Part Five


’Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco.



~ I ~



Hamlet is 'enfolded' or microcosmically compartmentalized whereby the first scene appears to be divided into five parts just as the first act is divided into five scenes, and the entire play into five acts.

Therefore in this, last, chapter of the book, the closing fifth of the first scene will be examined in juxtaposition with the corresponding lines from Phaedo within the contexts of the fifth scene of the first act as well as the fifth and final act of Hamlet (together with their associated parts from the dialogue of Phaedo).

This is done, as in previous parts of the book, in the shadow of the sequential first seven lines of the play; accounting for the third, fourth and fifth lines being considered together in part three (in special emphasis for the important number) , and line six in part four, as this has consistently proven itself to be the intended structure.

As previously mentioned, in the opening lines of Hamlet, Francisco compliments Bernardo on his punctuality with the words: “You come most carefully upon your hour.” As Bernardo responds: “’Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco.” To which Fransisco states: “For this relief much thanks, ‘tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart”

The emphasis on this timely relief from duty is reflected in the opening lines of Phaedo by references to the delay in Socrates’ execution beginning with Echecrates’ words in the fifth line of the dialogue: “Yes; someone told us about the trial, and we could not understand why, having been condemned, he was put to death, as appeared, not at the time, but long afterwards. What was the reason of this?” Phaedo answers: “An accident, Echecrates. The reason was that the stern of the ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned on the day before he was tried.”

This, fifth and final part of the book will focus on these opening lines in microcosm, and will attempt to analyze in context the concurrent emphasis on timely death (as contrasted by the act of suicide) as they arise in the line-to-line juxtaposition between similar references and metaphors throughout the two texts.

This continuation of the analysis into the texts as a whole within the contexts of their corresponding opening lines will culminate the ongoing proof for the complex microcosmic methodology of both authors in constructing the beginnings of Hamlet and Phaedo to represent a higher order structure of folding in tandem.

In Hamlet this is evident in the relationship between opening lines, parts of a scene, whole scenes and acts; in Phaedo the structural divisions are slightly more subtle. A subtlety, clearly not lost on Shakespeare, as he underscores the contextual division of the dialogue with structural divisions of the play in the juxtaposition of Hamlet with Phaedo.    

Consider once again Helen H. Bacon’s description of the complex structure of Phaedo’s text as it stems from its opening scene:

"The plan of the dialogue, its overall artistic form, is one important means of effecting this coalescence of literary and philosophical elements. The series of discussions about immortality which make up the main body of Phaedo are enclosed in an inner and an outer frame. The inner frame, the scene in the prison in Athens on the day of Socrates’ death, separates and occasionally breaks in on the discussions. In contrast the outer frame, the conversation of Phaedo and Echecrates in Phlius some time after Socrates’ death, appears more rarely and briefly but at strategically crucial points—at the beginning, at two crucial moments in the discussion, and in the final sentence."

"The opening exchange between Phaedo and Echecrates serves as an introduction to the whole dialogue by establishing a certain tone, both for the scene in Phlius and the scene in Athens, and by indicating time and place, naming the actors and announcing the major themes and figures of speech of the dialogue. After this exchange the recurrence of the vocatives ô Phaidôn, ô Echekrates is enough to indicate a return to this outer frame."

"The inner frame’s first appearance, which immediately follows, reinforces the effect of the first introduction by mirroring its tone and themes. It serves as a second introduction, setting the stage for the drama that takes place in the prison and launching the discussion."

"The two frames perform contrasting structural functions. The inner frame articulates the whole course of the discussions, recurring with rhythmic regularity at greater or less length at the end of each section, and providing a transition to the next one. And it brings the drama in Athens to a close with the death scene. The outer frame, recurring rarely and unexpectedly, provides a kind of emphasis that intensifies by doubling the emotional impact of three critical moments—the climax of the crisis of fear and confusion (88c) after Simmias and Cebes have presented their counterarguments using the analogies of the lyre and the loom; Simmias’ and Cebes’ strong assent to Socrates’ exposition of the method of hypothesis towards which all the discussions have been tending and on which the final crucial demonstration depends (102a2-10); and the moment when Crito closes Socrates’ eyes and mouth. Here Plato, in his final sentence, with the single phrase, ô Echekrates (118a15), removes us from the prison in Athens to the streets of Phlius to end the dialogue where we began it." (The Poetry of Phaedo,  Helen H. Bacon p.4)

Note in particular the fact that Helen Bacon divides Phaedo into five distinct parts, the precise number of divisions which reoccur in the structure of Hamlet; which also stem from the opening lines.

As The Hamlet Enigma, in its entirety attempts to prove the dialogue of Phaedo is, structurally complex, containing a layered interrelationship; with which the tragedy of Hamlet was constructed to interact, not only globally but on a level of almost biochemical precision (wherein structure and function are inseparable concepts).

