What is the first line of Hamlet?

The first line of Hamlet is “Who's there?” The words are spoken by Barnardo, a watchman standing guard on the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Barnardo and his fellow watchmen are especially uneasy this night because they expect to see a ghost.

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The first words of Hamlet are pretty simple and straightforward: “Who's there?” The words are spoken by Barnardo, a watchman walking the battlements of Elsinore Castle one cold winter's eve. It's midnight, nearly too dark to see, and he has come to relieve Francisco, another watchman, of his duties for...

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The first words of Hamlet are pretty simple and straightforward: “Who's there?” The words are spoken by Barnardo, a watchman walking the battlements of Elsinore Castle one cold winter's eve. It's midnight, nearly too dark to see, and he has come to relieve Francisco, another watchman, of his duties for the night.

To the question “Who's there?” comes Francisco's answer, “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.” Barnardo then gives the code “Long live the king!” which immediately proves who he is. Francisco now knows for sure that it is Barnardo who has joined him on the battlements and not some enemy soldier.

As Barnardo's tense opening line suggests, Denmark is on high alert. It is soon revealed that the guards are uneasy for two reasons. The first is a strange apparition that Barnardo and Marcellus have witnessed over the last two nights: the ghost of the late King Hamlet. As they share this information with Horatio, the ghost appears again, leading Horatio to conclude that this must be a bad omen for the country. This brings up the second reason for the guards' unease: there has been a lot of saber-rattling of late from Fortinbras, the impetuous Crown Prince of Norway, who has expressed the desire to take back his father's lands from Denmark—by force, if necessary. There's a fear of invasion in the air, hence the heightened security measures at Elsinore Castle.

These opening lines, filled with unease and uncertainty, set the tone of the play and suggest that something is deeply wrong in Denmark.

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