What current events are discussed as the men await the ghost in Act I of Hamlet?  

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The men discuss the late King Hamlet and his triumph over the King of Norway as they wait for his ghost to appear at the beginning of William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Marcellus, Barnardo, and Horatio are waiting for the ghost of King Hamlet to appear again. Horatio didn't believe that the ghost was real; they asked him to come wait so that he could see it himself. When the ghost appears, he agrees that it looks like the late King Hamlet.

The ghost appears and Horatio addresses it. It leaves without answering his question. Horatio says to the other two men that the ghost was dressed as King Hamlet was when he battled Norway and frowned like he did when they warred with the Polish. He's nervous about what it means.

The three men then start to discuss current events. Marcellus wants to know why there is a new, more strict schedule for the guards. He also brings up the number of bronze cannons being made in Denmark, the number of weapons being imported, and the increased demand for ships. 

Horatio answers by reminding him that King Hamlet and King Fortinbras of Norway were enemies; Hamlet killed Fortinbras in combat. With this act, King Hamlet got all the territories of Norway. However, Fortinbras has a son who shares his name—and the rumors are that he has amassed a group of people who might try to take back Norway. 

Once Horatio has finished his explanation, the ghost returns. 

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I, we're brought up to speed on what is rumored to be going on in Denmark. A huge military buildup is underway, with bronze cannons being manufactured, weapons bought from abroad and so much shipbuilding occurring that the laborers are working seven days a week. Horatio explains that rumor has it that Fortinbras, the son of the King Fortinbras the late King Hamlet killed, is marching on Denmark, determined to avenge his father's death. This parallels Hamlet's quest to avenge his own father Hamlet's death on a larger scale. Thus, vengeance is everywhere. We also learn from Horatio, who references Roman times, that ghosts are a portent of danger. Later, in scene iv as the men again await the ghost, we hear from Hamlet that Claudius spends his nights drinking and dancing. Hamlet mentions that Denmark has a bad reputation as a place of drunkenness. 

This talk adds a sense of menace and foreboding to the play. With the country soon to be at war, it is easier to understand that Claudius and Gertrude would be all the more upset at Hamlet's seeming madness.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first act of "Hamlet," Horatio and the others speak of the late king who slay Fortinbras of Norway.  As a result of his death, Fortinbras forfeited all the lands he had seized to his conqueror, King Hamlet.  Now, Denmark is in danger as the son, young Fortinbras has gathered an army--"a list of lawless resolute" (l.98) and seeks to regain these lands. Bernardo wonders if this imminent danger is the reason why the ghost of King Hamlet has appeared and may again appear to instruct them.