This relationship is made possible with a remarkably precise choice for words, their placement and meaning. A perfect example for the precision of the complex interaction between these two texts is in the concurrences of the references to ‘ships’ and ‘beds’ in Hamlet and Phaedo.  

Consider the line: ’Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco” from Hamlet, and the corresponding reference to ‘a ship’ which is given as the reason for the delay in Socrates’ death in Phaedo

As previously cited, Phaedo explains: “…the ship in which, according to Athenian tradition, Theseus went to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the saviour of them and of himself. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo at the time, that if they were saved they would send a yearly mission to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of the voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo crowns the stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city is not allowed to be polluted by public executions; and when the vessel is detained by contrary winds, the time spent in going and returning is very considerable. As I was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the trial, and this was the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was not put to death until long after he was condemned.” (Phaedo, 8)

The time of Socrates’ death (the end of life, a goal which he repeatedly ascribes as most desired by philosophers, or as Hamlet states: ‘a consummation devoutly to be wish'd’) is reliant on the return of the ship sacred to Apollo from the island of Delos, while in the opening scene form Hamlet, Fransisco’s respite from guard duty is Bernardo.

The mirrored inversion in the juxtaposition of the two texts here is in the significance of timing and its two opposite examples such as the tardiness of the ship’s arrival in Phaedo contrasted by Bernardo’s punctuality in Hamlet.

Compare once again Phaedo’s description of the “holy season” that is determined by the voyage of the savior Theseus’ ship as the cause for the delay in Socrates’ execution with Marcellus’ account of the “season… wherein our savior’s birth is celebrated” as the reason for the  ghost’s timely departure at the end of the first scene of Hamlet:  

“It faded on the crowing of the cock.

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long:

And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;

The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.” (Hamlet, 58)

Marcellus explains the timely disappearance of the ghost (of the dead king) in terms of seasonal cycles as well as those of night and day, the crowing of the cock is emphasized repeatedly as the temporal event coinciding with the ghost’s departure in the play.

Time is illustrated in a way whereby the physical (astronomical or astrological) and the metaphysical (mythological or religious) are interconnected. Objects such as ‘ships’ and ‘beds,’ as well as animals like the rooster, are used as symbols for (apparent) celestial cycles of the sun and moon - life, death and resurrection of the king.  

The cock, here described by Marcellus as ‘the bird of dawning’ and by Horatio in the preceding line as ‘the trumpet to the morn [who] awake[s] the god of day,’ a bird that’s sacred to Phoebus Apollo at times known as Hyperion and in other sources as Helios.

As the sun god of the ancient Greek, the names of the three are at times interchangeable and in some sources as three distinct generations of a divine family line, progenitors of Asclepius, as expressed in Socrates’ last words; to whom he directs to sacrifice a cock; Apollo’s son who was punished by the gods for bringing the dead to life. As previously mentioned, the sacrifice is a medical ritual for a successful cure, the message being clear in the context of Socrates’ description of death as a final cure for all the illnesses of life.

In this context consider Fransisco’s statement: “For this relief much thanks, ‘tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart” in gratitude for Bernardo’s timely respite which corresponds with the discussion presently explored in the Phaedo, in which the significance of a crowned ship, sacred to Apollo is expressed as the reason for the delay in Socrates’ death.               

Helen H. Bacon continues further about the importance of Phaedo’s opening lines:

“In addition to the sense of the almost religious significance of the occasion and the importance of having witnessed it in person, this simple exchange also contains the first suggestion of the paradoxical experience…of being simultaneously remote from the event in time and space, and there in person. The sense of closeness, immediacy, and solemnity conveyed by the opening exchange is reestablished in the second part of this first introduction with Phaedo’s explanation of the reason for the delay of the [150] execution. The explanation uses the vernacular, slightly formulaic language with occasional archaisms that is characteristic of sacramental discourse. It is framed with the solemn ritual act of crowning the stern of the ship that will carry the sacred embassy to Delos, using the Ionic form stephô (rare in Attic prose except in a ritual sense) rather than the more usual stephanoô (58a7 and c2).7 This ritual tone is intensified by references to the vow of the youths and maidens to honor Apollo annually with a sacred embassy to Delos if they should be saved (ei sôtheien, 58b2-3), and to the obligation of the city to observe a state of ritual purity (kathareuein, 58b5), throughout the period of the embassy. Above all the sacred significance of this apparently fortuitous coincidence is suggested in the single sentence which identifies the theoric ship. “This, as the Athenians say, is the ship in which Theseus, escorting to Crete the notable ‘twice seven’ (tous dis hepta ekeinous), once journeyed, and saved them and was himself saved” (kai esôse te kai autos esôthê, 58a10-b1). It is difficult to convey in English the hieratic tone produced by the dislocation of normal Greek word order, by the use of their traditional epithet (dis hepta) with all its solemn associations for the youths and maidens destined for sacrifice, and above all by the final clause, kai esôse te kai esôthê, in which the heaviness and repetitiousness of the sounds give climactic solemnity and importance to the idea of religious salvation implicit in the verb. The passive esôthê reinforces this tone. Theseus “was saved” by some unspecified, perhaps divine, agency. Many translators overlook this—treating the passive as though it were middle, “saved himself” (e.g., Jowett, Gallop, Dorter, Tredennick, Bluck).” (The Poetry of Phaedo, Helen H. Bacon p.6)

