LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hamlet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Religion, Honor, and Revenge
Poison, Corruption, Death
Hamlet follows the ghost as it leads him along, but soon grows tired. He orders the ghost to speak to him, refusing to follow it any farther. The ghost assents and turns to speak to Hamlet. The ghost tells the prince that it is nearly time for it to return to purgatory, but before it goes, it has something important to say. Hamlet promises to listen well. The ghost makes Hamlet swear to seek revenge for what the ghost is about to tell him, and Hamlet urges the ghost to go on.
Before the ghost makes clear its identity or its purpose, even, it demands vengeance from Hamlet—and Hamlet agrees. This underscores the important of revenge and honor in Hamlet’s society: it comes before anything else.
The ghost tells Hamlet that it is indeed the spirit of his father. He begins speaking of the horrors of purgatory, but laments that everything he wants to say cannot be told to “ears of flesh and blood.” The horrified Hamlet listens, rapt, as the ghost urges him to seek revenge for the late king’s “foul and most unnatural murder.” Hamlet urges the ghost to tell the tale of the king’s murder as quickly as it can, so that he can immediately go and get revenge.
Hamlet seems determined to get vengeance for the ghost of his father as quickly as he can—an impulse that will soon be flattened as Hamlet starts actually reckoning with the demands and moral implications of revenge.
The ghost tells Hamlet that though everyone at court has been told that the king died after being bitten by a serpent while sleeping in the orchard, in reality, “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.” In other words, the ghost confirms that the “incestuous” and “traitorous” Claudius killed the king by pouring poison in his ears while he slept in the garden. The ghost begs Hamlet not to let Claudius get away with murder—or turn the throne of Denmark into “a couch for luxury and damnèd incest.” The ghost charges Hamlet to avenge him before vanishing. Though the ghost is gone, Hamlet vows aloud to do all the ghost has asked of him.
The ghost uses strong language as it rails against Claudius’s lustful and obscene designs on both the throne and Gertrude, wholeheartedly confirming Claudius’s immorality. It uses an image of a traitorous serpent which invokes the biblical association of snakes with Satan, thus hinting at the Christian morality that underpins Elsinore. This religious undertone is important because it adds deeper context to Hamlet’s struggle to parse out the morality of revenge throughout the play. Hamlet will parrot this specific language later on, as his fury with both Claudius and the queen continues to grow.
Related Quotes with Explanations
Horatio and Marcellus at last catch up with Hamlet and breathlessly ask him what the ghost had to say. Hamlet is reluctant to tell them, though, for fear that they’ll betray his secret. Hamlet tells Horatio and Marcellus not to ask him any more about what the ghost said—and not to tell anyone in Denmark about what they’ve seen the last several nights. Both men swear their secrecy. Hamlet asks them to swear upon his sword. When Marcellus protests that they’ve already sworn, the voice of the ghost calls out, demanding the men swear secrecy again. Horatio and Marcellus hastily agree to lay their hands upon Hamlet’s sword and swear.
Just as the ghost has demanded blind allegiance and swift action from Hamlet, so too does Hamlet demand total loyalty and secrecy from his friends. As the ghost reappears to back up Hamlet’s demands, it becomes clear that the ghost can show up any time it likes—and wants to reinforce just how hungry it is for vengeance.
Related Quotes with Explanations
Hamlet invites Horatio and Marcellus to touch his sword and swear that no matter how strangely Hamlet acts in the coming days—and he may, he predicts, begin acting very strangely—they must not let on that they know anything about the ghost or his visit with Hamlet. The ghost calls out again for the men to swear to Hamlet’s demands. Hamlet urges the ghost to rest, and laments that he must be the one to set his father’s unfinished business right. Satisfied with Marcellus and Horatio’s vows of loyalty, Hamlet urges them to follow him back to the castle.
Hamlet’s madness is, and has long been, the subject of much scrutiny as the play has been studied throughout the years. This passage shows that Hamlet may already be planning to play up the existential unrest he’s already feeling in order to disguise his investigation of Claudius and his hunger for vengeance—proving that Hamlet’s madness begins, at least, as a cover.
