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!
'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.
Ghosts in Shakespeare
John Mullan's very helpful article on ghosts in Shakespeare is available from the British Library website - click here.
The world of Shakespeare's Denmark is - unusually perhaps for Shakespeare - quite geographically specific and correct. Denmark, Norway and Poland were all fairly familiar in the minds of Elizabethan England, and far less romanticised than the Italian locations of several of his comedies.
Ur-Hamlet and the sources of the Story
The original source texts for this story date very far back in Scandinavian legend - and indeed comparable stories happen in Ancient Roman legend and the Icelandic sagas. Many of the key elements of the story of Hamlet appear in Saxo Grammaticus' 'Deeds of the Danes' - Gesta Danorum - written about 1200AD. In the 1570s a French translation of the story appears in François de Belleforest's 'Tragic Tales' - Histoires Tragiques. Thereafter things get tricky. Perhaps there was a first version, an Ur-Hamlet that Shakespeare wrote himself and then re-edited later in his career. Perhaps there was a version of the story by Thomas Kyd. Nothing has survived the lottery of time, so it's all conjecture.
The Spanish Tragedy
This play was written by Thomas Kyd in the 1580s, and was a very popular and very influential hit. The play was the first ever revenge tragedy written for the English theatre. It crops up in references within plays by Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and many others. Its surtitle, "Hieronimo is Mad Again" is a reference to the play's protagonist, who pretends to be mad in order to lull the victims of his ultimate revenge. The Spanish Tragedy is also notable for featuring the first instance of a play-within-a-play - the dramatic device of having characters in a play put on a play themselves. This is obviously central to the plot of Hamlet also.