A monologue from the play by William Shakespeare
GHOST: I am thy father's spirit, Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combinèd locks to part, And each particular hair to stand an end Like quills upon the fretful porpentine. But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love, Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. 'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forgèd process of my death Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father's life Now wears his crown. Thy uncle, Ay, that incestuous, that adulterous beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traiterous gifts-- O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce! -- won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there, From me, whose love was of that dignity That it went hand in hand even with the vow I made to her in marriage, and to decline Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor To those of mine! But virtue, as it never will be moved, Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven, So lust, though to a radiant angel linked, Will sate itself in a celestial bed And prey on garbage. But soft, methinks I scent the morning air. Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard, My custom always of the afternoon, Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment, whose effect Holds such an enmity with blood of man That swift as quicksilver it courses through The natural gates and alleys of the body, And with a sudden vigor it doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into milk, The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine, And a most instant tetter barked about Most lazar-like with vile and loathsome crust All my smooth body. Thus was I sleeping by a brother's hand Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched, Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled, No reck'ning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head. O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible! If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not. Let not the royal bed of Denmark be A couch for luxury and damnèd incest. But howsomever thou pursues this act, Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once. The glowworm shows the matin to be near And gins to pale his uneffectual fire. Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.
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Hamlet - Act 1, scene 5
Last updated: Tue, Jun 02, 2020
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Act 1, scene 5.
The Ghost tells Hamlet a tale of horror. Saying that he is the spirit of Hamlet’s father, he demands that Hamlet avenge King Hamlet’s murder at the hands of Claudius. Hamlet, horrified, vows to “remember” and swears his friends to secrecy about what they have seen.
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A Short Analysis of King Hamlet’s ‘I Am Thy Father’s Spirit’ Speech
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘I am thy father’s spirit’: so speaks the Ghost to Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s play. We have analysed Hamlet as a whole in more detail here , but the ‘I am thy father’s spirit’ speech calls for further close analysis to tease out the meaning of the Ghost’s words.
The Ghost is claiming to be Hamlet’s father. Let’s join Hamlet and Old Hamlet – if the Ghost indeed is Old Hamlet – on the battlements of Elsinore Castle, and go through the speech bit by bit.
GHOST I am thy father’s spirit, Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away.
The Ghost tells Hamlet who he is: the ‘spirit’ or ghost his father, who died recently. The Ghost has been sighted by several of the watchmen who patrol the castle: Hamlet opens with the characters Marcellus and Barnardo discussing it.
The Ghost says that he is destined to walk around the land of the living every night, while spending the hours of daylight in purgatory: ‘fast[ing] in fires’ was a common punishment for people in purgatory, according to religious literature, and meant that those who found themselves in that liminal space between this world and the next (heaven or hell) would often be starved (hence ‘fast’) while their bodies were ‘purged’ of their sins, in holy fire (hence ‘in fires’).
The reference to Old Hamlet’s ‘foul crimes’ that he committed ‘in my days of nature’ (i.e. when he was alive) is intriguing. What did he do that was so bad that he is required to undergo the punishment of purgatory? There are numerous possible interpretations here: one holds that Old Hamlet is simply drawing attention to the fact that he died without having the chance to confess his sins (however small), hence his being sent to purgatory rather than straight to heaven.
However, the fact that King Hamlet was in the habit of whiling away his afternoons asleep in his orchard (as he will later tell us when outlining to his son the circumstances in which he was murdered) also raises some questions about how effective a king he was – as well as why Claudius would seek to bump his own brother off and take the crown for himself. Was there a darker side to King Hamlet than is immediately apparent?
But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part And each particular hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
The Ghost tells Hamlet that, if he wasn’t forbidden to do so, he would tell Hamlet about what it’s like in purgatory, and the ‘tale’ he would tell would tear up the soul of Hamlet, freeze his blood, and make his eyes pop out their sockets in horror. Young Hamlet’s hair would stand up on end in shock, like the individual pricks or spines on the porcupine.
But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love –
But, the Ghost concludes, this ‘blazon’ or revelation about the afterlife (hence ‘eternal’) cannot be announced to the living (‘ears of flesh and blood’). King Hamlet then entreats his son to ‘list’ (i.e. listen) to what he has to say, if he ever loved him as a son should love his father.
HAMLET O God!
GHOST Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
The Ghost drops his bombshell: not only is he the spirit of Young Hamlet’s dead father, but Old Hamlet was murdered .
