Scene 1, Act 1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet prepares us so well for the tragedy that will unfold in the coming scenes.The entire imagery in the scene builds up an atmosphere of dark tragedy brewing in the Elsinore castle, beginning with the appearance of Hamlet’s ghost father. The imagery is worth looking at.
When Bernardo asks who is there? Fransisco replies and says “Nay, answer me:stand and unfold yourself”. Unfold here is reveal oneself in the dark night, may be removing a head scarf or a face hiding cloth. Saying long live the king! Bernardo declares himself a royal servant,a kin.
Fransisco :”it is bitter cold and I am sick at heart” : mark “sick at heart” : a premonition?
A silence most uneasy :”Not a mouse stirring”
“Has this thing appeared again tonight?’ The ghost is first introduced here in the play. The ghost is “it”, this thing ,not knowing if it is a real thing ,not knowing if it is man or woman,not knowing if it is a thing or an idea.
At this point in the play it could be a mere idea , a fear in a fevered mind.
They have seen this dreaded scene twice but Horatio ,being a scholar, is skeptical.
Marcellus has entreated him along with them to watch the minutes of this night
I love the image of the minutes of the night.They will watch the minutes of the night for the apparition to make its appearance again.Horatio will watch the apparition if it comes again and approve our eyes. Apparition appearing again, a delicious combination!
Beautiful. Love the use of the tool to describe a function.Their eyes may be wrong in their performing the function expected of them but let Horatio watch it with his eyes and put a stamp of approval on their eyes.
Sit we down
and let us hear Bernardo speak of this
And then Bernardo begins his yarn with “last night,when yond star that is westward from the pole had made his course to illume that part of heaven,where it now burns, Marcellus and myself, the bell then beating one….
Bernardo does not let go his chance to tell a story. He is building up suspense for the coming of the ghost. He is a poet who does not just say “at around 1’o clock, this thing came….
Bernardo tells him to shut up as he sees it coming.
Horatio, the scholar is the only one competent to speak to a ghost. But he is frightened.
He speaks nevertheless. Some beautiful words .
What art thou that usurp’st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak.
The ghost is walking in that” fair and warlike form in which the majesty of buried Denmark did some times march”
“The majesty of buried Denmark” suggests Horatio is a poet who deftly transposes “buried” from “majesty” to “Denmark”
We now know things are not all that above suspicion.Some foul play must have taken place.It is not the king who is buried but the whole of Denmark whose future now lies uncertain in the hands of new rulers who had plotted his death.
Coming back to eyes, Horatio now approves the eyes of Bernardo and Marcellus. Horatio the scholar cannot but believe the apparition with the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes. A subjective experience becomes objective if more subjects experience it, especially a subject as well trained in seeing as Horatio.
But we have to anticipate what Hamlet would later tell Horatio :There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy. Even a subjective truth verified by the senses of other people can be misleading. A philosophy does not equip us with an understanding of the world beyond.Philosophy is concerned with seeing the reality but also with dreams of reality but there are far more things in heaven and earth than what a philosopher can hypothesize.
The best of all, here is some of the best “cock” poetry ever found in literature
And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.
The sheer music of the lines strikes you as they are spoken by relatively insignificant characters like Marcellus and Horatio in the play’s scheme of things.