Bacon provides an insight into complexity of Plato’s poetic expression for the sacred gravity of the circumstances for the delay in Socrates’ death. The language of this expression is filled with religious imagery (particularly of a ‘savior’) just as they are in Marcellus’ words together with references to cosmological mechanisms of time governing the universal principles of life and death.        

The subject of death (and life) is explicit in the opening lines of Phaedo, in Hamlet however they are clearly implicit, made evident not in the literal interaction between the two guards on duty, but as the microcosmic metaphors for the royal succession in the greater play, and at an even greater depth the generation of opposites as the fundamental mechanism of life, death and resurrection, and thereby immortality of the soul as inferred by the ghost of the wronged king returning from the dead to guide his son in vengeance for his ‘most unnatural’ murder.     

It is important to point out here, once again, the concurrence in the comparisons of life and death as sleep and waking in both texts.

In the Phaedo it is expressed in Socrates argument for the generation of opposites as the proof for the immortality of the soul, while in Hamlet it is most prominent in the protagonist’s familiar lines of the first soliloquy (as explored in the previous sections of this book).  

The subjects of life and death appear inseparable from that of time, and time is explored in both texts with a multidimensional use of metaphor. The fundamental principles of time, as time of day and night, and the cosmologic mechanisms that govern their generation concur in the juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo.

The intricacy of the interaction between the two works and the metaphors therein increase as the fundamental principles are referenced to cosmological and those in turn to mythical in the expression of the underlining philosophical subtexts in both works, which is further complimented with structure of matching complexity.  

This is expressed in the references to the gods of day and night, Apollo and Artemis (or Helios and Selene), and their unique relationships to the celestial bodies of sun and moon, and simultaneously to universal paradigms of light and shadow, dreams and wakefulness, empiricism and abstract thought and thereby to philosophers and poets respectively.

Consider an excerpt from Amihud Gilead’s work The Platonic odyssey: a philosophical-literary inquire into the Phaedo:

Socrates’ “poetic apology” relates to two other important points, namely, Socrates’ dreams (60e) and, again Apollo…dreams urge Socrates to compose poetry. Dreams require interpretation and might be equivocal and obscure, much like the messages of Apollo through his priest. Just as Socrates has difficulties in understanding them in the Apology, in the Phaedo he also has such difficulty. A dream guides Socrates in the Crito too. At most, it is the guidance of a “true opinion,” but obviously not of real knowledge. It employs irrational means and is closer to the shadows of being than to the real. It is part and parcel of the night in which the prisoners of the cave exist. Republic 533c reads: “geometry and the studies that accompany it are…dreaming about being, but the clear waking vision of it is impossible for them” (HC 765). Dreaming about being has something in common with the poetic, divine inspiration (according to the Ion). It depicts that mixture of the irrational element and the rational that might also characterize Plato’s thought. Irrational inspiration is accepted, with reservations, by Plato. Socrates refers several times to the combination, the Socratic daimon, etc., and to the guidance of reason, its restraint, self-awareness and virtues. The same mixture is so typical of Apollo and his temple at Delphi…another affinity between Socrates’ and Apollo concerns catharsis: Apollo plays a major role in purification, and consequently in the delay of Socrates’ execution. Also, composing poems according to Apollo’s instruction might purge Socrates from evil. Socrates’ Apolline poetry especially in the Phaedo, aspires not only to the inspiring, musical nature of Apollo, but to Apollo’s sobriety, lawfulness, orderliness, clarity, brightness, and sunlight. Such is the Socratic-Platonic aspiration for the clear waking vision of reality in contrast to the shadowy, dreamy world of phenomena…the Phaedo is further linked with Apollo because of the Pythagoreans’ participation in it. Apollo is Pythagoras’ chosen patron “and the one for whom Orpheus neglected the worship of Dionysos.” Apollo is involved in the Pythagorean belief in transmigration. The Platonic attempt at healing the breaches between the musical-ecstatic element of poetry and measurement, sanity, self-awareness, and restraint of philosophy is Apolline.  (Amihud Gilead, The Platonic odyssey: a philosophical-literary inquire into the Phaedo, p. 57-58) 

It is interesting to consider what appears to be a connection here between the calculated complexity of structure of the two texts and their enfolded interactions and the mutual sub-textual contents of metaphors. This connection is the discussion on the ancient quarrel between philosophers and poets being the motive for Shakespeare’s algorithmic construction of Hamlet to mirror the text of Phaedo.

