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Free MonkeyNotes-Hamlet by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes Summary
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The scene opens with the changing of the guard outside Elsinore, the royal residence and court of the King of Denmark. Francisco is on guard, but is very happy to relieved by Bernardo and Marcellus. All three guards discuss the ghost that they have seen on previous nights. Bernardo and Marcellus have brought along a friend, Horatio. Horatio is skeptical and believes the so-called ghost is a figment of the guards' imaginations.

The ghost soon appears and looks like the recently deceased king. Horatio is struck with fear and wonder. When he tries to question the ghost, the apparition flees. The once skeptical Horatio is now convinced of the ghost's existence and believes it is a "fair and warlike form" of the late Danish King Hamlet. The fact that the ghost is wearing the King's armor, used in the defeat of the King of Norway, makes Horatio think that the ghost must mean something bad for the entire state of Denmark. Marcellus tells Horatio that the ghost has appeared in the same manner for the past two nights.

Marcellus asks Horatio to explain why Claudius, the new king, has been mustering the military resources of the country with such haste. He also remarks that a general spirit of unease and unrest pervades the kingdom, especially in the wake of King Hamlet's death. Horatio seizes the moment to narrate some important information about the present state of Denmark. The dead King Hamlet had defeated and slain Fortinbras, King of Norway, in battle. In accordance with the victory, all the lands belonging to Norway were ceded to Denmark. King Hamlet's sudden death gave young Fortinbras, the late Norwegian king's son, the opportunity for revenge against Denmark. The Nordic prince has raised an army of "lawless resolutes" who are willing to fight only for food and water; their explicit purpose in attacking Denmark is to recover the lands lost by Fortinbras. For this reason, Denmark has been put on alert, including night watches of which all three men are now a part. Bernardo remarks that the appearance of the ghost is probably a warning about the military threat looming over the country. Horatio, however, sees the ghost as an omen of bad times ahead for Denmark; he reminds the others of the unnatural phenomena that preceded Julius Caesar's assassination.

In the meantime, the ghost appears again, and Horatio calls on the apparition to answer his questions for the sake of the fate of Denmark. The ghost, however, remains silent and then departs. Horatio then tries to restrain the ghost from leaving by striking it; still, it vanishes. Marcellus thinks that they have committed a grievous error in striking the ghost of the late king. Horatio remarks that the ghost had "started like a guilty thing/ Upon a fearful summons" at the crowing of the cock. He recalls that traditionally the crowing of the cock is believed to awake the god of day and serve as a warning to all preternatural and erring spirits that the time has come to return to their confines. As dawn breaks, Horatio and the two officers decide to share the events of the night with Prince Hamlet, the late king's son.

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