In Act 1, Scenes 4 and 5 of Hamlet, describe your reactions to a character, action or idea.

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Obviously your reactions are from your perceptions of what is happening in the play at this point, but here are a few things that are happening and some questions you can answer for yourself to get you thinking about the play.

Scene 4 is about Horatio and Hamlet waiting for the ghost to appear.  Horatio is concerned for Hamlet's safety because the appearance of a ghost is rarely a good thing.  Hamlet, on the other hand, is anxious to see and interact with this ghost.  As they are waiting for the ghost, they overhear the party that Claudius is holding in another part of the castle.  Hamlet speaks quite eloquently about where the flaws in human nature come from.  Some questions to ask yourself:

1.  Is Horatio a good friend?  How do you know?

2.  Is Hamlet brave or foolish for wanting to see the ghost?

3.  What do make of Hamlet's commentary on fatal flaws?  Is he right?  Is this speech really Shakespeare talking about tragic flaws?

4.  How do you feel about Hamlet's lack of concern for his safety and his remark that he "doesn't set his life at a pin's fee"?

5.  How do you now understand Marcellus's famous line "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

In scene 5, the ghost has a long monologue with Hamlet.  It is hear that Hamlet learns several very disturbing things.  First it is revealed that King Hamlet is in purgatory (not heaven, not hell) -- a place where he will stay until his "sins are burnt and purged away."  It is not a pleasant afterlife.  Next the ghost reveals the details of how Claudius killed King Hamlet and how the ghost feels about his wife and his brother as concerns their quick marriage.  The ghost asks Hamlet to "let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxery and damned incest."  Hamlet swears to carry out this command and makes the others swear to not speak a word of they saw this night.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1.  What do you think of the way the ghost revealed the story of the murder -- the clever build up to the reveal of Claudius?

2.  How does the ghost blame Claudius for Gertrude's behavior?  What does this reveal about King Hamlet and his feelings about Gertrude.

3.  What do you think he is exactly asking of Hamlet?

4.  What do you think of the ghost's request for Hamlet to not punish Gertrude?

5.  What do you think bothers the ghost the most?  dying with sins on his soul; Claudius murdering him; Claudius and Gertrude's marriage; something else?

6.  What is your reaction toHamlet's soliloquy after the ghost initally leaves?  Is this what you expected?  Are you surprised by his determination? 

7.  Now what do you make of Marcellus's line in the previous scene?

8.  What do you think of Gertrude as she is portrayed here by King Hamlet's comments?

Hope these suggestions help!


Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These scenes in Act I are emotionally intense, first as Hamlet and Horatio wait and watch for the appearance of the ghost and then as Hamlet follows the ghost and finally speaks with him. They are full of supernatural mystery, suspense, and potential danger. When Hamlet decides to follow the ghost when beckoned, Horatio tries to stop him, warning the Prince of Denmark, "Be ruled; you shall not go." Horatio's fear for Hamlet's safety is so great that he dares to give orders to his prince.

Hamlet's behavior in these two scenes is impressive and emphasizes his need to know what had happened to his father, whom he had loved so deeply. Hamlet will risk danger and confront this supernatural being whose identity he does not really know. The ghost could be a "goblin damned" from Hell itself. When Hamlet does speak to the ghost, his sympathy is engaged immediately: "Alas, poor ghost!" When Hamlet then realizes the ghost is indeed that of his dead father, Hamlet is filled first with horror at his father's terrible, cruel murder and then with rage. He will not let his father's murder remain unavenged; he begins to plan how he will proceed.

In these two scenes, Hamlet's character is developed in several ways. He is a deeply emotional young man, capable of feeling great love, pity, and grief. He is also courageous, willing to endanger himself in the pursuit of truth. He is a seeker of justice, as well. It is easy to sympathize with Hamlet; he is a good man and a loving son who finds himself in a terrible situation.

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