In Hamlet, what reasons does Horatio suggest for the King's ghost appearance?

Expert Answers

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

Horatio believes that the ghost of the old king is an omen of bad tidings for Denmark. He cites an example from antiquity when, just before Julius Caesar was murdered, people saw ghosts as an indicator of bad things to come. I have quoted the passage below.

A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
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.
And even the like precurse of feared events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.
When Horatio says that the "graves stood tenantless," he means that the people who were buried left their graves. He goes on to say that these ghosts were speaking gibberish in the streets of Rome. Other examples of horrible omens happened in Rome, just like in the current scene in Denmark. All these things together point to the idea that "heaven and earth" are trying to warn the people in Denmark of whatever will happen next.
Just before the passage above, Horatio summarizes the main points of the war that occurred before the beginning of the play. Hamlet's father, the king of Denmark, caused the war, and he himself killed the old opposing King Fortinbras. This dead king's son, also called Fortinbras, is now getting ready to try and seek revenge. Given this tense history of war and the link between fathers and sons, it seems appropriate to the guards that the ghost of the late king would be the one to appear as a bad omen. One of the other guards Barnardo says as much:
I think it be no other but e'en so. Well may it sort that this portentous figure Comes armèd through our watch so like the king That was and is the question of these wars.
Here, he suggests that the old king was the cause of the wars, so it makes sense that he would be dressed in his battle armor appearing to the people of Denmark now.
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the play Hamet opens, Bernardo comes to relieveFrancisco who stands watch; then, Horatio and Marcellus join Bernardo. Bernardo seeks to convince Horatio that he has seen a ghost the last two nights. Shortly after he says this, the ghost appears, and Bernardo wants Horatio to speak with it, This "dreaded sight, twice seen" who has passed Marcellus and Bernardo on their watch, walking with a "martial stal"; that is, a warlike stride.

Struck with apprehension, Horatio fears a disturbance to the state. For, the figure has the same "warlike stance" as King Hamlet when he fought the King of Norway and won his lands; in addition,

 
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated. (1.1.73-74)

This ghost of King Hamlet in armor is a warning figure, Horatio believes, because he is the same "king that was and is the question of these wars" (1.1.125). Certainly, Horatio's apprehension seems justified since the old king of Norway's son, Fortinbras, has been reinforcing its troops, having ships built, purchasing "brazen cannons" and other "implements" of war.

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

What three reasons does Horatio list for why the ghost of King Hamlet may have returned from the grave?

This question is in reference to lines 130 and 139 in Act I, Scene 1, when Horatio, on watch with Marcellus and Barnardo, implores the ghost of King Hamlet to tell its business in the realm of man:

“If there be any good thing to be done
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me.
If thou art privy to thy country’s fate,
Which happily foreknowing may avoid,
O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it.  Stay and speak.”

Here Horatio outlines three possibilities (none of which turn out to be quite correct) as to the ghost’s appearance, and begs the late king to give answer.  First, he asks if the ghost has any unfinished business, any “good thing to be done” to put his spirit at rest.  Second, he wonders if perhaps the ghost has information about the fate of Denmark, which, by imparting it to the watchmen, may prevent some tragedy.  Finally, Horatio asks if the late King Hamlet has some ill-gotten treasure buried somewhere, which was a common reason for spirits to walk the earth in the folklore of the day.

These speculations are all in keeping with traditional ghost lore.  There is, however, some additional context that should be mentioned in reference to Horatio’s second suggestion, outlined in lines 79-107 in his explanation for why the men are keeping watch in the first place – King Hamlet had won lands in a duel with Fortinbras, ruler of Norway, and now the son of the slain Norwegian king is raiding, and otherwise causing trouble, along their borders with Denmark to win back the claims.  So we know that Denmark is on the verge of armed conflict.  In this prior speech Horatio also makes mention of the omens foreshadowing the fall of Julius Caesar in Rome, speaking of “tenantless” graves and a moon “sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.”  Therefore he thinks that perhaps this ghost of the king could be a similar harbinger of disaster in this time of unrest.

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

In Hamlet, what three reasons does Horatio list for the superstition of a ghost's returning from the grave?

If I understand your question correctly you are referring to Act 1 scene 1 lines 149-158 of the play, Hamlet. Here Horatio is challenging the ghost of old Hamlet to speak. He leads the ghost with three superstitions that he has heard about ghosts.

His first superstition is that ghost return because they have unresolved issues. Horatio says “If there be any good thing to be done/ That may to thee do ease and grace to me,/ Speak to me.” He challenges the ghost to speak and tell him what he can do to ease the spirits pain and bring glory to his own name.

Horatio’s second superstition is that the ghost is there to provide a warning. Horatio says, “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate,/ Which happily foreknowing may avoid,/ Oh, speak!” Here with these lines he asks the ghost about the country’s fate in other words what warning can the ghost give.

The third superstition that Horatio references is the idea that ghosts may be attached to a treasure or a prized item to which the ghost is attached. Horatio again challenging the spirit to speak says, “Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life/ Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,/ For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,/ Speak of it. Stay and speak!” In this example Horatio implies that the ghost may have a hoard, a mass of treasured items.

There are three very specific claims that Horatio makes concerning superstitions about ghosts. Each of which in some way are true to the play. The unresolved issue is his the old king’s murder, the ghost seeks revenge. The warning is that the new king, his brother is the murder. The treasure he is bound to is his wife. The ghost laments that she his virtuous wife is now married to his murderer.

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

In Hamlet, what three reasons does Horatio list for the superstition of a ghost's returning from the grave?

1) It is a sign of some strange violence which is about to take place in their country.

2) Since young Fortinbras, who is on their borders, is eager to regain what his father had lost, he may try to begin a war.

3) It is a warning that disaster is coming.

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

In Hamlet, when the ghost appears, Horatio confronts it. What are the three traditional reasons for a ghost's appearance?

The first one that is mentioned is that it is a bad omen, that some ill-luck is going to befall the country.  Horatio says of it that it "bodes some strange eruption to our state" (I.i.69).   He mentions later that before Rome fell many witnessed ghosts, so Horatio is worried that Denmark's recent acquisition of Fortinbras' lands might have prompted return warfare, and the king's ghost is the one who is warning them of it.

The second reason that is mentioned is that he has a buried treasure of money somewhere, and his ghost has come back to seek it.  Upon the second visit of the ghost the first scene we see it, Horatio confronts it, asking, "if thou hast uphoarded in thy life extorted treasure in the womb of earth, for which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death" I.i.136-138).  Apparently it is a well-spoken of bit of rumor or superstition that says ghosts return to seek after treasure hoarded during their lifetime.

The last of the discussion focuses on how the ghost seemed to startle when the rooster crowed the coming dawn.  They discuss how evil spirits cannot be around at the break of day, because that is when the Savior is born, so good and evil cannot mingle.  So the third possible reason is that it is an evil spirit come to do harm; Hamlet himself worries about this for the rest of the play, until his suspicions regarding Claudius are confirmed.

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