Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.

Denmark: Elsinore

The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

(From Hamlet)

FRANCISCO.Stand, ho! Who is there?

HORATIO.Friends to this ground.

MARCELLUS.And liegemen to the Dane.

FRAN.Give you good night.

MAR.O, farewell, honest soldier;

Who hath relieved you?

FRAN.Bernardo hath my place.

Give you good night.[Exit FRANCISCO.

MAR.Holla! Bernardo!


What, is Horatio there?

HOR.A piece of him.

BER.Welcome, Horatio; welcome, good Marcellus.

HOR.What, has this thing appear’d again to-night?

BER.I have seen nothing.

MAR.Horatio says ’t is 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.

HOR.Tush! tush! ’t will not appear.

BER.Sit down awhile;

And let us once again assail your ears,

That are so fortified against our story,

What we two nights have seen.

HOR.Well, sit we down,

And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.

BER.Last night of all,

When yon 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—

MAR.Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!

(Enter GHOST.)
BER.In the same figure like the king that ’s dead.

MAR.Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.

BER.Looks it not like the king? Mark it, Horatio.

HOR.Most like;—it harrows me with fear and wonder.

BER.It would be spoke to.

MAR.Speak to it, Horatio.

HOR.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.

MAR.It is offended.

BER.See! it stalks away.

HOR.Stay; speak: speak, I charge thee speak.[Exit GHOST.

MAR.’T is gone, and will not answer.

BER.How now, Horatio? you tremble, and look pale;

Is not this something more than fantasy?

What think you of it?

HOR.Before my God, I might not this believe,

Without the sensible and true avouch

Of mine own eyes.

MAR.Is it not like the king?

HOR.As thou art to thyself.

Such was the very armour he had on,

When he the ambitious Norway combated;

So frowned he once, when, in an angry parle,

He smote the sledded Polack on the ice.

’T is strange.

(Re-enter GHOST.)
But, soft; behold! lo, where it comes again!

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.

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,

(Cock crows.)
Speak of it;—stay, and speak!—Stop it, Marcellus.

MAR.Shall I strike at it with my partisan?

HOR.Do, if it will not stand.

BER.’T is here!

HOR.’T is here!

MAR.’T is 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.

BER.It was about to speak when the cock crew.

HOR.And then it started like a guilty thing

Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,

The cock, that is the trumpet of 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.

MAR.It faded on the crowing of the cock.

Some say, that ever ’gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

This 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 hallowed and so gracious is the time.

HOR.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 eastern 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?

MAR.Let ’s do ’t, I pray; and I this morning know

Where we shall find him most convenient.[Exeunt.


HOR.Two nights together had these gentlemen,

Marcellus and Bernardo, on their watch,

In the dead waste and middle of the night,

Been thus encountered: A figure like your father,

Armed at all points, exactly, cap-à-pé,

Appears before them, and, with solemn march,

Goes slow and stately by them. Thrice he walked,

By their oppressed and fear-surprised eyes,

Within his truncheon’s length; whilst they, distilled

Almost to jelly with the act of fear,

Stand dumb, and speak not to him. This to me

In dreadful secrecy impart they did;

And I, with them, the third night kept the watch;

Where, as they had delivered, both in time,

Form of the thing, each word made true and good,

The apparition comes. I knew your father;

These hands are not more like.

HAMLET.But where was this?

HOR.My lord, upon the platform where we watched.

HAM.Did you not speak to it?

HOR.My lord, I did.

But answer made it none; yet once, methought,

It lifted up its head, and did address

Itself to motion, like as it would speak;

But, even then, the morning cock crew loud;

And at the sound it shrunk in haste away,

And vanished from our sight.

HAM.’T is very strange.

HOR.As I do live, my honored lord, ’t is true;

And we did think it writ down in our duty

To let you know of it.

HAM.Indeed, indeed, sirs, but this troubles me.

Hold you the watch to-night?

ALL.We do, my lord.

HAM.Armed, say you?

ALL.Armed, my lord.

HAM.From top to toe?

ALL.My lord, from head to foot.

HAM.Then saw you not

His face?

HOR.O yes, my lord; he wore his beaver up.

HAM.What, looked he frowningly?

HOR.A countenance more

In sorrow than in anger.

HAM.Pale, or red?

HOR.Nay, very pale.

HAM.And fixed his eyes upon you?

HOR.Most constantly.

HAM.I would I had been there.

HOR.It would have much amazed you.

HAM.Very like,

Very like. Staid it long?

HOR.While one with moderate haste might tell a hundred.

MAR., BER.Longer, longer.

HOR.Not when I saw it.

HAM.His beard was grizzled? no?

HOR.It was as I have seen it in his life,

A sable silvered.

HAM.I will watch to-night;

Perchance ’t will walk again.

HOR.I warrant you it will.

HAM.If it assume my noble father’s person,

I ’ll speak to it, though hell itself should gape,

And bid me hold my peace. I pray you all,

If you have hitherto concealed this sight,

Let it be tenable in your silence still;

And whatsoever else shall hap to-night,

Give it an understanding, but no tongue;

I will requite your loves. So, fare you well.

Upon the platform, ’twixt eleven and twelve,

I ’ll visit you.