There are a few details from that discussion which should be briefly brought to mind once again.

For one, Socrates prescribes a defense for the tragic poets in order to regain their rightful place in the ideal republic (Kalipolis), by showing that poetry ‘can exist in a well ordered state’. The meaning of ‘well ordered state’ could be subject to dual interpretation, one of a well functioning republic, or that the poetry itself should be appropriately structured. This as well as the contradiction between the reason for the banishment of tragic poetry for imitation in the Republic and Socrates’ admission to turning Aesop’s fables into verse in the Phaedo, provide both motive and means for Shakespeare as a tragic poet and philosopher of equal merit.

And the second important point from the previous discussion on the conflict between philosophy and poetry is the inseparable role Apollo and Artemis play in this ancient quarrel as that of sun and moon, light and its reflected shadow, empiricism and abstract thought.

In this way poetry (tragic poetry in particular in Socrates’ statements from the Republic) and philosophy appear at odds with each other in the most fundamental sense of dueling opposites which generate and propagate out of each other. While Phaedo is Plato’s defense of philosophy in its purest form (arguably poetic), Shakespeare restores the equilibrium with the tragedy of Hamlet (a work of an undoubtedly philosophic nature).       

Having considered once again Shakespeare’s motive for constructing Hamlet in such a complex way (to literally and figuratively mirror the text and substance of Phaedo) and explored the elaborate structural methodology used by the authors of both works, it is now fitting to return to the metaphors of ‘ships’ and ‘beds,’ in the context of death and dying (as well as life and living) in the ongoing juxtaposition.

These two, seemingly unrelated words serve a very particular and reoccurring purpose in both works, they symbolize specifically the time of death in the respective opening lines and death in general on multiple other occasions in the juxtaposition of the two texts (with remarkable results).

Besides the multiple examples of comparisons of death to sleep from both texts (previously explored), as well as the references to the ship returning from Delos in Phaedo being the reason for the delay in Socrates’ death, the historic nature of these symbolisms should be explored in order to better appreciate the enfolded purpose of the words ‘bed’ (in Hamlet) and ‘ship’ (in Phaedo) not only here in the opening lines but their concurrences elsewhere in the juxtaposition as well.   

The associations of a bed with death are much more obvious than they are for ships, simply because most people die in bed (as evident by the ubiquity of the expression ‘deathbed’), furthermore a gravesite could be referred to as a bed with only minimal poetic license (a fact which will shortly become even more relevant). Perhaps most obviously beds are associated with sleeping and sleeping with death in both texts. Moreover by way of bed’s relation to sleep and that in turn to night and by virtue further linked to the moon, while Apollo’s ship in the Phaedo is symbolically connected to the sun and thereby to day time.   

Ships held symbolic relevance to death in many ancient cultures and served as the final resting place as well; however this association is considerably less ubiquitous than the imagery of a bed and thereby less obvious, and for that reason should be examined more closely.                  

Historically relevant to the setting of the Danish tragedy, is the traditional Norse burial at sea, in which a body of a king (or chieftain) is set afloat aboard a funerary barge sometimes called a ‘boat grave’. These ceremonial ships were not limited to actual sea worthy vessels but were also constructed as monuments on land as ‘stone ships.’ These served as lasting representations of historic funerals of kings, and have been discovered by archeologists across northern Europe and the British isles.     

The Norsemen often cremated their dead in ship burials, known from epic poems and in the recent times through archeological finds. The lasting remnants of the Norse funerals that took place on land have permitted archaeologists to study the varying funeral traditions which involved ships and boats.

The dead were often laid in a boat, or a ‘stone ship’, where grave offerings were deposited in accordance with the wealth and status of the deceased. Afterwards, stone and dirt were usually laid on top of the remains in order to create a tumulus.

Numerous tumuli honoring kings and chieftains, in addition to runestones and other memorials have been discovered by archeologists,  most notable of them are at the Borre mound cemetery and Jelling in Denmark.

The Norsemen were not the only people to have extolled the boat funeral on their leaders, the Egyptian pharos departed this world in a very similar manner as well. A most famous archeological example of such a funeral boat is the Khufu ship entombed at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

The history and function of the burial ships are not precisely known, they are however associated with the mythological "solar barge", a ritual vessel which carries the resurrected king together with the sun god Ra across the heavens.