Plot: Act 5
The fencing match begins and Hamlet wins the first two rounds. Claudius was not expecting Hamlet to fight so well and offers him the poisoned drink.
Hamlet refuses the drink. Instead, Gertrude drinks to Hamlet from the poisoned cup.
Hamlet gets cut by Laertes sword and in anger cuts him back.
The Queen's death encourages Laertes to reveal Claudius' plot.
Hamlet takes his revenge on Claudius. He stabs him with the poisoned sword and makes him drink the poison.
Laertes, Hamlet and Claudius die, leaving Horatio to lament his loss.
All images © 2009 Illuminations/Royal Shakespeare Company
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'Hamlet' Act 1 Summary, Scene by Scene
This Act 1 summary of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" sets the stage with the characters, setting, plot, and tone of this five-act tragedy. The play opens on the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark during a changing of the guard. The old king, Hamlet's father, has died. The king's brother Claudius has replaced him, stealing Hamlet's rightful place on the throne. He has already married Hamlet's mother.
The previous two nights, the guards had seen a silent ghost resembling Hamlet's dead father. They ask Hamlet's friend Horatio to watch on the third night, and he sees the ghost. Horatio convinces Hamlet to watch the next night. Hamlet confronts his father's ghost, who tells him that Claudius murdered him. The dreary tone and harsh setting contrasting with the revelry within the castle foretell of the tragedy that is to come.
Act 1, Scene 1 Summary
On a bleak, frigid night, the guards Francisco and Bernardo tell Horatio, a friend of Hamlet, about the ghost they had seen that resembles Hamlet's father. They convince Horatio to join them and attempt to talk with the ghost if it reappears. Horatio scoffs at the talk of a ghost but agrees to wait. As they begin describing what they saw, the ghost appears.
Horatio can't get it to speak but promises to tell Hamlet about the specter. The darkness and cold, coupled with the apparition, set a dire tone of calamity and dread for the remainder of the play.
Act 1, Scene 2
The scene opens in contrast to the previous one, as King Claudius celebrates his recent wedding to Gertrude in a bright, joyous castle room surrounded by courtiers. A brooding Hamlet sits outside the action. It is two months since his father's death and his widow has already married his brother.
The king discusses a possible war and agrees to let Laertes, son of the king's lord chamberlain (Polonius), leave the court and return to school. Recognizing that Hamlet is upset, he tries to make amends, urging Hamlet to abandon mourning and stay in Denmark instead of returning to school. Hamlet agrees to stay.
Everyone but Hamlet leaves. He delivers a soliloquy expressing his anger, depression, and disgust for what he considers incest between the new king and his mother. The guards and Horatio enter and tell Hamlet about the ghost. He agrees to join them that night to watch for another appearance.
When Claudius scolds Hamlet for his continued mourning, referring to his "stubbornness" and "unmanly grief," Shakespeare sets him up as an antagonist to Hamlet, who is unmoved by the king's words. The king's criticism of Hamlet ("A heart unfortified, a mind impatient, An understanding simple and unschooled...") implies that he believes Hamlet is unprepared to be king and is attempting to justify his usurpation of the throne.
Act 1, Scene 3
Laertes says goodbye to his sister, Ophelia, whom we learn has been seeing Hamlet. He warns her that Hamlet, still in line to be king, will always put the kingdom before her.
Polonius enters and lectures his son on how to conduct himself at school, advising him to treat his friends well, listen more than talk, dress well but not too well, avoid lending money, and "to thine own self be true." Then he, too, warns Ophelia about Hamlet. She promises not to see him.
Polonius' advice to Laertes seems rote, relying on aphorisms regarding appearances rather than offering honest advice to a son. With Ophelia, he is more concerned that she bring honor and wealth to the family than about her own desires. Ophelia, as an obedient daughter of the time, agrees to spurn Hamlet. Polonius' treatment of his children continues a theme of generational conflict.
