RQ: Hamlet, Intro. & Act 1.1


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Hamlet, Scenes 1.1-1.2. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.


“Who’s there” (1.1.1)?

Who’s there first? Why does Bernardo ask Francisco to disclose himself and not the other way around? What’s implied by this funny, famous opening? Is this a play about trying to find out who’s there and ultimately failing in the attempt?

Why “unfold” (1.1.2)?

What does Francisco mean when he says, “You come very carefully upon your hour” (1.1.4)? Why is Francisco “sick at heart” (1.1.7)?

Why does “rivals”(1.1.11)  mean partners?

Why do Barnardo and Marcellus want Horatio to join them on the watch (1.1.22-26)?

What time is it? What time did Barnardo and Marcellus see the ghost before?

What does the ghost look like? How do the men of the watch know he is the ghost of old Hamlet?

How do they know the ghost “would be spoke to” (1.1.44)?

What’s the first question that Horatio asks the ghost? What does Horatio imply that the ghost “usurp’st” (1.1.45)? Why is the ghost offended by Horatio’s question?

What confirms for Horatio that the ghost is real, or that the ghost is “something more than fantasy” (1.1.53)?

What sort of relationship do the characters have to nature?

According to Horatio what does the appearance of the ghost mean for Demark? What precedent does Horatio site for similar supernatural and portentous events? Did the Romans heed such signs as reanimated corpses, floods, eclipses, and comets?  Do the characters in Hamlet read the signs?

What does the triple repetition of the word “like” (1.1.40, 1.1.43, & 1.1.44) signify? Is the ghost a reanimated corpse OR as is the ghost, as Stephen Greenblatt suggests, “an embodied memory” (212)? But if yes, then what memory or better yet, who’s memory?

What is the boundary between memory and haunting?

For what reasons do the watcher surmise the old king (or something “like” it) has returned from the grave as a ghost?

Why do the actors keep sitting down, (1.1.34, 1.1.69)?

When Horatio, Benardo, and Marcellus look out over the wall, what sort of activities are going on? Why is Denmark preparing for war and against whom?

Why does Horatio couch the description of Fortinbras and the preparation for war in terms that evoke eating?

Why is Horatio who addresses the ghost? Why don’t Marcellus or Bernardo address the ghost? Why did they have to bring in Horatio special?

What three exhortations does Horatio put the ghost?

Who else made three statements before a cock crowed?

Why does Horatio stop questioning the ghost?

What are some reasons the Horatio and Marcellus give for why the ghost disappeared?

How does the first scene establish for the audience that they are about to watch a play that is topsy-turvy, dislocated, or in Hamlet’s own words, “out of joint” (1.5.186)


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