What's the purpose of having two discussions of the crowing cock, Horatio's pagan one and Marcellus's Christian one, in "Hamlet"?

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iambic5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After being astonished by what he's just seen, Horatio reaches for any sort of explanation. He recalls an old folk belief that when ghosts walk the earth, they can only walk at night and must return to their graves with their bodies in the morning when the cock crows. He might have learned about it at the university, maybe in a class on ancient folklore. With no other explanation and the fact that the ghost really did behave in exactly that way, he has no choice but to consider the possibility that what he thought was simply a story might in fact be true. Otherwise, what just happened? It’s quite a thing to consider for a rational, scholarly fellow like Horatio.

Marcellus, on the other hand, is not a scholar, so when trying to calm himself after the terrifying experience, he reaches in a different direction: toward his faith, specifically the Christian belief that morning cocks crow all night on Christmas Eve, and that night ghosts and black magic are incapable of harming people (incidentally, this belief is not recorded anywhere except for right here in this play). It’s a comforting idea after such a frightening experience. They're both straining to make sense of what they've just seen through the prism of their own learning: Horatio relies on his university learning and Marcellus, who has no university education, looks instead to his faith.

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Hamlet

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