Hamlet Act 1 Analysis

Main events of the act 1:

  • The ghost of the deceased king appears in front of the guards;
  • Denmark is preparing for a war with Norway;
  • Young prince Hamlet is unhappy with his mother hastily marrying Claudius;
  • Ophelia is told by her father and brother not to fall in love with Hamlet;
  • The ghost tells Hamlet that the king was murdered and asks him to take revenge.


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4

Scene 5


Act 1 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Francisco, Marcellus, and Bernardo – three guards;
  • Horatio – scholar and a friend of Hamlet;
  • Ghost of the deceased King of Denmark.

Place and time of the scene: Night in the Danish castle Elsinore (today it is known as the Kronborg Castle situated in the North of Copenhagen). The guards are standing at their post – a specially constructed open and flat overpass around the castle. It was meant that the enemy would be exposed to danger while crossing this overpass on their way to attack the castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Two officers Bernardo and Marcellus, while on duty in front of the castle, discuss how they saw the ghost of the deceased king of Denmark in the last couple of days;
  • The ghost appeared for the second time when the guards talk to Horatio, a friend of Hamlet;
  • Horatio tries to talk with the ghost, but doesn’t receive an answer;
  • Horatio explains the reason why Danish army is mobilizing forces to prepare for the possible invasion by the Kingdom of Norway.

Short Summary:

Bernardo is changing Francisco on duty, Marcellus joins them. Marcellus took Horatio with him to prove that the guards saw a ghost two times already. Horatio doesn’t believe that it is possible. Just as Bernardo starts to tell the story how he saw the ghost, the creature appears again.

The creature looks a lot like the King of Denmark, who died not that long ago. He is wearing his “warlike form” that the king used to wear on the battlefield with the Kingdom of Norway. Horatio asks the ghost who he is and what he is doing here, but the creature turns away and leaves.

Horatio thinks that his appearance is a sad sign, especially since the king is wearing his war uniform - that could mean that dark times are coming. Marcellus picked up his thought and asked why so many soldiers were on the streets, the ammunition was being brought from all corners of the country and people worked even on weekends to make more weapons.

Horatio tells the story that the deceased King of Denmark once killed the King of Norway, whose name was Fortinbras. With the victory of the brave King came the lands of Norway that were at present time run by Danes.

However, with the news of the King’s death, the fierce and hot-tempered son of Fortinbras (who has the same name) is about to attack the weakened Danish Kingdom and get back what used to be his father's lands. Horatio also makes reference that similar strange and extraordinary things, like the dead walking the streets, were happening in the days before Julius Caesar died.

Then the ghost returns. Horatio tries to stop him, asking him what kind of help he might need to find peace or what he might know about the future of the country. The guards and Horatio try to hit the ghost with a partisan, but the cock crows, announcing the break of dawn, and the ghost disappears once again.

Marcellus is worried that they have offended the ghost by trying to stop it with the partisan. They chat for a while and then leave their posts. The guards and Horatio decide to tell Hamlet about this incident and are confident that the ghost will respond to him.


Act 1 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark and mother of Hamlet;
  • Claudius – the brother of deceased Danish King and new husband of Gertrude;
  • Voltimand and Cornelius – two royal courtiers;
  • Laertes – son of Polonius, close counselor and adviser of Claudius;
  • Polonius – trusted lord of the king Claudius;
  • Horatio – scholar and a friend of Hamlet;
  • Marcellus and Bernardo – officers;
  • Hamlet – son of the deceased King of Denmark.

Place of the scene: Big hall of the royal castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • The audience finds out that Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, quickly married his father’s brother, Claudius;
  • Claudius sends a letter to the King of Norway requesting him to stop an attempt of Prince of Norway to attack Denmark;
  • Laertes receives permission from Claudius to head for Paris to continue his studies;
  • The audience finds out how much Hamlet hates Claudius;
  • Hamlet finds out about the ghost and decides to try to encounter it himself.

Short Summary:

Claudius, the newly appointed king, has a speech in front of his servants. He starts by saying that he is sad because of the death of his brother, but that the reason should prevail and it’s time to think about the country. He states that the son of Fortinbras shouldn’t take Danish might and power lightly.

Claudius sends Voltimand and Cornelius to deliver a letter to the uncle of Fortinbras. In this letter, Claudius asks him to stop his nephew’s attempts to attack Denmark.

