‘Hamlet’ Act 1 Scene Guide

A Study Guide to ‘Hamlet’ Act 1 Scene 1-5

The sighting of the ghost is reported to Hamlet
The sighting of the ghost is reported to Hamlet. Photo © NYPL Digital Gallery

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1

Francisco, Barnardo, Horatio and Marcellus are guarding the castle. A ghost appears dressed in armor resembling Hamlet the King (Hamlet’s father), who recently died. They try to encourage the ghost to speak its purpose, but it does not. They decide to inform Prince Hamlet about the strange event.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2

Claudius is the new King of Denmark – he explains that after the death of his brother, he has taken over the throne and married King Hamlet’s recently widowed wife, Gertrude.

Claudius speaks of young Fortinbras who has written to him demanding the land that King Hamlet won from Fortinbras’ father.

It is evident that Hamlet disapproves of Claudius. Hamlet explains that mourning for his father is normal, implying that everyone else has got over his death too quickly. This is a pointed remark to his mother who has married her dead husband’s brother only a month after his death. In a soliloquy, Hamlet explains his disgust for his mother’s actions but understands that he must hold his tongue. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo tell Hamlet about the apparition.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3

Laertes is leaving for France. He warns Ophelia that Hamlet’s love for her may be fleeting and inconstant. Polonius enters to bid farewell to his son and wants to know what they were discussing. Polonius also suggests that Hamlet’s professed love for her may not be genuine.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4

Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are looking for the ghost.

As midnight comes, the ghost appears to them. Horatio and Marcellus cannot discourage Hamlet from following the ghost and consider the specter to be a bad omen for Denmark. This scene kick-starts the main story that drives 'Hamlet'.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5

The ghost explains to Hamlet that he is the spirit of his father who cannot rest until revenge is taken upon his murderer.

It is revealed that Claudius poured poison into the King’s ear while he was sleeping. Horatio and Marcellus enter and Hamlet explains that Claudius is a villain.