GHOST Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Murder is always foul, the Ghost goes on, but his murder was more foul and strange than most.
HAMLET Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.
Hamlet urges his father to tell him what happened, quickly, so that he can swiftly take revenge for his father’s murder – as swiftly as one falls in love.
GHOST I find thee apt; And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, Wouldst thou not stir in this.
Hamlet’s father responds by saying that he can see his son is responsive and eager to hear more. He would have to be as unreactive as a bloated weed lodged in Lethe wharf for young Hamlet not to be stirred to action by hearing what the Ghost is about to say. ‘Lethe wharf’ is a reference to the river Lethe, which, in classical mythology, was associated with forgetfulness; it’s the root of our modern word ‘lethargic’, meaning ‘slow to act’ and ‘sluggish’.
Now, Hamlet, hear: ’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown.
This section of the scene ends with the Ghost telling young Hamlet that the official narrative put about the kingdom, explaining King Hamlet’s cause of death, is false: he was not poisoned by a deadly snake that bit him. Or, rather, not an actual snake – though the (metaphorical) ‘serpent’ that killed him has since taken the throne for himself. In other words, Claudius, who now wears the crown, was the devious and deadly ‘serpent’ that crept into King Hamlet’s orchard and poisoned him.
This revelation will obviously set in motion the rest of the play’s events: Hamlet’s plan to avenge his father’s death, but also his determination to check out the Ghost’s story and find his own evidence that Claudius really is guilty.
3 thoughts on “A Short Analysis of King Hamlet’s ‘I Am Thy Father’s Spirit’ Speech”
It’s interesting that Hamlet Sr gave Hamlet Jr three tasks: don’t let Denmark’s reputation be tarnished, avenge his death, and let heaven deal with Gertrude. But what does Hamlet Jr focus on? Mom. What gives with that, Hamlet?
According to one interpretation, young Hamlet is grappling with an unresolved Oedipus Complex – hence his fear that the Ghost may be a demon tempting him to damn himself by murdering his innocent stepfather. Had the Ghost named anybody but Claudius (or Gertude) as his killer, the theory runs, Hamlet’s revenge would have been immediate.
Very interesting analysis just want to add Hamlet senior is a villain in this piece to expect his son to enact his revenge with the full knowledge of what deadly path this would lead him onto
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The ghost tells Hamlet that he is, in fact, the ghost of his dead father. And there’s more: the ghost claims that Claudius killed him, taking his throne and his wife in the process. He wants Hamlet to kill Claudius in revenge. Shocked, Hamlet agrees and vows to avenge his father’s death. When Horatio and Marcellus reenter, having followed Hamlet to the scene of his chat with the ghost, they promise to keep quiet about what the ghost told Hamlet. Hamlet also tells them that he might start acting a little crazy because he’ll be using insanity as a cover while he investigates what’s really going on.
Where are you taking me? Speak. I'll go no further.
Listen to me.
My time is almost up. Soon, I’ll have to return to those terrible fires.
Oh, poor ghost!
Don’t pity me, but listen seriously to what I have to tell you.
Speak. I’m eager to hear what you have to say.
You’ll be just as eager to take revenge when you’ve heard my story.
I am the ghost of your father, condemned for a certain period of time to roam the nights, while during the day I burn in flames until the sins that I committed during my lifetime have been purged from my soul. I am forbidden to tell you the secrets of the afterlife; otherwise I would tell you a story, the tiniest bit of which would freeze your young blood, make your eyes pop out of their sockets like stars out of their orbits, and cause your stylish hair to stand straight up like the quills on a porcupine. But the living are not allowed to hear a description of the afterlife. Listen to me! If you ever loved your dear father...
You must avenge this horrible and unnatural murder!
A horrible murder (as all murders are), but this one was horrible, strange, and unnatural.
Hurry up and tell me so that my act of revenge can be as quick as my thoughts.
You’ll know what you’ll need to do. You would have to be as stupid as the bloated weeds that grow on the banks of the river of oblivion if my story did not stir you to act. Now listen, Hamlet. The public version of the story is that I was bit by a snake while I was taking a nap in my orchard. All of Denmark has been lied to and taken advantage of, by this false account of my death. But you should know, my noble son, that the snake that took your father’s life now wears his crown.
Oh, I knew it! My uncle, a murderer!
