Home / Uncategorized / The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act One Scene 1

The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act One Scene 1

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by Mark Andre Alexander

Act One | Act Two | Act Three | Act Four | Act Five


Scene 1 | Scene 2 | Scenes 3 & 4 | Scene 5

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The Tragedie of


Prince of Denmarke.

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Enter Barnardo, and Francisco, two Centinels.

Bar. VVHose there?

Fran. Nay answere me. Stand and vnfolde your selfe.

Bar. Long liue the King,

Fran. Barnardo.

Bar. Hee.

Fran. You come most carefully vpon your houre,

Bar. Tis now strooke twelfe, get thee to bed Francisco,

Fran. For this reliefe much thanks, tis bitter cold,

And I am sick at hart.

Bar. Haue you had quiet guard? [10]

Fran. Not a mouse stirring.

Bar. Well, good night:

If you doe meete Horatio and Marcellus,

The riualls of my watch, bid them make hast.

Enter Horatio, and Marcellus.

Fran. I thinke I heare them, stand ho, who is there?

Hora. Friends to this ground.

Mar.                                     And Leedgemen to the Dane,

Fran. Giue you good night.

Mar. O, farwell honest souldiers, who hath relieu’d you?

Fran. Barnardo hath my place; giue you good night.

Exit Fran.

Mar. Holla, Barnardo. [20]

Bar. Say, what is Horatio there?

Hora. A peece of him.

Bar. Welcome Horatio, welcome good Marcellus,

Hora. What, ha’s this thing appeard againe to night?

Bar. I haue seene nothing.

Mar. Horatio saies tis but our fantasie,

And will not let beliefe take holde of him,

Touching this dreaded sight twice seene of vs,

Therefore I haue intreated him along,

With vs to watch the minuts of this night, [30]

That if againe this apparision come,

He may approoue our eyes and speake to it.

Hora. Tush, tush, twill not appeare.

Bar.                                            Sit downe a while,

And let vs once againe assaile your eares,

That are so fortified against our story,

What we haue two nights seene.

Hora.                                       Well, sit we downe,

And let vs heare Barnardo speake of this.

Bar. Last night of all,

When yond same starre thats weastward from the pole,

Had made his course t’illume that part of heauen [40]

Where now it burnes, Marcellus and my selfe

The bell then beating one.

Enter Ghost.

Mar. Peace, breake thee of, looke where it comes againe.

Bar. In the same figure like the King thats dead.

Mar. Thou art a scholler, speake to it Horatio.

Bar. Lookes a not like the King? marke it Horatio.

Hora. Most like, it horrowes me with feare and wonder.

Bar. It would be spoke to.

Mar.                                  Speake to it Horatio.

Hora. What art thou that vsurpst this time of night,

Together with that faire and warlike forme, [50]

In which the Maiestie of buried Denmarke

Did sometimes march, by heauen I charge thee speake.

Mar. It is offended.

Bar.                        See it staukes away.

Hora. Stay, speake, speake, I charge thee speake.

Exit Ghost.

Mar. Tis gone and will not answere.

Bar. How now Horatio, you tremble and looke pale,

Is not this somthing more then phantasie?

What thinke you-ont?

Hora. Before my God I might not this belieue,

Without the sencible and true auouch [60]

Of mine owne eies.

Mar.                     Is it not like the King?

Hora. As thou art to thy selfe.

Such was the very Armor he had on,

When he the ambitious Norway combated,

So frownd he once, when in an angry parle

He smot the sleaded pollax on the ice.

Tis strange.

Mar. Thus twice before, and iump at this dead houre,

With martiall stauke hath he gone by our watch.

Hora. In what perticular thought, to worke I know not, [70]

But in the grosse and scope of mine opinion,

This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

Mar. Good now sit downe, and tell me he that knowes,

Why this same strikt and most obseruant watch

So nightly toiles the subiect of the land,

And with such dayly cost of brazon Cannon

And forraine marte, for implements of warre,

Why such impresse of ship-writes, whose sore taske

Does not deuide the Sunday from the weeke,

What might be toward that this sweaty hast [80]

Doth make the night ioynt labourer with the day,

Who ist that can informe mee?


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Hora.                                    That can I.

At least the whisper goes so; our last King,

Whose image euen but now appear’d to vs,

Was as you knowe by Fortinbrasse of Norway,

Thereto prickt on by a most emulate pride

Dar’d to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet,

(For so this side of our knowne world esteemd him)

Did slay this Fortinbrasse, who by a seald compact

Well ratified by lawe and heraldy [90]

Did forfait (with his life) all these his lands

Which he stood seaz’d of, to the conquerour.

