime, he hasn't seen that, so he's still skeptical, there. He's from Missouri, as the saying goes.
There is tongue-in-cheek behind the line. Recall how Horatio replied to the question of whether he's there: "a piece of him." That's why he only believes it in part, he's only partly there. How else could he believe it, than "in part." He can't believe it all, because he isn't all there.
Even further, ... no, that way lies madness. Well, alright... an actor plays a part. Horatio is a part, a part in a play. How else could Horatio believe anything, except "in part?"
If you think Shakespeare didn't notice that in what he wrote, I think you are wrong.
But look, the morn in russet mantle clad,
But look - yeah, let's get away from that "part" bit, while we still can.
Horatio points stage right. For an actor, the audience is always his "true north." East is stage right.
russet - red. From Latin 'russus ("red.") The next line confirms the "red" meaning with absolute certainty.
mantle clad - the sun is a "king" in traditional symbolism. The king's mantle, this morning, is red, as one might expect. The sun is rising cloaked in red.
There is wordplay with "mantel," the kind over a fireplace, reflecting the red glow of a warm fire. That symbolism appeals to the men after they've been out all night in the chill.
There's an old saying about a "red sky at morning." It means trouble ahead. It's ominous. Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo are not sailors, however.
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill;
Walks - moves, step by step. Movies in a steady, unhurried way.
o'er the dew - this is our absolutely certain confirmation of what "russet" meant. Think about red light on the dew. It resembles a "dew of blood."
Horatio has turned to other subjects now, and he does not notice how the red sunlight on the dew, on the hill, could be interpreted as a "dew of blood," with all that portends. Horatio is, we can be sure, quite tired and drowsy now.
yon high eastward hill - there is apparently no actual geographic feature close to Helsingborg, Sweden, which could be accurately described as such. However, in the big illustration on the Location page the artist included one. That picture existed in Shakespeare's time, and probably others did, as well. The image is a clip of the hill.
There is something else that might resemble a hill, as seen in the distance, just peering above the morning mist, and that is Kärnan, the Core, at Helsingborg Castle. One wonders if Horatio is seeing the peak of the enemy castle, and not recognizing it, since he is not accustomed to how things look from here on the platform in the early morning. If that's it, the hint of a "dew of blood" is associated with the play's fictional Norwegians.
Break we our watch up, and, by my advice,
Break ... up (the watch) - discontinue. Sentinels are not needed in the daytime, when almost all the Castle personnel are up and about. Besides, poetically, the sun is the eye of heaven, so the eye of heaven is rising to take over. (See Shakespeare Sonnet number 18.)
Let us impart what we have seen tonight
impart - share. That's exactly the late Middle English meaning: "give a share of." It can be read as tell; communicate.
There is obviously the suggestion of giving a part, just from how impart looks. Tongue in cheek, the lines are a suggestion that Hamlet be given a part, so he can be in the play. Might be a good idea.
Unto young Hamlet, for, upon my life,
young Hamlet - the first we've heard of such a person. Who is he? Well, the late King, we know, was King Hamlet, so we suppose it must be his son.
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him;
dumb - silent; voiceless; mute. Like an actor in a Dumb Show. So far, the Ghost has only performed a dumb show.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
Do you consent - do you agree with my suggestion. Marcellus and Bernardo have held the secret of the Ghost quite close, because of fear of how it would make them look, should people know they were "seeing ghosts." Horatio is checking to be sure they don't mind giving up the secret as far as Hamlet, at least. Horatio recognizes that for Marcellus and Bernardo their military careers could be on the line. What would their superior officers think upon learning that Marcellus and Bernardo were going around claiming they'd seen a ghost? It isn't the type of entry that would look good on a military record.
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?
loves - a reference to loving friendship.
duty - as it says. We see the motivations, to inform Hamlet, are love and duty which are both Themes of the play.
Marcellus: Let's do it, I pray, and I this morning know
Marcellus's prompt agreement implies that he is acquainted with Hamlet, and has no fear of Hamlet being informed.
I this morning know (Where we shall find him) - This makes it explicit that Marcellus will be leading the way to Hamlet. It's something to keep in mind for the entry of the men to Hamlet in the next Scene, Scene 2.
We take it that Marcellus knows where Hamlet will be because Marcellus knows the guard assignments for the Royal family. That supports Marcellus having the rank of captain of the guard.
Where we shall find him most conveniently.
most conveniently - most easily. The Middle English sense of "convenient" was more like "suitable," so if you want to be fussy, it can be read as "most suitably" (for the purpose of telling him.)
The men return to the Castle, to inform Hamlet as soon as they can. They walk in under a red sunrise that forecasts trouble, and with so much else on their minds, they don't notice how the red morning light sparkling on the dew glistens like a dew of blood all around them.
See Interscene 1 - 2 for a description of events between Scenes 1 and 2.
Go to: Scene 1 - Scene 2 - Scene 3 - Scene 4 - Scene 5 - Scene 6 - Scene 7 - Scene 8 - Scene 9 - Scene 10
Scene 11 - Scene 12 - Scene 13 - Scene 14 - Scene 15 - Scene 16 - Scene 17 - Scene 18 - Scene 19 - Scene 20
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