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Hamlet Sees a Ghost


After reading Act 1, enjoy this light bit of reading.  Can you find the puns in this article?

 Hamlet Sees a Ghost

 Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, is known as the Melancholy Dane, capable of depressing anyone within sight or sound of him. The reason he mopes around all day is that his father has died and his father’s brother has inherited both the throne and the Queen. Thus the new King, who had been Hamlet’s uncle, is now his stepfather as well, and relations are becoming both strained and numerous.  The King and Queen try to get Hamlet to stop mourning the death of his father and to take off his “inky cloak,” on which as a student at Wittenberg he apparently kept wiping his pen. But Hamlet won’t change either his clothes or his attitude.

Just after midnight one night, a guard named Francisco is walking on a platform in front of the castle so he will be in plain sight of any approaching enemy.

“Stand and unfold yourself,” he cries out when a second guard, named Bernardo, approaches. Why Bernardo has folded is not explained, but the late hour might have something to do with it. Anyhow, Francisco has a right to be suspicious, for it turns out that Bernardo has come to relieve him of his watch.

Two other guards, Horatio and Marcellus, join the group, and their idle chatter turns to ghosts. Marcellus and Bernardo claim to have seen the ghost of the ex-King of Denmark, Hamlet’s father, several nights running. (1)  Horatio is a skeptic and won’t be convinced until he sees the ghost with his own eyes.

The ghost promptly obliges, appearing in full armor, heavy though it is on his ectoplasm.

“Mark it, Horatio,” whispers Bernardo, who has an orderly mind. But Horatio can’t find a pencil, and isn’t sure it would show on a ghost anyhow.

Horatio tries to engage the ex-King in conversation, but, never having passed the time of night with a ghost before, can think of nothing better than “Speak to me” (or, in some texts, “Spook to me”), which is a feeble opening gambit. Finally, after an awkward silence, the ghost hears a cock crow and clanks off. Horatio thinks that if anyone can get the ghost to talk it would be Hamlet, since blood is thicker than water.(2)   So they go off to fetch him.

Before they leave, Horatio cries, “Break we our watch up.”  He is obviously distraught. (3)

Hamlet, meanwhile, is in the castle, where the King and Queen are trying to cheer him up.

“How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” asks the King, who is interested in meteorological phenomena. But Hamlet is of no help, having majored in philosophy.

“Seek not for thy noble father in the dust,” counsels the Queen, having noticed Hamlet poking around behind the furniture. But he goes on brooding, and running his finger along the tops of shelves.

After the King and Queen exeunt, which they do frequently, having been married only two months, Hamlet is left muttering to himself.

“O that this too too solid flesh would melt!” he groans.  He has been dieting for weeks, trying to get into condition after going on a binge of Danish pastry.

The next night, having been told of the ghost by Horatio, Hamlet mounts the platform and takes his post, needing something to defend himself with. He is full of anticipation, never having seen the ghost of a close relative before, and somewhat uncertain about protocol. Promptly at midnight the ghost appears, his face looking so gray that Hamlet is about to ask him if he is ill, when he remembers. Taking Hamlet aside, he makes what is obviously a prepared speech.(4) The climax of it comes when he asks Hamlet to avenge his “foul and most unnatural murther.”

“Murther?” Hamlet asks incredulously. He thinks the ghost must surely mean “mother,” and this seems like strong language to use even about Gertrude.

“Murder,” says the ghost, dropping the lisp, “murder most foul.” He goes on to say that it was he, Hamlet’s father, who was murdered, and by none other than Hamlet’s uncle.

“Uncle!” cries Hamlet at this point, but the ghost won’t be stopped, and continues to describe every gruesome little detail.  It seems that he had been catching forty winks in the garden when the murderer crept up and poured poison in his ears.(5)  This way the victim was unable to detect the telltale taste and spit it out. Nor, with his ears awash, could he hear the murderer’s departing footsteps. It looked like the Perfect Crime.

Having told his story, the ghost turns on his heel to get back to Hell before they call the roll.

“Whither ghost?” asks Hamlet, but gets no reply.

It is almost daybreak, and it dawns on Hamlet. He swears to have revenge on King Claudius for the dastardly deed, and to make his mark. (6)

“O, fie!” he swears, looking around first to be sure no ladies are present. “O, fie!”

When Horatio and Marcellus run in, Hamlet makes them swear on their swords, which they find ridiculous and uncomfortable, never to blab about what they have witnessed this night.

“Swear,” puts in the ghost, who is under the platform, burrowing for all he’s worth but making slow headway toward Hell and still able to take part in the conversation.

Before they leave the platform, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus argue about the hour and try to synchronize their watches. “The time is out of joint,” says Hamlet in disgust.

(1) And out of breath.

(2) Much thicker than whatever the ghost has in his veins.

(3) Or else time means nothing to him.

(4)  The original ghost-written address.

(5)  Actually “in the porches of my ears” is what the ghost says.  His ears must have been pretty sizable, with steps and everything.

(6) On King Claudius


Note:  I do not have any notes to tell me who wrote this, to give credit where credit is due.  If someone discovers who DID write it, please send me a note so that I may honor the writer.  A. Leserman