(Enter GHOST.)
HOR.Look, my lord, it comes!

HAM.Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned,

Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,

Be thy intents wicked, or charitable,

Thou com’st in such a questionable shape,

That I will speak to thee. I ’ll call thee, Hamlet,

King, father, royal Dane. O, answer me.

Let me not burst in ignorance! but tell,

Why thy canónized bones, hearsed in death,

Have burst their cerements! why the sepulchre,

Wherein we saw thee quietly inurned,

Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws,

To cast thee up again! What may this mean,

That thou, dead corse, again, in cómplete steel,

Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon,

Making night hideous; and we fools of nature,

So horridly to shake our disposition,

With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?

Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?

HOR.It beckons you to go away with it,

As if it some impartment did desire

To you alone.

MAR.Look, with what courteous action

It waves you to a more removed ground!

But do not go with it.

HOR.No, by no means.

HAM.It will not speak; then I will follow it.

HOR.Do not, my lord.

HAM.Why, what should be the fear?

I do not set my life at a pin’s fee;

And, for my soul, what can it do to that,

Being a thing immortal as itself?

It waves me forth again;—I ’ll follow it.

HOR.What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,

Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff,

That beetles o’er his base into the sea?

And there assume some other horrible form,

Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,

And draw you into madness? Think of it.

The very place puts toys of desperation,

Without more motive, into every brain,

That looks so many fathoms to the sea,

And hears it roar beneath.

HAM.It waves me still.

Go on, I ’ll follow thee.

MAR.You shall not go, my lord.

HAM.Hold off your hands.

HOR.Be ruled: you shall not go.

HAM.My fate cries out,

And makes each petty artery in this body

As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve.—

(GHOST beckons.)
Still am I called;—unhand me, gentlemen;—

(Breaking from them.)
By Heaven, I ’ll make a ghost of him that lets me:

I say, away;—go on, I ’ll follow thee.[Exeunt GHOST and HAMLET.

HOR.He waxes desperate with imagination.

MAR.Let ’s follow; ’t is not fit thus to obey him.

HOR.Have after.—To what issue will this come?

MAR.Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

HOR.Heaven will direct it.

MAR.Nay, let ’s follow him.[Exeunt.

(Enter GHOST and HAMLET.)
HAM.Whither wilt thou lead me? speak, I ’ll go no further.

GHOST.Mark me.

HAM.I will.

GHOST.My hour is almost come,

When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames

Must render up myself.

HAM.Alas, poor ghost!

GHOST.Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing

To what I shall unfold.

HAM.Speak; I am bound to hear.

GHOST.So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.


GHOST.I am thy father’s spirit;

Doomed for a certain term to walk the night;

And, for the day, confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes, done in my days of nature,

Are burned and purged away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul; freeze thy young blood;

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres;

Thy knotted and combined locks to part,

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood.—List, list, O, list!—

If thou didst ever thy dear father love——

HAM.O Heaven!

GHOST.Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.


GHOST.Murder most foul, as in the best it is;

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

HAM.Haste me to know it; that I, with wings as swift

As meditation, or the thoughts of love,

May sweep to my revenge.

GHOST.I find thee apt;

And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed

That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,

Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear.

’T is given out, that, sleeping in mine orchard,

A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark

Is by a forged process of my death

Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life

Now wears his crown.

HAM.O my prophetic soul! my uncle!

GHOST.Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,

With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,

(O wicked wit, and gifts, that have the power

So to seduce!) won to his shameful lust

The will of my most seeming virtuous queen.

O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!

From me, whose love was of that dignity,

That it went hand in hand even with the vow

I made to her in marriage; and to decline

Upon a wretch, whose natural gifts were poor

To those of mine!

But virtue, as it never will be moved,

Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven;

So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,

Will sate itself in a celestial bed,

And prey on garbage.

But soft! methinks I scent the morning air;

Brief let me be.—Sleeping within mine orchard,

My custom always of the afternoon,

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,

With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,

And in the porches of mine ears did pour

The leperous distilment; whose effect

Holds such an enmity with blood of man,

That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through

The natural gates and alleys of the body;

And with a sudden vigor, it doth posset

And curd, like eager droppings into milk,

The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine,

And a most instant tetter barked about,

Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,

All my smooth body.

Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand,

Of life, of crown, of queen, at once despatched;

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,

Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled;

No reckoning made, but sent to my account

With all my imperfections on my head.

O horrible! O horrible! most horrible!

If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not;

Let not the royal bed of Denmark be

A couch for luxury and damned incest.

But, howsoever thou pursu’st this act,

Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive

Against thy mother aught; leave her to Heaven,

And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,

To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once!

The glowworm shows the matin to be near,

And ’gins to pale his uneffectual fire;

Adieu, adieu, adieu! remember me.[Exit.

HAM.O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?

And shall I couple hell?—O fie!—Hold, hold, my heart;

And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,

But bear me stiffly up!—Remember thee?

Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat

In this distracted globe. Remember thee?

Yea, from the tables of my memory

I ’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records,

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,

That youth and observation copied there;

And thy commandment all alone shall live

Within the book and volume of my brain,

Unmixed with baser matter.