Reconpresse USA

James L'Angelle, Editor


-Reading Questions 004: "Hamlet"



Contrary to the in class lecturer’s description of characters with minor roles in the

Shakespeare drama as “nobodies,” they play integral parts throughout. Those particular

characters include Barnardo, Francisco and Marcellus, the sentinels in Act One, Scene One.

Hardly “nobodies,” they introduce the Ghost to the audience;

    HORATIO What, has this thing appeared again tonight?


Horatio is Hamlet’s close confidante who joins the guards on the ramparts, the time is twelve

o’clock midnight. (Hamlet, 6) We also discover that the Ghost has made two previous

appearances even before the curtain rises;

    BARNARDO (to HORATIO) Sit down awhile…,

         And let us once again assail your ears

         That are so fortified against our story

         What we have two nights seen. (6)

Ghost in Act One

Barnardo then describes in detail what the audience also did not see, when “yon same star” was

westward “from the pole.” The time wasn’t midnight however, but “The bell then beating one.”

Hamlet first learns of the Ghost in Act One, Scene Two but has been given some kind of sign

beforehand as he hints of it on arrival of Marcellus and Barnardo with Horatio;

    HAMLET My father, methinks I see my father.

    HORATIO Where, my lord?

    HAMLET In my mind’s eye, Horatio. (17)

Horatio then reports of the Ghost sighting to Hamlet corroborated by the sentinels;

    HORATIO Two nights together had these gentlemen,

         Marcellus and Barnardo, on their watch

         In the dead waste and the middle of the night,

         Been thus encountered: a figure of your father, (17)

Anything but insignificant, the sentinels play a crucial role in not only giving the audience the

first spectre of the apparition, but at the same time, deny the audience what they learned from

two previous encounters. In addition, the information is given not to the king, since they are his

guards, but in fact to Horatio, who takes the report to Hamlet after the entourage leaves in Scene



 Yet another seemingly inconsequential character appears in Act Four, Scene Three;

    SAILOR God bless you, sir.

    HORATIO Let him bless thee too. (100)

The Sailor has correspondence from Hamlet, who following the death of Polonius, goes off to

England with the king’s counselors Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

    HORATIO (reads) ...Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of

         Very warlike appointment gave us chase (100)

Somehow, Hamlet becomes the sole prisoner of the pirates and the two counselors are allowed to

sail away to their destination. The audience again finds itself witness to an event it did not see,

but only made aware of it through correspondence delivered by the nondescript “Sailor.” The

information is once again crucial as it alerts the king to the return of Hamlet to Elsinore.

    Incredible as it may seem, the court buys into the story overlooking the fact that Hamlet may

have staged the entire confrontation with the pirates. First, to get rid of the king’s counselors by

sending them on their merry way and second, to pave the way for his return under seemingly

innocent circumstances. It may have been a plot all along. The audience, however, isn’t given

enough time to have its suspicions aroused as events unfold rapidly when Hamlet returns.

We are confronted elsewhere in the play with characters who have no real role in the plot, at

least on a superficial level. A close reading proves otherwise.


Is there another way to introduce the Ghost other than the sentinels seeing it out beyond the

ramparts in the opening scene?

How else could Hamlet have returned other than the cleverly contrived story about being

kidnapped by pirates?

Is it fair to say that there are no insignificant players in the play?