The Khufu ship bears some signs of having been in water, and it is possible that the ship was either a funerary "barge" used to carry the king's body from Memphis to Giza, or even that Khufu used it himself in a pilgrimage to the holy places and that it was then buried for his use after death.

In Greek mythology, Charon or Kharon (Χάρων) was the ferryman of Hades who conveyed by boat the souls of the deceased across the River Styx which divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Ancient historian Diodorus Siculus asserted that the ferryman and his name had been imported from Egypt

The concurrence of the words ‘bed’ and ‘ship’ in the juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo resemble a sort of riddle, whereby the significance of the timing in their use is made evident together with the structure of the interaction between the two works.

Consider the greave digger’s riddle from the opening of the fifth act from Hamlet.


First Clown

                            What is he that builds stronger than either the
                                mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?     

                            Second Clown

                            The gallows-maker; for that frame outlives a
thousand tenants.

First Clown

I like thy wit well, in good faith: the gallows
does well; but how does it well? it does well to
those that do ill: now thou dost ill to say the
gallows is built stronger than the church: argal,
the gallows may do well to thee. To't again, come.

                                        Second Clown

Who builds stronger than a mason, a shipwright, or
a carpenter?

Compare the gravedigger’s riddle to Socrates’ comments in the first book of the Republic: “It seems that Simonides made a riddle, after the fashion of poets, when he said what the just is. For it looks as if he thought that it is just to give to everyone what is fitting…does he mean that justice is doing good to friends and harm to enemies…then, after all, it’s just to harm the unjust and help the just” (Republic, Bloom translation, 332c-334e). Compare this to the gravedigger’s words:  “the gallows does well; but how does it well? it does well to those that do ill: now thou dost ill to say the gallows is built stronger than the church: argal, the gallows may do well to thee.”

In the Republic, Socrates’ then follows with the analogies of various professions such as “guardians”, “shipmakers”, “house builders” (or masons) and “shoemakers” which along with the example of the “bed-maker” (or carpenter) from book X of the Republic is reflected in the grave-maker’s riddle from Hamlet.

The answer to the riddle is, of course a ‘grave-maker’:

“Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull

ass will not mend his pace with beating; and, when

you are asked this question next, say 'a

grave-maker: 'the houses that he makes last till

doomsday. Go, get thee to Yaughan: fetch me a

stoup of liquor”

Considering the grave-maker’s riddle, particularly the elements of death and time or duration (of endurance) in the reason for the correct answer, from the fifth act of Hamlet, in context of the ongoing assertions about the ‘ship’ as representation of the time of death in the corresponding lines in the beginning of the juxtaposition of the two texts, it is clear that the riddle is intended as a more complex clue to a greater puzzle of structure.

It follows that the reference to the ‘shipwright’ reappears again precisely where our analysis at the end of the first scene resumes, at the first encounter of the guards and Horatio with the ghost in the play.

Consider Marcellus’ words:  

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,

Why this same strict and most observant watch

So nightly toils the subject of the land,

And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,

And foreign mart for implements of war;

Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task

Does not divide the Sunday from the week;

What might be toward, that this sweaty haste

Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:

Who is't that can inform me? (Hamlet, 47)

At the outset, the words: “tell me, he that knows” in the beginning of this line together with the words: “Who is't that can inform me?” at the line’s end, exert a riddle-like quality to Marcellus’ curiously formulated question.

Marcellus’ question appears to possess more depth than to merely inquire the reasons for the military preparations. In fact, this line contains structural elements and inferred meaning which make it appear as a riddle with a much more fundamental (or universal) importance than the contextual inquiry which sets up Horatio’s response in which the audience (or reader) is provided important background information central to the plot.

It therefore appears that Shakespeare has “made a riddle, after the fashion of poets” to borrow Socrates’ words from the Republic where he uses the makers of beds and builders of ships (along with the builders of homes) as examples in his argument.

The ‘shipwright’ is also mentioned here by Marcellus:

Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task

Does not divide the Sunday from the week;

Note the reference to the sun in ‘Sunday’ within the context of the previous discussion on the ‘solar deity’ and ‘solar barge’. The days of the week having been named after the celestial bodies and their respective gods, from ancient times, with the cultural importance for the day of rest (the contrast of toil and rest being central to Marcellus’ question) here being ascribed to Sunday (the as the biblical day of Sabbath, and in Christianity as the day of resurrection), the day named for the sun.

For the ancient Greeks, the seven day week, was associated with heavenly luminaries. As described by Vettius Valens, an astrologer who wrote Anthologiarum in the second century C.E.

