Hamlet Summary of Act I, Scene 1
by William Shakespeare

It's a dark, cold winter's night at Elsinore Castle in Denmark, where Francisco, a guard, is keeping watch. Another guard, Bernardo enters to relieve Francisco; after a brief chat, Francisco leaves. Another watchman named Marcellus appears, followed by Horatio, who is a friend of Hamlet, the prince of Denmark.

Bernardo and Marcellus begin to tell Horatio about a ghost they claim to have seen, but break off suddenly when the ghost himself appears. At the watchmen's urging, Horatio challenges the ghost to speak, but instead it vanishes. The three men note that the ghost looks exactly like the recently-deceased king, also named Hamlet and the father of the play's title character.

Bernardo notes that the appearance of a ghost must mean something is amiss in Denmark and Horatio agrees, noting that since the now-deceased king defeated Fortinbras of Norway in battle, Fortinbras's son (also named Fortinbras) has been looking for an excuse to attack Denmark. The three men agree this must be the reason the ghost is stalking the castle.

The ghost enters again, but fades as dawn comes, again without speaking. Horatio agrees to tell Hamlet, the prince, what he has seen.

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