Scene 1.5 - On the Night Watch, Outside the Royal Castle at Elsinore
Imploring the ghost to speak, Hamlet refuses to go any further. The ghost, alone with Hamlet for the first time, breaks his silence at long last. Claiming to be his father's spirit, the ghost is permitted to roam at night but is confined to flames (most likely in purgatory) during the day. The ghost commands Hamlet, if he ever loved his father, to revenge his "foul and most unnatural murder." That his father was murdered is news to Hamlet, so he is understandably shocked to hear these words. Continuing to reveal the murder mystery, the ghost even discloses the murderer: he who presently wears the King's crown is the guilty party! None other than Claudius himself. All of Denmark, the ghost maintains, is currently deceived with a fabricated version of his death. The ghost bemoans the "wicked wit" of Claudius who so swiftly won over Gertrude, his "most seeming-virtuous" wife.
With time running short as morning breaks, the ghost must rapidly recount how Claudius poured poison in Hamlet's ears while the latter was sound asleep. The poison promptly curdled Hamlet's blood, killing him before he could make a final confession or receive the last Sacrament. He was stripped of life, crown and Queen in an instant. Before vanishing, the ghost again commands Hamlet to revenge - "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury and damned incest" - but not without also charging him to spare his mother and keep a clean conscience in everything. Gertrude's punishment, the ghost says, is to be left to the heavens and whatever thorns (of conscience) might presently prick her
Hamlet, briefly alone on stage, swears to revenge his father's murder. He vows not to be distracted by anything - especially not his studies - in this pursuit of vengeance. Moments later Horatio and Marcellus enter. Hamlet speaks strange things to them, "wild and whirling words" they do not understand, but he refuses to divulge the specifics of his exchange with the ghost. Instead, Hamlet insists Horatio and Marcellus swear on his sword that they will never speak of what they have seen or heard this very night. The ghost's repeated cries in the distance likewise urge Horatio and Marcellus to swear their secrecy. Hamlet tells his compatriots that he must now put on an "antic disposition" - that he will at times play the madman - but that they will know he is not what he seems. Bewildered but eager to please their friend, Horatio and Marcellus swear to keep silent. The first act ends with Hamlet embracing his fate, albeit reluctantly: "The time is out of joint: O cursèd spite, / That ever I was born to set it right."
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 1.3 and 1.4
Scenes 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3
Scenes 4.4 and 4.5
Scenes 4.6 and 4.7