Why does Horatio mention Julius Caesar in Hamlet?

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In act I, the castle guards bring Horatio out on a foggy night to see what they say is a ghost walking the ramparts. The very rational Horatio pooh-poohs the idea of a ghost—until he views it with his own eyes. He then becomes frightened and uneasy.

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In act I, the castle guards bring Horatio out on a foggy night to see what they say is a ghost walking the ramparts. The very rational Horatio pooh-poohs the idea of a ghost—until he views it with his own eyes. He then becomes frightened and uneasy.

Seeing the ghost makes the well-educated, upper-class Horatio, friend of Prince Hamlet, think unhappily about what he knows of Ancient Rome. He remembers stories of supernatural sightings that occurred right before the assassination of Julius Caesar, an assassination which triggered a civil war.

Horatio mentions Julius Caesar to the guards because he is making an association between the ghost he and the guards have just seen and the ghosts that rose from their graves before Caesar's death. Horatio calls these ghosts

the sheeted dead
[that] did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets

This, along with the war preparations going on in Denmark, builds up a sense of darkness and anxiety from early on in the play. We as an audience are primed to expect eerie and unsettling events to occur.

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"In the most high and palmy state of Rome, / 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." (Act I, scene i).

After seeing the ghost of King Hamlet, and relating the battle between the king and Fortinbras, Horatio compares this event to the killing of Julius Caesar. Surrounding the assassination of Caesar were many supernatural and unexplainable occurrences, including seeing ghosts. Since they are seeing the ghost of Hamlet, Horatio is speculating that perhaps this is an omen prefacing turmoil within the nation of Denmark.

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