The Text Summary
Act I, Scene I - It is midnight and bitter cold. On a platform (a level space on the battlements) outside the castle at Elsinore in Denmark, a sentry (Francisco) is being relieved by another (Bernardo). Later, Marcellus and Horatio join Bernardo. Horatio is there at Marcellus's request but doubts the sentries' story that on two previous nights they have seen a ghost. But the ghost reappears, and Horatio, seeing its resemblance to the dead king. Hamlet, asks it to speak. Instead, it stalks away.
Horatio interprets the ghost's appearance as an omen that strange is about to happen in Denmark. He tells the sentries that Fortinbras, a young. hot-headed Norwegian, has gathered an army and intends to march on Denmark to take back the lands which his father, King Fortinbras, lost to King Hamlet.
The ghost then reappears. Again, Horatio faces it and asks it to speak.
Before it can, a rooster crows, signaling the dawn, and the ghost retreats once more. Horatio and the others agree that Prince Hamlet must be told of the night's happenings.
Act II, Scene II - King Claudius is transacting state business. (Claudius, brother of the dead king, Hamlet, has succeeded him to the throne. He has married the widow, Queen Gertrude, prince Hamlet's mother.) In an attempt to avoid combat with Fortinbras, Claudius is sending messengers. Cornelius and Voltimand, to the elderly king of Norway. He wants to inform him of his headstrong nephew's (Fortinbras) intention to wage war against Denmark. Next, Laertes, son of Claudius's trusted elderly counselor, Polonius, asks permission to return to France now that Claudius's coronation is over.
Having granted Laertes's request, Claudius turns to Hamlet, his nephew (and now his stepson). Claudius says that he and the queen are troubled to see...