As the two loyal courtiers leave, Claudius turns to Laertes, who wanted to ask the king something. Laertes came to Denmark to express his loyalty to the king during the coronation ceremony. And now he requests to be allowed to return back to France. The king and Laertes father, Polonius, agree to let his son go.

Then Claudius starts speaking to Hamlet. He asks why Hamlet is still sad and gloomy. Claudius insists that Hamlet should move on. In his words, the young prince can’t hide his hatred and contempt for his uncle, now King of Denmark. But even more he feels outraged that his mother married Claudius (which also makes it a consanguineous marriage, a big sin for the church) so prematurely, without wearing the widow’s weed for a decent amount of time. Hamlet even thought to go back to Wittenberg and continue his studies there, but promised his mother that he wouldn’t.

The king and queen leave the room, Hamlet continues his speech about his sadness and wrongdoings of his mother. Then Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo enter. Hamlet recognizes Horatio after a long time of being separated. They went to school together in Wittenberg.

Horatio tells Hamlet the story about the ghost. Hamlet decides that he wants to come to the post and try to talk to the ghost.


Act 1 Scene 3

People present in the scene:

  • Polonius – close counselor and adviser of Claudius, Lord of Chamberlain;
  • Laertes – son of Polonius;
  • Ophelia – sister of Laertes and daughter of Polonius.

Place of the scene: Polonius house.

Main events of the scene:

  • Laertes leaves for France;
  • Ophelia is advised by her brother and father not to fall in love with Hamlet;

Short Summary:

Laertes is saying goodbye to his sister. He asks her to write to him. He also tells her not to consider Hamlet seriously. He says that even though Hamlet might have real feelings for her, he isn’t a good match for Ophelia. Laertes thinks that Hamlet is a servant of Danish people and will have to put his state duties in priorities over Ophelia. (This might include marrying someone of his status).

Ophelia is grateful for the advice, however, she mentions that Laertes should follow his own advice as well. He promises to be wise in his relationships.

Polonius enters. He blesses his son’s voyage to France. He gives some pieces of advice to Laertes: to dress well, not to lend money, not to get into arguments, listen to others but not let everybody know his own thoughts.

Ophelia tells her father that Hamlet expresses sympathy towards her. Polonius doesn’t believe in the seriousness of this relationship. He, just like Laertes, calls upon Ophelia to preserve her chastity and be less welcoming to Hamlet.


Act 1 Scene 4

People present in the scene:

  • Marcellus – the guard;
  • Horatio – a scholar and a friend of Hamlet;
  • Hamlet – young prince of Denmark;
  • Ghost of the deceased King of Denmark.

Place and time of the scene: Same post as in Scene 1 (where guards take on duty).

Main events of the scene:

  • The ghost appears again, now in front of Hamlet;
  • The ghost gives Hamlet a sign to follow him;

Short Summary:

It is a cold night. Hamlet and two of his companions are standing outside at their post. It is midnight, previously, the ghost appeared around this time. They hear sounds of trumpets – the king is celebrating. Hamlet is disgusted – he says that this drinking custom should be abandoned as it damages the reputation of the country.

And the ghost appears again. At first, Hamlet is unsure whether the ghost is friendly or not. He asks his father what made him leave his grave.

The ghost gives Hamlet a sign to follow him. Horatio and Marcellus notice it as well, but advise him not to go. They are worried that by following the ghost Hamlet puts himself in danger – he might die or go insane. But Hamlet isn’t scared; he is in such deep grief that he doesn’t appreciate his own life.

Despite numerous attempts to stop him, Hamlet follows the ghost into darkness. He says that he is brave and will not tolerate anybody getting in his way of following the ghost. Marcellus and Horatio think that Hamlet is out of his mind, they decide to follow the young prince.

At the end, Marcellus says that the state of Denmark is rotting.


Act 1 Scene 5

People present in the scene:

  • Hamlet – young prince of Denmark;
  • Ghost of the deceased King of Denmark.
  • Marcellus – the guard;
  • Horatio – a scholar and a friend of Hamlet.

Place and time of the scene: Same post as in Scene 1, but from a different side, further away from the eyes of the other guards.

Main events of the scene:

  • The ghost tells Hamlet that he was poisoned by Claudius;
  • The father asks Hamlet to take vengeance;
  • Hamlet asks his friend not to tell anybody about the ghost;
  • Hamlet warns that he might behave in a weird manner;
  • In order to carry out the revenge, the Prince decides to pretend that he’s gone insane.