Act 1, Scene 4
That night, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus, one of the guards who had seen the ghost, wait outside on another cold night. The miserable weather is juxtaposed again with revelry from the castle, which Hamlet criticizes as excessive and damaging to Danes' reputation for drunkenness.
The ghost appears and beckons Hamlet. Marcellus and Horatio try to prevent him from following, agreeing with Hamlet that it might bring "airs from heaven or blasts from hell." Hamlet breaks free and follows the ghost. His accomplices follow him.
This scene contrasts Hamlet's father, the good king, with Claudius as a drunken reveler and adulterer, and plays on the conflict between image and reality. Claudius appears more suspicious and foreboding than a ghost.
Act 1, Scene 5
The ghost tells Hamlet that he is Hamlet's father and was murdered by Claudius, who put poison in the napping king's ear. The ghost asks Hamlet to revenge his "most foul, strange, and unnatural murder," and Hamlet agrees without hesitation.
The ghost also tells Hamlet that his mother was adulterous with Claudius before the old king died. He makes Hamlet promise that he won't seek revenge on his mother but let her be judged by God. As dawn breaks, the ghost leaves.
Hamlet swears he will do what the ghost asks and avenge his father's murder. Horatio and Marcellus find him, and Hamlet asks them to swear not to reveal anything of the ghost. When they hesitate, the ghost calls from below, demanding they swear. They do. Hamlet warns them that he will pretend to be crazy until he can exact vengeance.
The old king's murder creates sympathy for the ghost rather than fear or revulsion, and his mother's adultery tips the scales against her. Hamlet has no choice but to kill the new king, establishing a conflict between his sense of honor and his Christian faith.
Act 1 establishes these plot points:
- The new king, Hamlet's uncle, murdered Hamlet's father.
- His father's ghost appears to him to describe the murder and charge Hamlet with seeking revenge.
- Hamlet's mother committed adultery with Claudius before her husband's death and married Claudius with "unseemly" haste.
- The ghost says Hamlet should let God punish his mother.
- Hamlet will pretend to be crazy while he exacts vengeance.
Act 1 establishes these tones and themes:
- A sense of dread and tragedy is almost palpable.
- A conflict between honor and morality is established.
- Another conflict between appearance and reality.
- The antagonism between Claudius and Hamlet is part of a generational conflict reflected in Polonius and his children.
- "Hamlet." Hudson Shakespeare Company.
- "Hamlet Synopsis."Shakespeare at Winedale. The University of Texas at Austin, College of Liberal Arts.
- Stockton, Carla Lynn. "Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 1." Cliffs Notes, 13 Aug. 2019.
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The final Act begins with a conversation between two gravediggers as they dig Ophelia’s grave. They repeat a rumor that Ophelia committed suicide and wonder whether she ought to be buried in hallowed ground. We learn that the king has overridden the objections of the clergy and provided for her burial. After some witty and macabre banter on the nature of gravedigging, Hamlet and Horatio enter. The main gravedigger sends his partner off for a cup of liquor and then commences to dig, singing songs all the while. Hamlet appears fascinated by the gravedigger’s indifference to the gravity of his profession. As the gravediggers throws various skulls out of the grave, Hamlet wonders whom they might have belonged to in life – whether a courtier or a lawyer.
Hamlet approaches the gravedigger and exchanges witticisms about this morbid work. The gravedigger informs Hamlet about the length of time it takes bodies to decay in the ground. He then produces a skull from the grave that he says has been lying there for twenty-three years. The gravedigger says that this is the skull of Yorick, the old king’s jester. Hamlet is amazed – he knew Yorick and loved him as a child. He takes up the skull and speaks about Yorick, a topic that leads him to consider the nature of mortality more generally.
