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 Hamlet still grieving over his father\'s death. He asks Hamlet to accept him as his new father and assures Hamlet that he will be the successor to the throne. He and Gertrude entreat Hamlet to remain at court rather than resume his studies at Wittenberg.
After everyone else leaves, Hamlet reveals that he is depressed almost to the point of suicide. His anger and disgust are directed toward his mother because so soon after his father\'s death, she has married a man inferior to King Hamlet in every way. Bernardo and Marcellus join Hamlet and tell him of the previous night\'s event. He resolves to watch with them this night.

Act I, Scene III - In Polonius\'s house, Laertes and his sister, Ophelia, are saying good-bye. Laertes warns her against Hamlet, saying a prince must choose his wife carefully and Hamlet is probably not seriously interested in her. At that moment, Polonius comes in and gives Laertes some fatherly advice about what his behavior should be in France. When he finds out that they have been talking about Hamlet, he adds his opinion that Hamlet is probably amusing himself with Ophelia. He tells her to avoid Hamlet. She says she will obey.

Act I, Scene IV - At midnight, Hamlet. Horatio, and Marcellus are on the platform. wondering if the ghost will appear. It does, and although Hamlet is not certain if it is his dead father or an evil spirit, he speaks to it. He asks why it has returned from the tomb. The ghost does not answer, but beckons Hamlet to follow it. Horatio and Marcellus beg him not to. but he does follow the ghost.

Act I, Scene V - When they are alone. the ghost tells Hamlet that if he loved his father, he must avenge his father\'s murder. The ghost (King Hamlet) describes how his brother, Claudius, murdered him, then took his throne and queen. Although offended that Gertrude remarried so soon after his death, he warns Hamlet to take no revenge on her. Her guilty conscience will punish her enough. Because it is almost dawn. the ghost then disappears. Hamlet does not tell the others what the ghost has said, but makes them promise to tell no one what they have seen.

Act II, Scene I - Polonius is sending a servant, Reynaldo, to France to spy on Laertes and see how he is behaving. Polonius tells Reynaldo to talk to Laertes\'s acquaintances, pretending to know him slightly, and suggest that he is