Elsinore. A platform before the castle.
FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO
Who's there?
Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.
Long live the king!
You come most carefully upon your hour.
'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
Have you had quiet guard?
Not a mouse stirring.
Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?
Friends to this ground.
And liegemen to the Dane.
Give you good night.
O, farewell, honest soldier:
Who hath relieved you?
Bernardo has my place.
Give you good night.
Holla! Bernardo!
What, is Horatio there?
A piece of him.
Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.
What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?
I have seen nothing.
Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen.
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,--
Enter Ghost
Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!
In the same figure, like the king that's dead.
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio.
Most like: it harrows me with fear and wonder.
It would be spoke to.
Question it, Horatio.
What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak!
It is offended.
See, it stalks away!
Stay! speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!
Exit Ghost
'Tis gone, and will not answer.
How now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?
Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.
Is it not like the king?
As thou art to thyself:
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown'd he once, when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
'Tis strange.
Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
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.
Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?
That can I;
At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet--
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him--
Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,
Well ratified by law and heraldry,
Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror:
Against the which, a moiety competent
Was gaged by our king; which had return'd
To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
Had he been vanquisher; as, by the same covenant,
And carriage of the article design'd,
His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other--
As it doth well appear unto our state--
But to recover of us, by strong hand
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost: and this, I take it,
Is the main motive of our preparations,
The source of this our watch and the chief head
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.
I think it be no other but e'en so:
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 wars.
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 fierce 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.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
Re-enter Ghost
I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me:
Cock crows
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! Stop it, Marcellus.
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?
Do, if it will not stand.
'Tis here!
'Tis here!
'Tis gone!
Exit Ghost
We do it wrong, being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence;
For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
And our vain blows malicious mockery.
It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
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 air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
So have I heard and do in part believe it.
But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill:
Break we our watch up; and by my advice,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?
Let's do't, I pray; and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.

In the Kingdom of Denmark an unusually long and warm summer had given way to a biting winter. The castle of Elsinore, on the north-east corner of the island of Zealand, was cloaked in a freezing fog. It was midnight, the time to change the guard on the castle ramparts. These were tense and uneasy times, the guards on duty were very cautious, doubly so when the thick fog made it difficult for a man to see beyond his nose. The sentinel Barnardo had climbed up the stairwell onto the ramparts to take over the watch from his colleague, Francisco. Barnardo heard footsteps. The brittle night air gave them a sinister echo.
"Who's there?" asked Barnardo.
"No, you answer me. Stop and identify yourself!" demanded Francisco.
"Long live the King!"
"Is that you Barnardo?"
"It certainly is!"
"You're on time!" said Francisco.
"It's midnight. You can get off home now, Francisco."
"Thanks for the break. It’s freezing and I'm bored."
"No… problems tonight?" Barnardo asked.
"Even the mice haven't stirred!"
"Well, good night, Francisco. If you see my colleagues Horatio and Marcellus, tell them to get a move on."
"I think I can hear them," Francisco said as he was walking away. He walked on a few paces more and heard some voices.
"Stop! Who's there?" he said.
"Comrades," said Horatio.
"And loyal subjects of His Majesty, the King of the Danes," said Marcellus.
On hearing that Francisco walked on to meet his fellow guards. He pulled out his flask and finished the last of his mead to ward off the chill.
"Well, goodnight to you," said Francisco as he was leaving.
"Goodnight to you, honest soldier. Who replaced you?" asked Marcellus.
"Barnardo is on duty now. Goodnight."
Francisco disappeared into the fog.
"Hello, Barnardo!" Marcellus called into the murk of the night.
"Is that Horatio with you?"
"What's left of me, shrivelled as I am by the chill!" Horatio yelled back.
Barnardo's faint figure appeared in the mist: "Welcome, Horatio! Welcome, Marcellus!"
"Well, has this thing appeared again tonight?" asked Horatio.
"I've seen nothing," said Barnardo.
"Horatio says it's all in our imaginations and doesn't believe we've seen it twice," said Marcellus, "so, I've brought him with me on the night watch so he can see it for himself."
"Ridiculous! It won't appear!" said Horatio.
"Right then," said Barnardo, "you sit down a minute and let us once again assail yours ears with the story of what happened on these past two nights, even if your ears still don’t believe it."
Horatio laughed at them and dismissed their tale with a wave of his hand. They sat attentive throughout the hours of the cold night, occasionally sharing their flasks of liquor and bread. In the deepest, calmest part of the night when the world was still, they huddled together and Marcellus and Barnardo began to talk again about what they had seen on two previous nights during their watch. Horatio so enjoyed ribbing them about it that he relented to hear their story again.
"Well, sit then and let's hear Barnardo tells his tale first!" Horatio said.
"Last night," began Barnardo, "when yonder star that's westward of the North Pole had crossed the sky to where it is now, Marcellus and myself were just sitting when the bell struck for one...."
"... Shoosh!" said Marcellus. "Don't say another word. Here it comes!"
They were silent with fear as they saw a figure slowly emerge from the fog.
"Again it looks like the late King Hamlet!" said Barnardo, his voice quivering with terror.