A procession interrupts Hamlet’s reveries – Claudius, Gertrude, and Laertes march toward the grave along with a priest and an entourage bearing a body. Hamlet notices that the burial is less elaborate than usual, signifying that the deceased was a suicide. He and Horatio stand aside while Laertes argues with the priest about the paltriness of the burial rites. In the course of his arguing with the priest, Laertes reveals to Hamlet that the dead body is that of Ophelia. Gertrude steps forward to say farewell to Ophelia. Laertes follows. In his intense grief, Laertes leaps into his sister’s grave to hold her body again and orders the gravediggers to bury him alive. Provoked by this show of grief, Hamlet then reveals himself. After grappling with Laertes, Hamlet declares that he loved Ophelia more than forty thousand brothers could. The king and queen dismiss his avowal as madness. Hamlet then exits and Horatio follows him. After they have left, Claudius reminds Laertes of their plan to take care of Hamlet.
Hamlet explains to Horatio what happened on his journey to England. He says that he strongly suspected Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of foul play, and so decided to apprehend their letter to England. In the letter he found an order for his death. Hamlet then devised a substitute letter asking for the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He happened to have a signet ring in the shape of the seal of Denmark, and so sealed the letter. Hamlet then replaced the letter while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were asleep. At this point, pirates attacked the vessel, as related previously.
A courtier, Osric, interrupts Hamlet and Horatio. In very ornate and silly language, Osric declares to Hamlet that Claudius has proposed a contest of swordsmanship between Laertes and he. Hamlet and Horatio mock Osric’s pompous and artificial mannerisms. Eventually Hamlet agrees to enter the contest. When Horatio worries that Laertes is better at swordplay than he, Hamlet declares that he has been in continual practice for some time.
A table is prepared and the king, queen and other figures of state gather to watch the swordfight. Hamlet begs Laertes’ pardon both for his outburst at Ophelia’s grave and for his rash killing of Polonius. Laertes appears to accept this apology but declares that his honor will not be satisfied until they have had their contest. Hamlet and Laertes choose their swords. Laertes nonchalantly chooses the unblunted sword with the envenomed blade. As they prepare to fight, Claudius proposes a drink to Hamlet.
The fight begins with Osric as referee. Hamlet wins the first point and the king offers him a drink to refresh himself, dropping a poisoned pearl in the wine just before he hands it over. Hamlet declines to take the drink for the time being. They play another round and Hamlet again wins a point. After this second pass, Gertrude toasts to Hamlet’s health. She takes up the poisoned chalice and has a drink despite Claudius’ protestations. Hamlet and Laertes have a third pass which ends in a draw.
After this pass, while Hamlet is unguarded, Laertes wounds Hamlet with the poisoned rapier. They scuffle and Hamlet ends up with Laertes’ poisoned sword. He wounds Laertes with it. Just then, the queen collapses. She declares that she has been poisoned by the drink and then dies. Hamlet asks for the treachery to be found out and Laertes confesses the plan hatched by the king and he. He says that they are both inevitably going to die, having been wounded by the poisoned blade. Hamlet takes the envenomed sword and wounds Claudius, then forces the king to drink from his poisoned cup. Claudius dies. Laertes asks Hamlet’s forgiveness and then also dies. Hamlet, knowing that he is about to die also, asks Horatio to explain this bloody spectacle to the confused onlookers. Horatio, on the contrary, wishes to die with his friend, but Hamlet convinces him to live a while and clear his name. Hamlet declares that Fortinbras should become King of Denmark. He then dies – “the rest is silence.”
A flourish is heard and Osric brings news that Fortinbras has arrived from his victory in Poland with ambassadors from England. Fortinbras enters the court only to find four noble bodies sprawled out on the floor. The ambassadors from England enter with news that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been killed. Horatio explains that Claudius would not have welcomed this news even if he had been living to receive it. He orders that the royal bodies be taken up. Horatio further promises to explain the story behind the deaths, a story full of “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts; / Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters; / Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause.” In short, he promises to tell the story of Hamlet. Fortinbras agrees to hear it. He adds that, given the death of the Danish royalty, he will now pursue his own claims to the throne. Finally, Fortinbras declares that Hamlet shall receive a soldier’s burial. Some soldiers take up his body and bear it from the stage.
