That night Hamlet joined his friend Horatio and the sentinel Marcellus on guard in the hope that his father’s ghost would appear again. The men were well wrapped up as an icy blast battered Zealand. Below in the castle King Claudius was holding a celebration. The steady whistle of the wind was disturbed by trumpets, and cannons fired to mark each toast.
“The wind bites sharply, it’s very cold,” said Hamlet.
“It’s a biting and gusty wind,” said Horatio.
“What time is it?”
“No, it’s later than that,” said Marcellus.
“Indeed? I didn’t hear the bell. It’ll soon be the time the ghost walks,” said Horatio.
Yet more trumpets and canons roared from the castle.
“What’s happening, my lord?” asked Horatio.
“The King is having a party tonight. Drinking and dancing with plenty of Rhineland wines and beers. Drums and trumpets applaud every toast.”
“Is it a custom?”
“Indeed, but to my mind, it is a custom we would be better to forget than to observe. This kind of behaviour makes us the laughing stock of countries to the east and to the west. Drunken pigs, they call us. It detracts from our achievements and belittles our prestige. Often in men there is a vicious flaw, put there by nature, which affects individuals in the same way, seeking solace in drink regardless of the problem. They are not guilty, since man cannot choose his origin. But this flaw festers within.”
As Hamlet was musing the ghost appeared.
“Look, my lord. It is coming!” said Horatio.
Stunned, Hamlet made the sign of the cross and then began to speak.
“Angels and ministers of grace, defend us! Whether you are an angel or demon, bring with you the sweet airs of Heaven or blasts from hell; whether your intentions are malevolent or benevolent, you appear in such a familiar shape that I will speak to you. I call you Hamlet, King, father, Royal Dane! Oh, answer me! Don’t let me burst with ignorance but explain to me why your consecrated bones, buried in their coffin, have fled the grave! Why has the tomb, where I saw you quietly interred, thrown open its heavy marble doors to release you into the living? What does it mean, when you, dead corpse in full armour visit your subjects in the light of the moon, making night so hideous that we mere mortals shake at the mysteries that lie beyond the reaches of the soul? Explain it! Why? What are we to do?”
The ghost raised its hand and beckoned Hamlet.
“It wants you to go with it,” said Horatio to Hamlet. “It looks as if it wants to speak to you in private.”
“Look how regally it gestures you to follow,” said Marcellus. “But don’t go with it.”
“No, by no means,” concurred Horatio.
“If it will not speak then I must follow it.”
“Don’t, my lord!” pleaded Horatio.
“Why, what is there to fear? My life isn’t worth as much as a pin. And as for my soul, what can it do to something else immortal. It waves me on again. I will follow it.”
“What if it tempts you to the sea, my lord?” asked Horatio, gravely concerned for his friend’s welfare. “Or to the edge of a cliff where it may assume some other, more horrible, form, and deprive you of your sanity? Think of it!”
“It is still waving me on,” Hamlet said defiantly. “Go on, I will follow you!” he told the ghost.
“You shall not go, my lord,” yelled Marcellus trying to restrain the Prince.
“Don’t try to stop me!”
“Listen to us, lord. Don’t go!” Horatio yelled.
“My fate is calling! Even the smallest artery in my body has the courage of a lion. Still it is calling! Release me, gentlemen. By heaven, I will make a ghost of anyone trying to stop me! Now, go away! Ghost, I will follow you!”
Horatio and Marcellus stood helpless as the figures of Hamlet and the ghost were lost in the darkness.
“His imagination has left him desperate,” said Horatio.
“Let’s follow. It would actually be wrong to obey him!” said Marcellus.
“We can, but what will be the outcome?” Horatio said, torn between friendship and insubordination.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Marcellus said.
“Heaven will fix it,” Horatio said, his voice trembling with fear.
“No, let’s follow him!” Marcellus insisted.