Course Hero Logo
Literature Study GuidesHamletAct 1 Scene 1 Summary

Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Hamlet Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Sep. 2016. Web. 10 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2016, September 2). Hamlet Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "Hamlet Study Guide." September 2, 2016. Accessed June 10, 2023.


Course Hero, "Hamlet Study Guide," September 2, 2016, accessed June 10, 2023,

Act 1, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola, Chair of Humanities at Roosevelt University, explains Act 1, Scene 1 in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

Hamlet | Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary



Sentinels Barnardo and Francisco stand the night watch at Denmark's Elsinore castle. Francisco is about to go off duty when Marcellus, another sentinel, appears with Horatio, a friend of young Prince Hamlet. As soon as Francisco leaves, Marcellus and Barnardo eagerly discuss two appearances of a ghost during their watch. The spirit resembles the late King Hamlet, Prince Hamlet's father. Horatio is unconvinced.

As they attempt to convince him that the apparition is more than their imaginations, the ghost appears to the three of them. At the others' urging, Horatio begs the ghost to speak, but it refuses and slips away.

Horatio is terrified and suggests that the ghost's presence signifies something terrible for Denmark. Noting that the ghost is wearing the very armor he had on when he fought old Fortinbras of Norway, Horatio recounts the story of King Hamlet, who was drawn into battle with Fortinbras over a small piece of land. Fortinbras is killed in the battle, and, as victor, King Hamlet wins back the land—land that Fortinbras's son, also named Fortinbras, now seeks to reclaim.

As Horatio's story concludes, the ghost appears again and seems about to speak. Suddenly, however, the rooster crows with the rising sun and the ghost slips away. Horatio suggests they inform Hamlet of what they've seen.


Shakespeare kicks off the play with an intriguing scene that pulls the audience right into the story: a recently deceased king shows up in ghostly form, military tensions lie ahead, and Denmark is in a state of general unrest. The playwright imparts a wealth of information in a short scene, including—by reference to what the ghost is wearing—some backstory that informs about the tension between Denmark and Norway.

Horatio develops from a skeptic into a concerned, even fearful, believer, curious about what this ghostly omen foreshadows for Hamlet and the country. Horatio is able to introduce the audience to the Fortinbras subplot, which will gain importance as the story progresses. In particular, Horatio relates that Fortinbras is "Of unimproved mettle hot and full" and is raising an army to march on Denmark to avenge his father's loss. This information explains that the young Fortinbras is a man more about action than thought. His character stands in contrast to Hamlet—a realization that the prince himself eventually will come to. Having Fortinbras as a foil helps the audience understand Hamlet's conflicted self and makes his story all the more tragic.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Hamlet? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!