Mind's eye Introduction
I'm Horatio. I'm Hamlet's closest (and maybe only) friend. I'm pretty skeptical of anything out of the ordinary, but I'm also loyal and trustworthy and I'm on Hamlet's side. And you know what I think?
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! (1.1.112-126)
Who Said It and Where
Horatio is Hamlet's closest friend, and he's the only one who really seems to deserve the title. Unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (also Hamlet's chums), Horatio's loyalty and common sense are rock-steady throughout the play.
In fact, one of the first things we learn about Horatio is that, unlike his bestie, he's quite sensible. When we first see Horatio, he's been called to the castle by the guards because he's a "scholar." We learn that he goes to school in Wittenberg with Hamlet.
That means he should be able to judge whether or not the apparition that's been appearing on the battlements is actually a ghost. (Shmoop love the take home message here that scholars are geniuses who can be trusted. We always suspected as much.)
Because it's dark outside, no one can see anything, much less each other. Everyone keeps talking about this mysterious "thing" that's been appearing lately, and by lately, we mean the last two nights. Bernardo starts to explain what he saw. Um.. it was a…uh…
Just then, a ghost shows up.
The guards all think the ghost looks suspiciously like the recently deceased King of Denmark, especially around the eyes. Everyone tells Horatio to talk to the ghost, since he's the scholar in the group. Horatio asks the ghost a few questions that are apparently offensive, as the ghost walks off without answering. That went well.
To further confirm that the ghost is the image of the dead King, Horatio remarks that it was wearing the same armor the King wore when fighting Norway. We learn that, a while back, Old King Hamlet made a little wager with the King of Norway about who could kill the other person first in combat. Gee, that sounds safe.
Old King Hamlet won so he got to take a bunch of Norway's land. The king of Norway's son, young Fortinbras, has raised an army to get his family's land back. He also wants revenge for his dad's death, naturally. Hmm, we're already sensing a theme here.
Because the kingdom of Denmark is preparing for war with Norway, Horatio's number one concern is that a dead man walking about in ghost form might be a sign that Denmark is going to lose. Horatio is busy detailing just how bad an omen this is, with many references to Julius Caesar's death, when the ghost comes back.
The guards all scream until the ghost leaves. Then they rehash events: (1) they were silly for trying to strike at the ghost, and (2) the ghost was probably going to say something important, but the stupid cock crowed and scared it off. Horatio suggests they tell Prince Hamlet about the ghost that looks an awful lot like his dad. Maybe Hamlet will know what to do, because these guys sure don't.