No surprise, this final Act of Hamlet is as mysterious, ambiguous, and controversial as those that precede it. The play begins rather straightforwardly, if ironically, as a revenge tragedy – Old Hamlet’s ghost spurs his son to revenge – and it would seem that Act Five, like the Act Fives of all major revenge tragedies preceding Hamlet, should fulfill this initial plotline. Indeed, in Act Five Hamlet kills Claudius – finally. But he does so in such a roundabout, half-cocked, off-hand way, we wonder whether this really counts as revenge. The death of Claudius certainly lacks the poetic justice that vengeance seems to require. What on earth is Shakespeare trying to do with this strange play – why doesn’t he give it a proper ending?
Many of the earliest extant critics of the play, those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, found the strange and abrupt manner of Hamlet’s revenge to be as puzzling as we might. These critics often found fault with the play’s lack of moral meaning. After all, if Claudius was wrong to kill his brother and marry his brother’s wife (and surely he was), shouldn’t the lethal correction of these crimes feel more satisfying, more “right,” than it does in this play? Samuel Johnson, writing in 1765, voices critical dissatisfaction quite clearly: “The poet is accused of having shown little regard to poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect of poetical probability. The apparition left the regions of the dead to little purpose; the revenge which he demands is not obtained but by the death of him that was required to take it; and the gratification which would arise from the destruction of an usurper and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of Ophelia.” In other words, Johnson charges that the ending of Hamlet is both unjust and improbable. The earlier part of the play, including the role of the ghost in giving the death of Claudius a moral shape, seems to have been forgotten. Hamlet seems to bring the drama to a close almost accidentally, and Johnson accuses Shakespeare on these grounds of dramatic clumsiness and moral ineptitude.
Later critics have been much less quick to fault Shakespeare’s dramatic instincts. Indeed, some of them have found the ending of Hamlet to signal a shift to a “higher,” more self-aware theater, a purposeful rejection of the simple morality of revenge in favor of a richer, deeper investigation of the nature of performance itself. The critic Harold Bloom, for instance, has written at length about Act Five as Hamlet’s rejection of his own dramatic role. He seems to have grown bored with his own play, in other words, and shrugs off its generic requirements. Bloom writes: “Any Fortinbras or Laertes could chop Claudius down; Hamlet knows he deserves the prime role in a cosmological drama, which Shakespeare was not quite ready to compose.” In this view, Hamlet’s final Act transcends the play itself. The plot, the action, has only been an occasion for Hamlet’s own tremendously powerful self-exploration, and the culmination of the requirements of "revenge tragedy" appropriately occurs almost despite the play itself.
Shakespeare’s abandonment of the central focus on revenge, then, perhaps amounts to his finally agreeing with his protagonist, so to speak. Hamlet has been, from the very first moments of the play, reluctant to carry out the absurd and generic task that is his as a character in a revenge tragedy – “The time is out of joint. Oh cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right!” Shakespeare has purposefully miscast his hero and given us a character whose accomplishments are intellectual and verbal, not violent and physical. By the final Act, it seems as though the playwright has finally given up trying to tie his hero down to conventions. Hamlet has forced Hamlet off the rails, taken it from a simple and predictable genre play to something inscrutable, massively significant, and, for lack of a better term, post-theatrical.
Meanwhile, in between the two major events of Act Five (the burial of Ophelia and the duel between Hamlet and Laertes), Shakespeare includes several very famous setpieces. The range of Hamlet’s verbal and philosophical variety becomes clear as he goes from trading macabre jokes with the gravedigger, to his moving rumination on the dead court jester, Yorick, to his declaration of love for Ophelia and his attendant mockery of Laertes’ over-the-top mourning display, to a scathing parody of Osric’s ludicrous courtly mannerisms. As noted before, Hamlet’s mind seems to work as an intense magnifying glass of sorts. He looks at one subject – say, the gravedigger’s macabre humor – and scrutinizes it to exhaustion before turning to another – say, the nature of mortality as occasioned by the discovery of Yorick’s skull – and treating it with a similar thoroughness. The variety of his curiosity is matched by depth of penetration. He is both wide-ranging and profound – truly a Renaissance mind.