Yes, that monster committed incest and adultery, using the magic of his evil wit and traitorous charm (he has such wicked skills in seducing women). That’s how he won over the sexual desires of my queen, who had always seemed so virtuous. Oh, Hamlet, what a terrible decline for Gertrude. To go from me, whose love was so dignified that it upheld every vow I made to her at our wedding, and then to take up with this miserable creature whose best features can’t even begin to compare to mine.
But Virtue can’t be tempted, even by lewdness disguised as an angel. So Lust, even though it has a heavenly lover, will satisfy itself in that divine bed and then move on to sleep with trash.
I think I sense the morning coming. I’ll be brief. While I was sleeping in my orchard (as I always do in the afternoon), your uncle sneaked up and poured into my ears an evil potion made from the hebona plant. This poison is so lethal that it instantly rushes into every part of the body and makes the blood thicken and curdle like milk to which vinegar has been added.
That’s exactly what it did to my blood. Instantly, scabs like the bark of a tree (or like the disgusting skin of someone with leprosy) appeared all over my smooth body. That’s how, while I was sleeping, my brother stole my life, my crown, and my queen. I died without having performed any religious sacraments to absolve myself of my sins. Instead, I was sent to my judgement with my earthly sins still weighing against me.
So horrible! Oh, horrible! Most horrible! If you’re human, you will not tolerate this. Don't let Denmark's royal bed be a place of corruption and incest. But, however you proceed in this, don’t hold anything against your mother, or take any actions against her. Leave her to be judged by God, and to suffer the stings of her own conscience. Goodbye, I must go! The fireflies show that morning is coming soon; their lights are growing pale. Goodbye. Remember me.
Oh, spirits of heaven. Oh, spirits of earth. Should I add hell? Damn. Stay strong, my heart. And you, my muscles, don’t grow weak now, but hold me up. Remember you? Yes, you poor ghost, I’ll remember as long as memory remains in this confused head of mine. Remember you? Yes, I’ll erase all trivial sweet memories, all quotes from books, all formulas, all childhood impressions and observations from the pages of my memory. Your command alone will be engraved in my mind, uncluttered with unimportant matters. Yes, by God, I’ll remember you.
Oh, you evil woman! Oh, Claudius, you villain, damned smiling villain! Where’s my notebook? [Hamlet writes.] I should write this down, “One can smile and smile, and yet still be a villain.” At least that’s true here in Denmark. So, uncle, there you are. Now to keep my word. “Goodbye, remember me”, you said. I swear I will.
My Lord, my lord!
Heaven help him!
Helloooo, my lord!
Helloooo, come here!
How are you, my lord?
What news, my lord?
Oh, wonderful news!
My lord, tell us.
No, you'll tell other people.
Not I, my lord, I swear.
Nor I, my lord.
But will you still keep this a secret when you’re dying to tell what you know?
Yes, I swear, my lord.
Every villain in this country is a complete scoundrel.
It doesn’t take a ghost coming back from the grave to tell us that, my lord.
You’re absolutely right. Well, let’s not waste time; I think we should say goodbye and go about our business. Everyone has matters to attend to, right? As for me, I’m going to the church to pray.
What you say sounds very strange, my lord.
I'm sorry I offend you – yes, very sorry.
No offense taken, my lord.
Yes, by God, there is an offense, and it’s very offensive. As for this vision we’ve seen – let me tell you, it’s a real ghost. But you have to restrain your desire to know what transpired between us. As you are my friends, fellow students, and soldiers of Denmark, grant me one small request.
What is it, my lord? We will.
Don’t tell anyone what you have seen tonight.
My Lord, we won’t.
Swear to it.
By my faith, I swear I won’t say anything.
Nor I, my lord, in faith.
Swear upon my sword.
We have already sworn, my lord.
Yes, you have sworn it; but now swear on my sword [because the handle resembles the cross of Christ] .
[To the Ghost] Ha ha, my buddy, is that you? Are you there, old pal? [To the Others] Come on, you heard this fellow in the basement. Agree to swear.
Propose the oath, my lord.
Here’s the oath: never tell anybody what you’ve seen. Swear on my sword.
[To the Ghost] So you can be here and there at the same time? [To the others] Then we'll just move to a different spot. Come here, gentlemen, and place your hands again upon my sword. Swear: “I’ll never tell anybody what I’ve heard.” Swear on my sword.
[To the Ghost] Well said, old mole. Can you tunnel through the ground that fast? What a good miner you are! [To his friends] Once again, move over here, good friends.
Oh, man, this is really strange.