The order of days he describes was: Sun (Apollo or Heleos), Moon (Artemis or Selene), Ares (Mars), Hermes (Mercury), Zeus (Jupiter), Aphrodite (Venus), and Cronos (Saturn). Valens studied Egyptian and Babylonian astrology in Alexandria. From Greece the planetary week names passed on to the Romans, and from Latin to other languages of southern and western Europe, and then to languages subsequently influenced by them. Interestingly, East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan) civilizations also attributed the days of the week to the motions of the same seven luminaries, with Sunday being the day of the sun and Monday, the day of the moon etc.  

Furthermore consider the underscored division of night and day in Marcellus’ words:

Why this same strict and most observant watch

So nightly toils the subject of the land,

And why such daily cast of brazen cannon

And foreign mart for implements of war;

Along with:

What might be toward, that this sweaty haste

Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day

Marcellus words manage to masterfully express the duality of night and day in there conflicting roles together with their unifying purpose of mutually dependant propagation. In other words, night can only come out of day and day from night, their opposition and codependence is therefore symbiotically linked much like the opposites from Socrates’ argument for the immortality of the soul. 

Furthermore, this duality is expressed in Marcellus’ line together with other such opposites as rest and toil, or war and peace, respectively.  

Consider once again the references to ‘rest’ at the end of the guard Francisco’s arduous shift in Bernardo’s words at the beginning of the play:  “’Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco” to which Francisco replies: “For this relief much thanks, ‘tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart.”

The changing of the guard from the beginning of Hamlet as symbolizing the succession of kings along with the deeper purpose of the metaphor as the cycle of life, death and resurrection, which is governed by time and that in turn by the motions of celestial bodies of the sun and moon which are represented by the gods Artemis and Apollo.

With this in mind, consider once again Bernardo’s description of the previous visitation by the apparition which is interrupted by the dead king’s ghost debut appearance in the play:

Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,-- Enter Ghost (Hamlet, 28) 

And Socrates’ explanation into the governance of life and death by the gods, whom he calls our guardians in the following excerpt:

“…why, when a man is better dead, he is not permitted to be his own benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another …there is a doctrine uttered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs…Phaedo, 41)

Consider the recurring references to the guards in the opening scene of Hamlet, such as the evocation to the guards in Marcellus’ words: “this same strict and most observant watch” and compare them to the references of the ‘gods’ as ‘our guardians’ from the corresponding discussion in Phaedo:  

“Yes, Socrates, said Cebes, there is surely reason in that. And yet how can you reconcile this seemingly true belief that God is our guardian and we his possessions, with that willingness to die which we were attributing to the philosopher? That the wisest of men should be willing to leave this service in which they are ruled by the gods who are the best of rulers is not reasonable, for surely no wise man thinks that when set at liberty he can take better care of himself than the gods take of him. A fool may perhaps think this-he may argue that he had better run away from his master, not considering that his duty is to remain to the end, and not to run away from the good, and that there is no sense in his running away. But the wise man will want to be ever with him who is better than himself. Now this, Socrates, is the reverse of what was just now said; for upon this view the wise man should sorrow and the fool rejoice at passing out of life.” (Phaedo, 46)

In this excerpt, Cebes continues the discussion on the proper time and circumstance of death, specifically as a contrast of ‘natural’ death and suicide (considered as unlawful according to Socrates in the Phaedo). The nature of the discussion on suicide is considerably more relevant to the analysis in the previous part (IV) of the book, however the subject of the proper time of death, as governed by the gods, ‘our guardians’ and ‘masters’ corresponds in an equally detailed way with the discussion of the guards (Bernardo, Marcellus and the visiting friend Horatio) at the end of the first scene, when the ghost of the dead king first appears in the play.   

Compare, for example the next line from Phaedo, which corresponds to Marcellus’ inquiry presently under discussion.

“The earnestness of Cebes seemed to please Socrates. Here, said he, turning to us, is a man who is always inquiring, and is not to be convinced all in a moment, nor by every argument.” (Phaedo, 47)

Particularly compare Socrates’ words: “here…is a man who is always inquiring” to the inquisitive nature of Marcellus’ corresponding line:

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,

Why this same strict and most observant watch

So nightly toils the subject of the land,

And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,

And foreign mart for implements of war;

Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task

Does not divide the Sunday from the week;

What might be toward, that this sweaty haste

Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:

Who is't that can inform me? (Hamlet, 47)

In the part of Phaedo’s dialogue presently discussed, the ‘guardian’ gods are referred to as ‘our masters’ and ‘our rulers’ who decide the duration of life and conversely the time of death.  In the following line from Hamlet, in response to Marcellus’ questions, Horatio describes the violent nature of the old king’s life, by sharing the story of him killing Fortinbras:

That can I;

At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king,

Whose image even but now appear'd to us,

Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,

Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,

Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet --

For so this side of our known world esteem'd him --

Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,

Well ratified by law and heraldry,

Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands

Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror:

