Why is the cock's crow important in the opening scene of Hamlet?

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lyndaa's profile pic

lyndaa | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Yes, the cock crowing does reveal the scene.  It also lets the audience know that (at various points in the play) that the ghost (and ghosts in general) roamed the earth at night only - they disappeared/ were not seen during daylight.  This idea also adds a musters tone to the play.

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lmillerm | College Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Roosters (cocks) announce the beginning of a new day; therefore, the simplest reason for the rooster is to set the scene.
On a deeper level, the rooster was (and still is) extremely significant in the history of developing cultures around the world.
The Greeks, for example, believed that the rooster guided souls to the under-world (the "kingdom of deaths"). This exlaination is pertinant to "Hamlet," because the ghost exits almost immediately after the sound of the crow.

Sources:
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yscorse | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, a cock crows in Act 1, scene 1, signaling the dawn just as the ghost of Prince Hamlet’s deceased father exits the stage. The rooster crowing seems to interrupt the ghost before he can speak. After encountering the ghost, Horatio comments on the rooster’s crowing, calling the animal a "trumpet to the morn” that wakes up “the god of day,” who sends the ghost away.  

The cock crowing could be a religious allusion to Christ’s return and a symbolically new day. Horatio’s reference to the "god of day" would support this interpretation. Similarly, the fact that the rooster’s crow seems to frighten the ghost away supports this view; spirit creatures would not be able to harm people under Christ’s protection.

The ghost’s quick departure at the cock’s crow is echoed in ancient Jewish and Christian writings that describe wandering demons in the night as quickly scattering when they hear a rooster’s crow. Just as the cock’s crow banishes darkness, the symbolic cock’s crow banishes that which is dark and evil.

Thus, the cock’s crow is an important element of the opening scene because it establishes the ghost as a likely malignant presence.