Right, and since it’s polite to accept strangers for who they are, I want you to accept this strange thing for what it is, and don’t ask any questions. But trust me, Horatio, there are more things in this universe than what they taught us in school. Once again, swear to God that, no matter how oddly I behave, you won’t stand there with your arms crossed, shaking your heads, and muttering something like, “We know,” or “If we could only talk.” Don’t let on that you know anything about me. Now, swear.
[To the Ghost] Now you can rest, you agitated spirit. [To the others] Gentlemen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Even if I can’t repay you today, God willing, I’ll do it some day. Let’s go back inside the castle, but please keep quiet. Things are not right, and I'm the only one who can fix them! Okay, let’s go.
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Some of Shakespeare’s best and most recognisable lines are found in his monologues, and his play Hamlet is no exception to this rule.
Below we list the most well-known monologues from Hamlet, along with the speaker, act and scene in the order they appear in the play. This page has only Hamlet monologues ; you can find the top Hamlet soliloquies here and other Hamlet quotes here. Not sure the difference between a monologue and soliloquy?
Spoken by Claudius, Act 1 Scene 2
‘Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To give these mourning duties to your father: But, you must know, your father lost a father; That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound In filial obligation for some term To do obsequious sorrow: but to persever In obstinate condolement is a course Of impious stubbornness; ’tis unmanly grief; It shows a will most incorrect to heaven, A heart unfortified, a mind impatient, An understanding simple and unschool’d: For what we know must be and is as common As any the most vulgar thing to sense, Why should we in our peevish opposition Take it to heart? Fie! ’tis a fault to heaven, A fault against the dead, a fault to nature, To reason most absurd: whose common theme Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried, From the first corse till he that died to-day, ‘This must be so.’ We pray you, throw to earth This unprevailing woe, and think of us As of a father: for let the world take note, You are the most immediate to our throne; And with no less nobility of love Than that which dearest father bears his son, Do I impart toward you. For your intent In going back to school in Wittenberg, It is most retrograde to our desire: And we beseech you, bend you to remain Here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye, Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.
Spoken by Laertes, Act 1, Scene 3
For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor, Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood, A violet in the youth of primy nature, Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, The perfume and suppliance of a minute. No more.
Spoken by Polonius, Act 1 Scene 3
Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame! The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay’d for. There- my blessing with thee! And these few precepts in thy memory Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion’d thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar: Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in, Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment. Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man, And they in France of the best rank and station Are most select and generous, chief in that. Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all- to thine own self be true , And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!
Spoken by the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Act 1 Scene5
I am thy father’s spirit, Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confin’d to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combined locks to part, And each particular hair to stand on end Like quills upon the fretful porcupine. But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood . List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love-
Spoken by Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
Get thee to a nunnery! Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where’s your father?
Spoken by Ophelia, Act 3 Scene 1
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! The courtier’s, scholar’s, soldier’s, eye, tongue, sword, Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state, The glass of fashion and the mould of form, Th’ observ’d of all observers- quite, quite down! And I, of ladies most deject and wretched, That suck’d the honey of his music vows, Now see that noble and most sovereign reason, Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh; That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth Blasted with ecstasy. O, woe is me T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
Spoken by Gertrude, Act 4 Scene 7
There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them. There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke, When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up; Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes, As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element; but long it could not be Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death.
Spoken by Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1
Alas, poor Yorick ! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that.
What do you think of these Hamlet monologues – any we’re missing that should be included? Let us know in the comments below!
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Hamlet | Hamlet summary | Hamlet characters : Claudius , Fortinbras , Horatio , Laertes , Ophelia . Osric , Polonius , Rosencrantz and Guildenstern | Hamlet settings | Hamlet themes | Hamlet in modern English | Hamlet full text | Modern Hamlet ebook | Hamlet for kids ebooks | Hamlet quotes | Hamlet quote translations | Hamlet monologues | Hamlet soliloquies | Hamlet performance history | All about ‘To Be Or Not To Be’
British actor and director Kenneth Branagh speaks the ‘Alas poor Yorick’ monologue (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
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StageMilk / Monologues Unpacked / Horatio Monologue (Act 1, Scene 2)
Horatio Monologue (Act 1, Scene 2)
Ever had to tell your best friend some unfortunate and unbelievable news? Like you just saw their dead dad as a ghost? You might relate to this speech by Horatio from Hamlet .
Initially, this role feels like exposition because, well, it is… But nobody does exposition better than Shakespeare . As the actor playing Horatio, this speech isn’t about you. It’s all about painting the image for Hamlet; everyone else in the room, including the audience, has seen this unfold already. So focus on telling your friend. Make it clear.
