In the opening scene of Hamlet, what is Horatio's attitude towards the ghost before it appears and after he sees it?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator


At first, Horatio refuses to believe in the reality of the ghost. Marcellus, who has seen the ghost, says: 

Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy
And will not let belief take hold of him
However, when the ghost appears, Horatio's attitude changes. The ghost "harrows" or terrifies him. He demands it speak, and when it leaves he "tremble[s] and looks pale." He says he would not have believed it had he not seen it with his own eyes. 
The appearance of the ghost fills Horatio with a deep sense of foreboding and unease. He fears it as an omen that something terrible will happen in Denmark. Learned as he is, he tells stories of ghosts rising from their graves right before Julius Caesar was murdered in Rome, and then he articulates the rumors he has heard of Fortinbras planning to attack Denmark. 
When the ghost appears a second time, Horatio again demands it speak and wants to know whether the ghost has some foreknowledge to share that would allow Denmark to avoid a bad fate. As Horatio says to the ghost:
If thou art privy to thy country’s fate,
Which happily foreknowing may avoid,
Oh, speak!
Horatio is thinking in terms of his country as a whole, not of a private domestic drama. Of course, the body of the king, as Michel Foucault has noted, is both that of both a private individual and the representative symbol of the state, such that the private and the public are linked, but Horatio's entire vision is of the public picture: what does the ghost's appearance mean for Denmark? 
The cock crows before the ghost can speak--and we can only wonder what he would have prophesied--for then he disappears. That someone as rational and level-headed as Horatio is filled with fear and foreboding for his country at the appearance of the ghost helps set the dark tone of the play.  
missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At first mention of the ghost, Horatio is not a believer. He says:

Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.

As the ghost appears, Horatio claims:

It harrows me with fear and wonder.

So while it is right in front of him, his curiosity grows and his senses appropriately tell him he is indeed looking at a ghost.

As the ghost leaves, Horatio admits that he would not have believed this unless he saw it with his own two eyes:

Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.

Horatio's attitude has to do with a belief in the afterlife. He was known as a scholar and would have likely been a skeptic. The above quotes demonstrate this skeptical attitude in him consistently.

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