In this final Act, Hamlet seems no longer to curse this tendency of his to become distracted by thought in favor of action, as he does for instance in his soliloquies on Hecuba and on Fortinbras’ army, but to celebrate it. He says to Horatio, for instance, when his friend seems concerned that he is walking into the trap set by Claudius and Laertes, “[W]e defy augury. [...] If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.” Hamlet rejects “augury” – that is, he rejects any predictive phenomena, or any future-oriented thinking at all. In a way, he rejects the ghost’s order to fulfill a set goal. (By the way, we might ask what Hamlet means by “it” in the above sentence. Does “it” refer to his plan to kill Claudius? – “If I will kill him now, so be it.” Does “it” rather refer to death itself? – “If I am to die now, so be it.” Or is “it” a placeholder for anything, any event?) At any rate, Hamlet has achieved a point of philosophical “quietus,” an acceptance of the world with all of its flaws and absurdities, which he has made not with “a bare bodkin” but with his own mental powers. His gaze is focused on some spiritual realm beyond the pettiness of Danish political intrigue.
Of the four deaths that occur in the final scene of the play, only one – Hamlet’s – is planned. The other three are, if not senseless, at least spontaneous and chaotic. The entire gory episode seems to be a playing-out of Hamlet’s new understanding of the world – death strikes randomly, senselessly, absurdly. The only meaning that matters must be made out of apparent meaninglessness. Hamlet’s dying words, in fact, are a plea to his friend, Horatio, to help the court audience sort out the carnage that they have seen: “[I]n this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, / To tell my story.” Hamlet emphasizes that significance comes only in retrospect, with storytelling, with sense making, not in prospective action. His death thus demonstrates the value of introspection over action, and the triumph of thought over fate, against the uncertainty and confusion of death.
With the arrival of Fortinbras, the tone shifts dramatically in the other direction. Fortinbras, whose own barely-limned plot is extremely similar to Hamlet's (his identically-named father dead, his rise in Norway impeded by his uncle, etc.), in nonetheless Hamlet's opposite. He is a man of action, a man like Laertes, or Old Hamlet. As Hamlet predicts, he hardly wastes a moment in declaring his intention to take the throne of Denmark for his own. And, as a final irony, Fortinbras misunderstands the dead prince, and gives him a soldier’s funeral. Though we know very little of him, it seems that Fortinbras is the anti-Hamlet – a man who can only understand others in light of his own simple and straight-forward mind. Hamlet, because he was a prince, was probably a soldier, so he is given a soldier’s burial. In an exact opposite way, Hamlet finds a universe of variety within his own mind; he explores the world from many perspectives, searches many questions, revolves all but resolves nothing. Fortinbras’ arrival marks the end of the true reign of Hamlet, not Claudius’ petty and incompetent rule, but Hamlet’s regime of the mind and the possibilities of subjectivity.
5 summary scene hamlet
Detailed Summary of Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5
Enter Ghost and Hamlet:
Hamlet has gone as far as his courage will take him, and says, "Wither wilt thou lead me? Speak, I'll go no further" (1.5.1). The Ghost does speak, and he demands that Hamlet "mark" him--not just listen, but pay attention. He tells Hamlet he is "thy father's spirit," and must soon return to the prison of purgatory and its flames. Finally, he gives Hamlet a command: "If thou didst ever thy dear father love . . . / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5.23-25). Hamlet promises that he will "sweep to [his] revenge," and the Ghost replies, "duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed / That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, / Wouldst not stir in this" (1.5.32-34).
Thus the Ghost, who is all that inspires respect--warrior, king, and father--promises Hamlet a burden of shame and guilt if he does not revenge him.
Only after this terrible introduction, does the Ghost deliver the news: Claudius, now king, killed Hamlet's father. "O my prophetic soul!" (1.5.40) says Hamlet. It's what he expected. But then the Ghost turns to something that has been on Hamlet's mind even more than the death of his father--his mother. The Ghost says that Claudius "won to his shameful lust / The will of my most seeming virtuous queen" (1.5.45-46). (We'd like to know whether that happened before or after Old Hamlet died. And we'd like to know whether the queen was an accessory to murder. But neither of those questions is answered here, or elsewhere in the play.) The Ghost now proceeds to denounce his queen in most bitter terms. She left his bed to "prey on garbage" (1.5.57).