Against the which a moitie competent

Was gaged by our King, which had returne

To the inheritance of Fortinbrasse,

Had he bin vanquisher; as by the same comart,

And carriage of the article desseigne,

His fell to Hamlet; now Sir, young Fortinbrasse

Of vnimprooued mettle, hot and full,

Hath in the skirts of Norway heere and there [100]

Sharkt vp a list of lawelesse resolutes

For foode and diet to some enterprise

That hath a stomacke in’t, which is no other

As it doth well appeare vnto our state

But to recouer of vs by strong hand

And tearmes compulsatory, those foresaid lands

So by his father lost; and this I take it,

Is the maine motiue of our preparations

The source of this our watch, and the chiefe head

Of this post hast and Romeage in the land. [110]

Bar. I thinke it be no other, but enso;

Well may it sort that this portentous figure

Comes armed through our watch so like the King

That was and is the question of these warres.

Hora. A moth it is to trouble the mindes eye:

In the most high and palmy state of Rome,

A little ere the mightiest Iulius fell

The graues stood tennatlesse, and the sheeted dead

Did squeake and gibber in the Roman streets

As starres with traines of fier, and dewes of blood [120]

Disasters in the sunne; and the moist starre,

Vpon whose influence Neptunes Empier stands,

Was sicke almost to doomesday with eclipse.

And euen the like precurse of feare euents

As harbindgers preceading still the fates

And prologue to the Omen comming on

Haue heauen and earth together demonstrated

Vnto our Climatures and countrymen.

Enter Ghost

But soft, behold, loe where it comes againe

Ile crosse it though it blast mee: stay illusion, [130]

It spreads his armes.

If thou hast any sound or vse of voyce,

Speake to me, if there be any good thing to be done

That may to thee doe ease, and grace to mee,

Speake to me.

If thou art priuie to thy countries fate

Which happily foreknowing may auoyd

O speake:

Or if thou hast vphoorded in thy life

Extorted treasure in the wombe of earth [140]

For which they say your spirits oft walke in death.

The cocke crowes.

Speake of it, stay and speake, stop it Marcellus.

Mar. Shall I strike it with my partizan?

Hor. Doe if it will not stand.

Bar. Tis heere.

Hor. Tis heere.

Mar. Tis gone.

We doe it wrong being so Maiesticall

To offer it the showe of violence,

For it is as the ayre, invulnerable, [150]

And our vaine blowes malicious mockery.

Bar. It was about to speake when the cock crewe.

Hor. And then it started like a guilty thing,

Vpon a fearefull summons; I haue heard,

The Cock that is the trumpet to the morne,

Doth with his lofty and shrill sounding throat

Awake the God of day, and at his warning

Whether in sea or fire, in earth or ayre

Th’extrauagant and erring spirit hies

To his confine, and of the truth heerein [160]

This present obiect made probation.

Mar. It faded on the crowing of the Cock.

Some say that euer gainst that season comes

Wherein our Sauiours birth is celebrated

This bird of dawning singeth all night long,

And then they say no spirit dare sturre abraode

The nights are wholsome, then no plannets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charme

So hallowed, and so gratious is that time.

Hora. So haue I heard and doe in part belieue it, [170]

But looke the morne in russet mantle clad

Walkes ore the dewe of yon high Eastward hill

Breake we our watch vp and by my aduise

Let vs impart what we haue seene to night

Vnto young Hamlet, for vppon my life

This spirit dumb to vs, will speake to him:

Doe you consent we shall acquaint him with it

As needfull in our loues, fitting our duty.

Mar. Lets doo’t I pray, and I this morning knowe

Where we shall find him most conuenient. [180]


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This seald compact contained a seal because in Shakespeare’s day all such legal instruments were required to be sealed. Much greater importance was attached in law to the requisite of sealing in his day than today. The terms lawe and heraldry express that the contract complied with the legal requirements and was in form and substance a legal document, and since courts of chivalry took cognizance of undertakings touching deeds of arms and warlike enterprises outside the realm, that this agreement also had the binding force of honour given it by heraldry. Fortinbras stood seiz’d of his lands, the legal term for being in possession of those lands. Hamlet had staked a moitie competent, legally a portion of lands equal to those of Fortinbras. By the terms of the compact, if Fortinbrau should be vanquished, his lands would go to Hamlet, and if Hamlet should fall, his lands would go to Fortinbras. Comart means joint agreement or bargain, by the terms of which the loser was to also lose his lands. Therefore, young Fortinbras is in essence disinherited by the actions of old Fortinbras.

“The references to disinheritance begin early, and provide the context out of which Hamlet’s revenge story unfolds. . . . We will find that the fact patterns in Hamlet that hint at potential inheritance problems are, with nearly perfect consistency, supplemented by a corresponding textual passage that confirms their importance and relevance to the plot. ” (Burton 71)

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