How does Horatio interpret the ghost's appearance in Hamlet's first scene?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the opening scene of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the soldiers on the ramparts of the castle are on edge because they have seen a “dreaded sight” for two consecutive nights. The jittery guards enlist Horatio’s help because he is a “scholar” and would be fluent in Latin, the language of religion and the afterlife. Horatio is skeptical, thinking that the specter is a “fantasy” of the guards’ imagination.

When the ghost appears, however, despite his shock, Horatio immediately recognizes the figure as the recently deceased king of Denmark and summons the courage to speak to the phantom. The ghost does not reply and vanishes.
Horatio immediately confirms the guards’ impression that the ghost wore “the very armour he had on / When he the ambitious Norway combated.” The fact that the ghostly king is clothed in the same armor he wore when he defeated the Norwegians speaks volumes to Horatio, who says:

But in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

Horatio takes the appearance of the ghost as a political omen. Horatio knows that the Norwegians have amassed an army that is passing by Denmark which could be interpreted as a possible invasion force. When the specter returns, Horatio pleads:

If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid, O, speak!

The ghost is silent, and Horatio and the guards vow to persuade Hamlet to speak with the ghost so that the phantom’s purpose can be known. While Horatio interprets the ghosts’ appearance as a political omen, the audience will soon learn that it really seeks vengeance for his murder.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Horatio interprets the ghost's appearance to be a harbinger of war with young Fortinbras, the Norwegian ruler whose father was bested in a battle with the older Hamlet. He believes this because the apparition of Hamlet the elder is outfitted in battle gear, and because there are clearly preparations for war going on around Denmark. But he also draws a comparison with a story from antiquity, specifically the death of Julius Caesar, whose murder was preceded by both bizarre and unnatural weather and even supernatural events, such as ghosts that "did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets." It seems that young Fortinbras is on his way with an army of mercenaries to take back some lands that belonged to his father, and Horatio does not seem to think that the ghost's appearance bodes well for their success in the impending conflict. What Horatio does not know is that the ghost's real purpose for appearing is to entreat his son to avenge his murder. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Hamlet, when the ghost appears what does Horatio assume it means that he is seeing him?

Let's look at the context here. The Danes are preparing for what they think will be an imminent invasion by the Norwegian army under Fortinbras. The atmosphere is tense and there's a great deal of gloom and foreboding in the air. When the ghost of Hamlet's father appears on the battlements of Elsinore it merely adds to the sense that something bad's about to happen.

That's certainly how Horatio interprets this strange apparition. He's normally a very rational, sensible man, but even he's spooked by what appears to be a bad omen. Initially skeptical, once he's seen the Ghost he immediately sees its resemblance to old King Hamlet. He doesn't know quite what the Ghost's manifestation portends, but he knows that, whatever it is, it can't be good. Horatio has no idea just how right he is.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Hamlet, when the ghost appears what does Horatio assume it means that he is seeing him?

Horatio says:

In what particular thought to work I know not;
But, in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

In other words, he takes it as a very bad omen and thinks it will lead to some disaster or tragedy, which of course it does.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on