Hamlet is the son of the late King of Denmark who, after a mysterious death, was succeeded by his brother Claudius. In a Game of Thrones- style turn of events, Claudius has married Hamlet’s mother, solidifying a creepy triumvirate of uncle-father-king. Hamlet is, understandably, miffed.
In the opening of the play, the guards of Castle Elsinore have seen the ghost of the King stalking the battlements. Not thinking anyone will believe them, they get the smartest and most logical person they know, Horatio, to come with them on the third night and see the ghost for himself. When Horatio bears witness, the three of them go to Hamlet to break the news.
After some small talk and some light jokes about the rushed marriage of Hamlet’s uncle to his mother, conversation leads to the topic of Hamlet’s father. Horatio doesn’t beat around the bush and says “I think I saw him Yesternight…” Hamlet rightly is shocked and Horatio tells him to chill for a second and let him explain.
HORATIO Two nights together had these gentlemen, Marcellus and Barnardo, on their watch In the dead waste and middle of the night Been thus encountered: a figure like your father Armed at point, exactly cap-à-pie, Appears before them and with solemn march Goes slow and stately by them; thrice he walked By their oppressed and fear-surprised eyes Within his truncheon’s length whilst they, distilled Almost to jelly with the act of fear, Stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me In dreadful secrecy impart they did, And I with them the third night kept the watch Where, as they had delivered, both in time, Form of the thing, each word made true and good, The apparition comes. I knew your father, These hands are not more like.
First step in deciphering the text ? As always, make a glossary of any unfamiliar words or phrases contained within. Research and understand them, so that you might unpack all the intended meaning—especially when they contribute to such vivid imagery.
Cap-à-pie— Head to toe.
Truncheon — A weapon, most likely a staff or baton, often used by police or guards.
Solemn — Formal and dignified, but also relating to funerals and mourning.
Apparition — Ghost.
Oppressed — Distressed, troubled, burdened.
HORATIO Two nights in a row had these gentleman, Marcellus and Bernardo, at their posts on duty, In the middle of the night, the following happened: A figure like your father dressed from head to toe in his war uniform appeared before them and walked directly past them quite slowly: Three times he walked past their terrified faces, so close his weapon could have touched them, while they, not moving because they were so scared, did nothing and didn’t even make a sound. They told me this in secret and I went with them to work on the third night, where just as they had told me, the exact time, the exact shape, the ghost of your father appeared. I knew your father, this ghost was to him as my hands are to each other: exactly the same.
This speech boils down to four thoughts. Below, I have underlined the last three words at the end of each thought. I do this when I breakdown a script to make sure I drive to the end of them with strength and clarity.
Two nights together had these gentlemen, 10 Marcellus and Barnardo, on their watch 10 In the dead waste and mi ddle of the night 10 Been thus encountered : a figure like your father 11 Arm ed at point, exactly cap-à-pie, 10 Appears before them and with solemn march 10 Goes slow and stately by them; thrice he walked 10 By their oppressed and fear-surprised eyes 10 Within his truncheon’s length whilst they, distilled 10 Almost to jelly with the act of fear, 10 Stand dumb and speak not to him . This to me 10 In dreadful secrecy impart they did, 10 And I with them the third night kept the watch 10 Where , as they had de liv ered, both in time , 10 Form of the thing , each word made true and good , 10 The apparition comes . I knew your father, 11 These hands are not more like . 6
The first thought is your introduction: “Okay, Hamlet. Strap in, here’s what happened.”
The second thought is what the watchmen saw.
The third is what you saw: “Hamlet, buddy, I saw it with my own eyes.”
The final thought is your conclusion: “I knew your dad. It was him.”
I like to think with any speech in Shakespeare, at the end of every thought you are asked a question or provoked somehow, and that prompts you to go on. Maybe the questions here are based on what you see in Hamlet’s face. The questions/provocations to these thoughts might be the following:
Been thus encountered; “Will you hurry up and tell me please?!” “I don’t believe you.”
speak not to him. “ Have you told anyone else this?” “Okay, but where do you come into this?”
The apparition comes “I s this a joke?”
Notes on the Annotated Script
The numbers at the end of the lines are the number of syllables; I’ve included these because they can offer up clues to the character’s state of mind you can use in performance. For example, most lines have the regular amount of ten syllables, suggesting that Horatio is calm and level-headed. Most of Shakespeare’s ‘Best Friend’ roles tend to be—somebody for the main character to bounce ideas off.