Against the which, a moiety competent

Was gaged by our king; which had return'd

To the inheritance of Fortinbras,

Had he been vanquisher; as, by the same covenant,

And carriage of the article design'd,

His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,

Of unimproved mettle hot and full,

Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there

Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,

For food and diet, to some enterprise

That hath a stomach in't; which is no other --

As it doth well appear unto our state --

But to recover of us, by strong hand

And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands

So by his father lost: and this, I take it,

Is the main motive of our preparations,

The source of this our watch and the chief head

Of this post-haste and romage in the land. (Hamlet, 48)

The references to ‘Our last king’ killing Fortenbras of Norway, as the reason for the military preparations as the son of the victim has raised an army to take by violent force that which was lost by violent force to old king Hamlet by old Fortenbras.   

Consider the concurrence of the references to ‘our last king’ in the text of Hamlet and the corresponding mention of ‘our masters’ in the previous excerpt from Phaedo and to the words ‘our good rulers’ in the following line from the dialogue:

“And in this case, added Simmias, his objection does appear to me to have some force. For what can be the meaning of a truly wise man wanting to fly away and lightly leave a master who is better than himself? And I rather imagine that Cebes is referring to you; he thinks that you are too ready to leave us, and too ready to leave the gods who, as you acknowledge, are our good rulers.” (Phaedo, 48)

Compare Marcellus’ words: “this same strict and most observant watch” with the reference to ‘God’ as ‘our guardian’ and ‘the best ruler’ and ‘master’ in Cebes’ corresponding line where he questions why Socrates must die and leave the service of his masters.

The familiar matchup of guardians as kings, and gods, and their role in the mechanism of life death and resurrection is echoed in Horatio’s story of ‘Our last king, whose image even but now appear'd to us’ as he explains the (violent and murderous) style of life the monarch lived, contrasted by the circumstances of another ruler’s death in context of the old king Hamlet’s eminent return as a ghost. In this line Horatio gives Marcellus the reason for “this our watch and the chief head of this post-haste and romage in the land.”

Consider Socrates’ (previously mentioned) comments from the first book of the Republic: “It seems that Simonides made a riddle, after the fashion of poets, when he said what the just is. For it looks as if he thought that it is just to give to everyone what is fitting…does he mean that justice is doing good to friends and harm to enemies…then, after all, it’s just to harm the unjust and help the just” (Republic, Bloom translation, 332c-334e).

The discussion from which this excerpt was taken (as is the main subject matter of the Republic as a whole) is the nature of justice. The subject of justice is at the heart of Horatio’s description of king Hamlet’s exploits in the previous line from the play. This is expressed in the contrast between the force of ‘natural’ strength and ‘social’ law. 

The references to ‘a seal'd compact, well ratified by law and heraldry’  and “lawless resolutes” echo Socrates’ response to Simmias and Cebes in the corresponding part of Phaedo:

“Yes, replied Socrates; there is reason in what you say. And so you think that I ought to answer your indictment as if I were in a court?” (Phaedo, 49)

References to social law and natural force as it relates to matters of life and death co-occur here in the juxtaposition of Hamlet and Phaedo not only in these lines but in the larger subject matter  crucial to both the play and the dialogue as well as to the relationship between them.

As previously mentioned, it is the law which bans the practice of imitative poetry in the ideal state that Socrates’ defends in the Republic, which is hypothesized here as the reason for Shakespeare’s peculiar methodology in constructing Hamlet as a defense.

The discussion in Phaedo is Socrates’ final defense after the one depicted in Plato’s Apology, where Socrates makes his case before the Athenian jurors.     

Amihud Gilead writes:

Apollo is clearly related to laws (Laws, 624a-b, 759c-d; Republic 427b). He gives the law and interprets it. If legislating the laws is the real tragedy and Apollo is the leader of the Muses (Laws 653d3) then Socrates’ special kinship with Apollo, to whose worship he devotes himself, reflects in his own a mixture of a philosophical activity, in theory and practice (in the state, in legislation, etc.) alike, and musical-poetical inspiration. (Amihud Gilead, The Platonic odyssey: a philosophicsl-literary inquire into the Phaedo, p. 57-58) 

Socrates continues in the Phaedo:

“Then I must try to make a more successful defense before you than I did when before the judges. For I am quite ready to admit, Simmias and Cebes, that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were not persuaded in the first place that I am going to other gods who are wise and good (of which I am as certain as I can be of any such matters), and secondly (though I am not so sure of this last) to men departed, better than those whom I leave behind; and therefore I do not grieve as I might have done, for I have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and as has been said of old, some far better thing for the good than for the evil.” (Phaedo, 51)

The words: “there is yet something remaining for the dead” is particularly remarkable in consideration of the events transpiring in the corresponding part of Hamlet, where a ghost of the dead king returns from the world of the dead to the world of the living.

