What mood is stressed at the outset of the play?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A mood of deep unease and foreboding permeates the opening of the play. Francisco, the sentinel being relieved of duty, sets the tone when he says:

'Tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
It is midnight, and Barnado, who is now coming on guard, wants Horatio and Marcellus to "make haste," suggesting he is uneasy to be left alone.
When Horatio and Marcellus arrive, the ghost makes his first appearance of the evening. Horatio says, "It [the ghost] harrows me with fear and wonder."

Horatio interprets the ghost as more than merely a personally frightening apparition. He perceives it as an ill-omen: "This bodes some strange eruption to our state," he says. Later, he will add to the tone of unease and foreboding by saying:

A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun, and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
Marcellus will add to the sense of disquiet, noting the preparations for war:
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon
And foreign mart for implements of war.
Then the ghost makes a second appearance, lifting up his arms and  disappearing as the cock crows to signal dawn.
The opening—midnight outside a dark castle, with two visits from the ghost, fear in the  air and intimations of trouble to come—is scary, establishing the dark, foreboding mood of the play.
renelane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mood is tense and suspenseful in Act I of the play. The ghost appearances leave everyone with a different interpretation for the ghost's arrival, yet none of them are of a positive nature. Hamlet is the only one privy to the ghost's need for vengeance.

Hamlet is also presenting tense and mysterious behavior. His mother speculates it is from his father's death and Claudius is suspicious of it, as well, but for different reasons. Hamlet is contemplating the actions he will take, yet he has not yet committed to act on the ghost's words.

This creates the suspenseful tension that sets us up for the coming events. Although the suspense of Hamlet's inaction will last most of the play.