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Act II. Scene 1. A hall in the castle. Hamlet, Polonius, The Players.
Scene 2. The same; that evening. The King and Queen. Act III. Scene 1. The Queen's study.
Scene 2. A hall in the castle. Act IV. Scene, the same, a week later. Horatio receives news from Hamlet.
ACT V. Scene, the same. Hamlet and Horatio. Osric with a message. The King and Queen, Laertes, Fortinbras.
PROLOG-INTRODUCTION 1 Hamlet is the greatest play that Shakespeare wrote. Its beauty, strength, and diversity have never been excelled. Even after it had been performed for several years, the dramatist recurred to it to make the thoughts of certain passages clearer, the language choicer, and the fine phrasing finer still. The dramatic style and finish of the play are exquisite.
It is said also that Shakespeare reached the height of his performance as an actor in this play. He played the part of the ghost, the spirit of the dead King of Denmark, Hamlet's father. The portrayal must have been a noble and a very beautiful one. But it was undoubtedly excelled by the performance of Shakespeare's fellow actor, Richard Burbage, who played the title rôle of Hamlet. Burbage's acting was so excellent that the actors wept; to the players on the stage he seemed not simply to assume the rôle but to be Hamlet.
The period in which Hamlet lived is uncertain, but no doubt in Shakespeare's mind it followed shortly after the Danish invasion of England in the tenth century. Denmark was then a power to be reckoned with among her neighboring states, and Hamlet's own father had been a warrior and a conqueror.
The circumstances surrounding Hamlet's father's death were very strange. To Hamlet they appeared suspicious, especially when 1 Prolog-Introduction. Horatio may appropriate Prolog's part.
never been excelled. Its popularity even while Shakespeare lived was attested by five editions of the play and presentations at Oxford, Cambridge, in London, and elsewhere.
taken with the hasty marriage afterward of the Queen to the dead King's brother, Hamlet's uncle.
In the play, before our eyes the suspicion resolves into a certainty; Hamlet's uncle killed the King.
Just at this place the harsh old legend, with its medieval ideas, came into a conflict with Shakespeare's inner self. The legend calls for Hamlet's immediate, unquestioning assumption of the vengeance for his father's death. In Shakespeare's play Hamlet is brought first face to face with the uncertainties of everything. Reality itself, love, friendship, and respect each come knocking at his thoughts in turn. The passing forms of ghost, sweetheart, school fellows, and the court all come to him, and though Hmlet questions them, unconsciously they are approved by the sublimity and sweetness that his soul pours out to them. In every line, almost at every word, the eternal values of an immortal mind shine forth. Educated at Wittenberg, the university where Martin Luther before Shakespeare's time held a professorship, Hamlet had drunk deep the cup of immortality, knowledge.
Horatio has been a fellow student with Hamlet at Wittenberg. Laertes, bidding his father farewell in the beginning of the play, becomes a student at the University of Paris.
Laertes' father, Polonius, is Lord Chamberlain. Polonius considers himself a sophisticated 3 man, and Hamlet, iņ the playful spirit of a true schoolboy, mocks him. It is Polonius who after wards thinks himself able to pry into Hamlet's distracted mind,
1 each come knocking at his thoughts in turn. Only a few of Hamlet's experiences of the complete play can be retained in a short cutting, as Hamlet is the longest of Shakespeare's plays. The marriage of a woman to her husband's brother was at that time a crime in the eyes of the law and a very great wickedness in the eyes of the people. Hamlet's grief over his mother's second marriage can only be touched upon. His uncertainties as to whether the ghost may not have been the devil, or even a hallucination, must be passed over briefly. Some of the most interesting characters must be reserved for a later playlet. See the Additional Readings.
2 Wittenberg: called “the cradle of the Reformation.” It seems almost a pity to learn that the historical Hamlet could not have been educated there. The University was not established until 1502.
sophisticated: i.e., in sending his son to Paris, and in other very obvious ways.
pays with his own life for meddling with Hamlet's offended soul. It is Polonius who advances the idea that Hamlet is mad a weapon which the formidable King appropriates to serve his purposes when Hamlet looks too dangerous for him.
The Queen is Hamlet's mother.
The scene is Elsinore; a platform before the King's castle, where the sentinels stand on guard at night.
Scene 1 Elsinore in Denmark. A platform before the King's castle. It is near midnight.
Francisco stands on guard. Bernardo enters (L.). Bernardo. Who's there? Francisco. Nay, answer me. Stand, and unfold yourself.2
1 Francisco is the sentinel on guard and should have been the challenger; Bernardo's excitement made him challenge Francisco.
2 unfold yourself: give account of yourself
Bernardo. Long live the king!
[Clock strikes twelve.] Bernardo. 'Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco. Francisco. For this relief much thanks. 'Tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
Not a mouse stirring. [Exit L.] Bernardo. Who's there?
[Enter Horatio and Marcellus L.)
And will not let belief take hold of him.
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story. Horatio. Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
When yond same star that's westward from the pole3
The Ghost enters (R.).
3 pole: the north star or pole star, around which the dipper stars appear to revolve.
Marcellus. Peace, break thee off! Look, where it comes
again! Bernardo. In the same figure, like the King that's dead. Marcellus. Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio. Bernardo. Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio. Horatio. Most like; it harrows me with fear and wonder. Bernardo. It would be spoke to.2 Marcellus.
Question it, Horatio.
Together with that fair and warlike form
Did sometimes* march? By heaven I charge thee, speak!
See, it stalks away! Horatio. Stay! Speak, speak! I charge thee! Marcellus. 'Tis gone, and will not answer.
[Exit Ghost L.) Bernardo. How now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale.
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on’t?
Without the sight
Of mine own eyes.
Is it not like the King?
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
(Reënter Ghost L.)
1 mark it: look at it; watch it. 2 would be spoke to: wishes to be spoken to. 3 buried Denmark: the buried King of Denmark. 4 sometimes: formerly. 5 martial: military.