I think it be no other but e'en so:

Well may it sort that this portentous figure

Comes armed through our watch; so like the king

That was and is the question of these wars. (Hamlet, 49)

Compare the words: “Comes armed through our watch” form Hamlet to the corresponding words from Phaedo’s text: “I must try to make a more successful defense”

Furthermore consider the general discussions from the two texts are about death. In the case of Phaedo, it is Socrates preparing to die, while in Hamlet the subject of the conversation is the return of the old king’s ghost.

Compare the words: “there is yet something remaining for the dead, and as has been said of old, some far better thing for the good than for the evil.” (Phaedo, 51) to the excerpt from the fifth scene of the first act:


I am thy father's spirit,

Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!

If thou didst ever thy dear father love – (Hamlet, 196)

Compare the words: “I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house” to the excerpt from the discussion in Phaedo, currently at hand:

“why, when a man is better dead, he is not permitted to be his own benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another …there is a doctrine uttered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs…”(Phaedo, 41)

The ghost, while silent to the guards at the end of the fist scene, finally speaks to his son in the fifth scene of the first act. The conversation of between Hamlet and the ghost of his dead father corresponds to precisely to the portion of Phaedo’s text, where the discussion concerns “the inference that the living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and if this is true, then the souls of the dead must be in some place out of which they come again. And this, as I think, has been satisfactorily proved.” (Phaedo, 175)

Consider the ghost’s introduction:

I am thy father's spirit,

Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. (Hamlet, 196)

Compare the inference to the final justice for his ‘foul crimes’ the ghost describes to Socrates’ words from the Phaedo:

“Yes, he said, Cebes, I entirely think so, too; and we are not walking in a vain imagination; but I am confident in the belief that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good souls have a better portion than the evil.” (Phaedo, 181)

This final justice of the soul is described by the ghost, in one such description already mentioned, consider the reference to day and night once again:

Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

The references to life after death (or life out of death) occur simultaneously here in both texts (as well as on numerous other occasions, as this subject matter is seminal to both works). Compare Socrates’ words:  “I ought to be grieved at death… for I have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and as has been said of old, some far better thing for the good than for the evil” (Phaedo, 51) to Horatio’s next line in the sequential juxtaposition:

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!

[Re-enter Ghost]…(Hamlet, 50)

In the context of the current discussion of life and death; sleep and waking; day and night presented in terms of celestial motions of the sun and moon note the words: “Disasters in the sun;and the moist star upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands” (the ‘moist star’ being the moon, which influences the tide).

Consider also the reference to the ‘mind’s eye’ in Horatio’s description to the use of this term in the argument on recollection which very closely neighbors the excerpts from Phaedo, previously analyzed in the juxtaposition with the fifth scene from Hamlet.

“And yet what is the feeling of lovers when they recognize a lyre, or a garment, or anything else which the beloved has been in the habit of using? Do not they, from knowing the lyre, form in the mind's eye an image of the youth to whom the lyre belongs? And this is recollection: and in the same way anyone who sees Simmias may remember Cebes; and there are endless other things of the same nature. (Phaedo, 193) 

Socrates’ argument on recollection and the echoes of this subject matter in the references to memory and remembrance in corresponding part of Hamlet (from the fifth scene of the first act) will be examined shortly.

As already stated, in the fist scene of Hamlet, the ghost refuses to respond to the attempts by the guards and Horatio to communicate:

I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay, illusion!

If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,

Speak to me:

If there be any good thing to be done,

That may to thee do ease and grace to me,

Speak to me:

[Cock crows]

If thou art privy to thy country's fate,

Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid, O, speak!

Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life

Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,

For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,

Speak of it: stay, and speak! Stop it, Marcellus. (Hamlet, 50)

Horatio urges the ghost to speak, to share with the living the secrets of the dead, the spirit refuses, for reasons which are expressed in the fifth scene of the play. Compare Horatio and the guards attempts to gain the response to their inquiries to the very similar attempts by Simmias and Cebes in the corresponding part of Phaedo:

“But do you mean to take away your thoughts with you, Socrates? said Simmias. Will you not impart them to us?—for they are a benefit in which we too are entitled to share. Moreover, if you succeed in convincing us, that will be an answer to the charge against yourself.” (Phaedo, 52)

Here Simmias and Cebes ask if Socrates intends to take away the knowledge that is so beneficial to the living with him to the land of the dead, while Horatio asks the ghost to share with the living the “extolted treasure” from “the womb of earth” which he may have acquired from his journey to the afterlife.

The ghost in Hamlet refuses; Socrates in the Phaedo does not.  


to be continued...

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