Finally the Ghost gives the details of the murder. While Old Hamlet was taking a nap in his orchard, Claudius poured poison in his ear; the poison curdled his blood and rose to his skin, until his body was covered with a "vile and loathsome crust" (1.5.72). So Old Hamlet had his life, his crown and his queen stolen from him all at once. Worse, he died without a chance to pray or take the last rites, so that now, instead of being in heaven, he is burning in the fires of purgatory.
It is all "O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!" (1.5.80), but now it's now almost morning and the Ghost must leave. His parting words have an unexpected twist:
If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not;So Hamlet is supposed to hate the fact that his mother is having sex with King Claudius, and he is supposed to kill the King to put a stop to it, but he is not supposed to do a thing to his mother, or even think bad thoughts about her.
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her. (1.5.81-88)
The Ghost leaves, saying "Adieu, adieu, adieu! remember me." Hamlet swears to remember, but he has a hard time of it.
First, Hamlet exclaims "O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else? / And shall I couple hell?" (1.5.92-93), as though he is thinking of what to swear by. Shall he swear by God and all the angels of heaven? By earth? Or maybe he should swear by hell, in case the Ghost came from there. This thought makes him say "O fie" to himself, but he feels weak, overwhelmed, and asks his heart to stay young and his sinews to stay strong.
Now he promises to remember the Ghost, and only the Ghost, saying, "Yes, by heaven!" But immediately afterwards he disobeys the Ghost's command to "taint not thy mind" against his mother, and exclaims "O most pernicious woman!" (1.5.105) The thought of his mother brings with it the thought of his step-father, and Hamlet cries out "O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!" (1.5.106). He even takes out a notebook ("my tables") to write note the fact that "one may smile . . . and be a villain."
Enter Horatio and Marcellus:
When he is done writing, Hamlet reminds himself that the most important thing is to remember the ghost, but at that point his friends catch up with him, and he seems to get a bit loopy. We hear Horatio--worried--shout "Heavens secure him!" (1.5.113) and Marcellus calling to Hamlet. When the two of them get within speaking distance of Hamlet, they ask what's up, and Hamlet makes them promise to keep what he tells them a secret. Then Hamlet almost tells them the news, saying "There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark / But he's an arrant knave" (1.5.123-124). We would expect the "There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark" to be followed by "as bad as the King." Instead, Hamlet says "But he's an arrant knave," which is a meaningless cliché.
Horatio sensibly comments that "There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave / To tell us this." Then, after some more rigmarole from Hamlet, Horatio says "These are but wild and whirling words, my lord" (1.5.133). Horatio seems to be right. Hamlet has promised to take revenge upon the King, which will probably be a dangerous undertaking, and therefore he has a need for secrecy, but he has no obvious reason to distrust either Horatio or Marcellus. And as a matter of fact, Hamlet later tells Horatio the Ghost's message; we know this because just before the play-within-the-play Hamlet tells Horatio that one scene of the performance "comes near the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my father's death" (3.2.76-77). But right now, Hamlet is not only refusing to tell what the Ghost told him, he mocks Horatio's questions, saying "For your desire to know what is between us, / O'ermaster't as you may" (1.5.139-140).
Ghost cries under the stage:
Hamlet now asks Horatio and Marcellus to keep everything they have seen this night a secret. They agree, but he demands that they "swear" it, and they get scared and confused. Marcellus protests that they have already sworn, but Hamlet insists, saying "upon my sword, indeed." At that moment the Ghost comes to Hamlet's aid, calling out from under the stage, "Swear" (1.5.149).