Short Summary:

Hamlet follows the ghost. The ghost tells him that he is condemned to walk around at night and burn in the fire during the day. He says that he knows a terrible secret. He starts talking about the murder and revenge… Hamlet doesn't understand, but he is ready to avenge his beloved father.

The ghost confided that while everybody thought that a snake bit the king, it was actually Claudius who murdered the monarch. He poured poison into King’s ear while he had been sleeping in the garden.

The ghost also accuses his wife, Gertrude, that she colluded with the enemy when married Claudius. But he wants Hamlet to spare her. He thinks she will drive herself crazy with remorse and twinges of consciousness.

The ghost leaves, while Hamlet is full of emotions. He is determined to fulfill his promise to his father and take revenge. Horatio and Marcellus enter when the ghost is already gone.

Hamlet doesn’t tell them what he learned. Instead, Hamlet starts speaking weirdly. He asks the two to keep quiet about what happened that night. Hamlet makes them promise and swear on prince’s sword. The ghost speaks from below without showing himself and also wants them to promise that they will keep quiet.


Act 1: Analysis and Interpretation

The play, entitled “Hamlet” begins without the main protagonist on the stage. However, Shakespeare managed to put his character in the very heart of the events.

First of all, by the code of conduct, the officers are supposed to report any suspicious activity to the king, or at least to Polonius, who is the king’s trusted advisor. Yet, they tell about the ghost encounter to Horatio and then to Hamlet. The audience senses right away that the young prince has the loyalty of his people and servants, while the new king doesn’t.

Shakespeare also made Hamlet stand out in Scene 2, where he is the only one wearing somber clothes on the background of predominant celebrating mood in the castle. Hamlet is reserved and cold in his responses to the king and queen. He only begins to show his real emotions when left alone.

It is through his monologue with himself that the audience finds out that Hamlet is desperate. As he says himself “I do not set my life in a pin's fee; And for my soul, what can it do to that”. The protagonist is full of grief for his deceased father. He is even more troubled with his mother marrying his uncle so quickly.

Here we also find out that for Hamlet his mother used to be an ideal woman, caring and loving. He is shocked at how quickly she could get over the tragedy that fell upon the royal family.

The fact of the marriage is also so shocking to Hamlet because he thinks that Claudius has nothing in common with his father. Let alone the fact that the church should have never allowed marrying the brother of Gertrude’s husband.

One particularity that is important to notice in Hamlet’s speech – his language and thoughts are quite complicated, he jumps to quick conclusions (calling all women unworthy because of his mother’s betrayal), he uses many synonyms and allusions. He is certainly depressed and even contemplates suicide. One might think that he is already losing his mind even before the mind-blowing news from the ghost.

Hamlet - is an eternal character of the world literature, which appeared at the end of the Renaissance period along with other eternal symbols, such as Don Quixote, Don Juan, Faust and others. Each of them demonstrates the idea that human personality has many inexorable sides and unlimited possibilities for development. Shakespeare doesn't try to balance his character - Hamlet is full of one-sided passions of grief and self-reflection from the very beginning, and this trait will only intensify with each next act.

Act one of the play also bears a lot of practical references to the facts of life condition of that time. Most of the people weren’t educated. That could be another reason why Marcellus brought Horatio with him, as he says in scene 1 “He may approve our eyes and speak to it.” and then “Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio”. Horatio was the scholar, which could mean as little as the fact that he could read and understand the “high English” language.

Horatio is an important figure in the play - he is an image of a loyal friend, an ally. In addition to the fact that he is educated, he is also a good person and a good friend. He is there for Hamlet when the protagonist needs it the most. Through his word, Shakespeare delivers many lessons for the audience: the story about the war with Norway and about Julius Caesar. Horatio is the light in the play, that brings knowledge, clarity and help.

"Hamlet" play also has a lot of religious references and signs. The first one appears in the act one. Despite the Protestantism being introduced the year before Shakespeare was born, characters in his plays still remained very superstitious. The guards are discussing the power of a cock to scare away the spirits and witches. The Protestant church (both England and Denmark followed this religious movement in the 16th century) claimed that spirits couldn't come back to the Earth, not even being stuck in purgatory. That makes the ghost's appearance, let along the magic power of the cock, even more mystique for the audience. Act 1 leaves the reader intrigued and asking for more.