But if a regular line of verse has ten, then what does it mean if it goes to eleven? If iambic pentameter is based on a heartbeat (da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM) then is eleven Horatio’s heart rate going up? In both lines of eleven syllables he says the words ‘your father’. Is he nervous to say this to his friend? It’s definitely worth consideration.
The six syllables of the final line are completed by Hamlet’s response “But where was this?” So nothing huge to take away from that.
Do be on the lookout for unusual stress patterns. In the last four lines, the stress is clearly on the first word rather then the second. This style of stress is “trochaic” rather than “iambic”: “DUM-da” as opposed to “da-DUM”. It pushes poetic vese forward with a rhythm rather than heart-beating along. In this context, it suggests that Horatio is driving his point home to Hamlet, who seems to struggle with this news.
Hendiadys: a Fun Shakespeare Literary Device
A Hendiadys is a figure of speech wherein two verbs, separated by a conjunction describe the one noun: “nice and warm”. They show up a lot in Shakespeare, and two examples appear in this very passage: “ dead waste and middle of the night ” and “ slow and stately “.
The poet Ted Hughes thought this was how Shakespeare taught his audience new words, by using a mixture of familiar/unfamiliar to provide context. In addition, they add colour to the storytelling. The trick with hendiadys is to make both descriptions individual and vivid. The dead waste of the night is different to the middle of the night. The ghost didn’t just move slowly or stately, it moved both ways. Imbue each word with its own colour.
Notes on Performance
When playing Horatio, I like to take big breath in and out before this piece begins. It’s huge information you’re dropping on Hamlet. How will you say this? And how might you prepare yourself to drop this bombshell?
This speech is basically a description of the play’s first scene. Shakespeare doesn’t start his plays at the beginning of the plot; we often enter them halfway though and play catch-up. To check the audience is onboard, he employs speeches like this where information (already seen or heard in the play) is repeated. For the actor playing Horatio, they have the chance to flavour the information based on the impact it will have upon the intended recipient (in this case Hamlet.)
It’s also a terrific scene to think about status . While Horatio and Hamlet are friends from university, it’s important to remember they are not socially equal. Horatio is talking to his friend, but also his Prince. How does this modify the way he speaks, or the actions/tactics he might use? Is there a point where he says “Aww the hell with it!” And starts talking to his friend instead of the Prince? (Spoilers below.)
The second and third thoughts are long . You have to keep the ideas in the air; often the sentence is set up, extensively described and then concluded. It’s in the description that you need to keep the ideas vivid and then land that conclusion.
Finally: the last thought. It’s always the most characterful line of the speech for me. Talk to your friend in that line. A lot of this speech is to your Prince, that line is to your friend.
About the Author
StageMilk Team is made up of professional actors and writers from around the world. This team includes Andrew, Alex, Luke, Jake, Indiana, Patrick and more. We all work together to contribute useful articles and resources for actors at all stages in their careers.
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HAMLET – Monologue (Ghost)
A monologue from the play by William Shakespeare
Act 1, Scene 5
I am thy father’s spirit, Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres, Thy knotted and combinèd locks to part, And each particular hair to stand an end Like quills upon the fretful porpentine. But this eternal blazon must not be To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love, Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ‘Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forgèd process of my death Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. Thy uncle, Ay, that incestuous, that adulterous beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traiterous gifts– O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power So to seduce! — won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there, From me, whose love was of that dignity That it went hand in hand even with the vow I made to her in marriage, and to decline Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor To those of mine! But virtue, as it never will be moved, Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven, So lust, though to a radiant angel linked, Will sate itself in a celestial bed And prey on garbage. But soft, methinks I scent the morning air. Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard, My custom always of the afternoon, Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment, whose effect Holds such an enmity with blood of man That swift as quicksilver it courses through The natural gates and alleys of the body, And with a sudden vigor it doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into milk, The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine, And a most instant tetter barked about Most lazar-like with vile and loathsome crust All my smooth body. Thus was I sleeping by a brother’s hand Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched, Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled, No reck’ning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head. O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible! If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not. Let not the royal bed of Denmark be A couch for luxury and damnèd incest. But howsomever thou pursues this act, Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once. The glowworm shows the matin to be near And gins to pale his uneffectual fire. Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.
Read the play here
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Ghost of Hamlet’s Father
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The Ghost of Hamlet Sr. appears on the battlements of Elsinore
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