What follows is manic. Hamlet welcomes the Ghost's assistance with a kind of joy, referring to him as "truepenny" and "old mole." All the while, Horatio and Marcellus are shifting about the stage because the Ghost has spooked them, and Hamlet is becoming ever more insistent, demanding that they never give the slightest indication that they know anything, not with so much as a nod of the head, even if Hamlet acts strange. He might, he says, "think meet / To put an antic disposition on" (1.5.171-172). This is something that Shakespeare's audience would not have found peculiar. Many of them would have seen or heard of at least one other play in which a revenger acted crazy in order to lull his enemies into a false sense of security. But Horatio and Marcellus must be totally confused, seeing that they still don't know anything about any murder or revenge.
Finally, Hamlet stops, saying to the Ghost "rest, rest, perturbed spirit." Most editors assume that the men swear by putting their hands on Hamlet's sword, and editors generally put in a stage direction such as "They swear," but there's no such stage direction in any of the original texts.
After all of this, Hamlet's high spirits seem to take a plunge. He again asks the men to keep his secret and invites them to go with him back down into the castle, but says "The time is out of joint--O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right" (1.5.188-189).
Hamlet: Act 1 Scene 5 - Summary
Hamlet: Act 1 Scene 5 - Notes
- Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5 involves Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost
- This scene occurs somewhere outside Elsinore castle, and is a notable scene because it’s the first time Hamlet (or anybody) has a meaningful interaction with the Ghost
- It’s also the first time the ghost speaks, and he has some pretty interesting news for both Hamlet and us, the audience
- The scene opens with Hamlet chasing after the Ghost, demanding some answers
- The Ghost confirms that he is indeed the Ghost of the late King Hamlet, Hamlet’s father, and that he’s been stuck in purgatory which, according to Catholic belief, is a place between earth and heaven for spirits to be punished for their sins during life
- Hamlet’s naturally surprised/shocked, but what he’s about to hear will do more than just shock him
- The Ghost of King Hamlet reveals that even though everybody believes he died due to a poisonous snake bite that happened while he was sleeping in the orchard, his brother Claudius was actually the one who murdered him by pouring poison in his ear
- The Ghost continues to describe Claudius as a murderous, incestuous, adulterous beast since not only did Claudius murder his brother, but he also seduced Gertrude
- Since the King died suddenly and had no time to repent his sins to the Heavens, his spirit is now stuck in purgatory
- After saying all this, the Ghost has a final command for Hamlet: To take vengeance on Claudius, but also to leave his mother (Gertrude) alone as he takes his revenge; the Ghost exits the scene, leaving Hamlet alone
- Hamlet swears to take action and curses his mother, saying that a person can smile and appear decent, but can also be a villain on the inside
- Horatio and Marcellus catch up to Hamlet and they want to know what happened, but Hamlet doesn’t fill them in on his discussion with the ghost
- Instead, Hamlet simply gives a vague hint as to a great offense that occurred - but he still won’t tell them exactly what happened
- In the end, Hamlet makes his friends swear 3 times to never speak about or reveal the night’s events, the last 2 requests demanding that his friends swear by his sword
- The Ghost’s voice chimes in like an echo of Hamlet’s, also demanding 3 times that the others will not reveal this secret, and the last time he also demands that the others swear by Hamlet’s sword
- In the end, Hamlet tells Horatio that if he acts crazy/mad/insane in the next few days, that Horatio should not be surprised, but more importantly, that Horatio should not reveal that he knows anything about Hamlet’s act
According to the ghost, how did King Hamlet (the ghost) come about his death?
The ghost gives fairly clear instructions about what to do with Gertrude (his former wife), namely Hamlet's mother. Which of the following is its instructions?
After the ghost leaves, what plan does Hamlet reveal?
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Taking off my robe, bra and panties, I put on a nightgown, spread out my cozy bed, crawled under the covers. Closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep right away. But my thoughts prevented me from doing it, the memories of the past day and crawled into my head. Pondering how to take my panties from Sergei, I involuntarily began to listen to the voices from the veranda.
One was a brother, and the second seemed to me for some reason very familiar, unlike any voice of Sashka's friends.