"You're an educated man, Horatio, speak to it!" said Marcellus.
"Doesn't it look like the King? I told you, Horatio!" exclaimed Barnardo.
"Too much so. It fills me with fear and wonder," Horatio said.
"It wants to be spoken to," said Barnardo.
"Question it, Horatio," said Marcellus.
Horatio was hesitant, although he had mocked his colleagues' account of the vision he was reluctant to confront the ghost.
"Who are you and why do you disturb our watch dressed in the armour of the late King of Denmark. In the name of God, speak!"
"It is offended," said Marcellus.
"Look, how it stalks away," said Barnardo.
"Stay! Speak! Speak! I command you to speak!" Horatio yelled.
The ghost disappeared into the fog.
"Now it's gone and we don't have an answer," said Marcellus.
"Well, Horatio," said Barnardo, "you’re trembling and you’re pale. Isn't this something more than fantasy? What do you think?"
"Before my God, I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes!" Horatio exclaimed.
"Isn't it like the King?" asked Marcellus.
"As much as you look like Marcellus!" Horatio said. "That was the very suit of armour he wore when he curtailed the ambitions of the Norwegians. I remember that expression from the day he defeated the Polish forces on their sledges as they crossed the ice. It's strange."
"Twice before at this very hour he disturbed our watch with his military gait," said Marcellus.
"I don't know what to think about this," Horatio said, "but my overall opinion is that there is something threatening in matters of state." 
"Right, sit down and tell me why we have to have this guard duty every night?" Marcellus asked. "And why are they daily casting more cannons and why is there such a brisk market in the implements of war and why do shipwrights have to work a Sunday? What threats are afoot to justify all this hectic activity? Who can tell me?"
"I can tell you the rumours and the facts" said Horatio. "Our late King, whose ghost we've just seen, was challenged to a duel by King Fortinbras of Norway, who was driven by an envious pride. Our valiant King Hamlet, as this part of the known world refers to him, killed this Fortinbras, who by the legal terms of the duel forfeited all his lands with his life. Our King had lodged a similar agreement with Danish territories going to Norway if Fortinbras won. Now, sir, Fortinbras junior has grown up and although he is a novice in war he's spoiling for a fight and has assembled a gang of lawless troublemakers from the backwaters of Norway. For little more than their daily bread they will attempt to recover the lands lost in that old duel. If you ask me, they will end up as cannon fodder! From what I gather this is the main reason for the watch and the general preparations for battle to be seen all over Denmark."
"That makes sense to me," Barnardo said, "and it accounts for this illusion looking so much like the late King who was and is the focus of the war."
"It certainly stirs the imagination," said Horatio. "At the height of Rome's might, just before Julius Caesar was assassinated, graves opened and the dead walked the streets muttering and wailing. Stars of flaming fire came as disasters from the sun, and the moon, which influences Neptune's watery empire, was eclipsed. Similar sightings, like warnings from Heaven or prologues of ill omen, have been witnessed by men in our latitudes."
The moment he said that the ghost reappeared.
"Look!" said Horatio. "It’s here again. I'm going to confront it despite the risk.”
The ghost spread its arms wide, as if to envelop Horatio, but he stood his ground and boldly addressed it: "Stop, illusion! If you have a voice use it to speak to me."
The ghost remained silent.
"If there something I can do which can bring peace to you and grace to me, then tell me!" Horatio pleaded.
Still, the ghost did not reply.
"If you are privy to information about you country's fate, then tell us and we can avoid it. Oh, speak!"
Even this plea had no effect on the ghost.
"If in life you hoarded extorted treasures, the reason, they say, the sleep of the dead is disturbed, then stay and speak of it!"
A cock crew, announcing the new day. The ghost turned and disappeared into the last of the night.
"Stop it, Marcellus!" yelled Horatio, as the ghost walked in his direction.
"Shall I strike it with my spear?"
"Do so if it will not stay," said Horatio.
"It's here!" said Barnardo.
"No, it's here!" said Horatio.
"It's gone," said Marcellus. "We were wrong to threaten so majestic a being. It was invulnerable, like the air. Our antics were disrespectful."
"It was about to speak when it heard the cock," said Barnardo.
"But then it started like a guilty thing hearing a fearful summons," said Horatio. "I have heard it said that the cock, the trumpeter of the morning, wakes the god of day and at that warning the wandering and erring spirits retreat to their usual confines. What we've seen this morning is proof of that old tale."
"Its form faded on the crowing of the cock," added Marcellus. "Some say that in the season of Christmas the bird of dawn actually sings all night. And then, they say, the spirits don’t dare roam. The nights are wholesome; the planets are stable; neither fairy nor witch has any power so hallowed and gracious is that time."
"So I've heard and for the most part I believe it," said Horatio, "but look, the russet mantle of the morning is coming over the eastern hills. Let's break up. My advice is that we tell only young Hamlet of what we have seen tonight. I bet my life that this spirit, mute to us, will speak to him. Do you agree we should tell him out of friendship and duty to the Prince?"
"Let's do that, I agree," said Marcellus. "I know where we will find him."