What Francisco Saw

While trying to explain all of Hamlet’s characters to my daughter I found another interesting spin I’d never considered.

Poor Francisco is in the play entirely to hand over the watch to Bernardo and Marcellus (and Horatio, but he’s not technically one of the guards). 

How come one guy is being relieved by two?

Second question – do you think Francisco saw the ghost? 

Think about it. He has no witnesses to back his story. Who is he going to tell?  At least Marcellus and Bernardo have someone else with them so they can do that whole “Did you see what I just saw?” dance.  But Francisco’s just out there by his lonesome with no one to talk to but himself.

I got a laugh out of the image of the ghost appearing before Francisco, and Francisco just staring blankly back at him.  The ghost, who is here to get a message to Hamlet, gets more and more frustrated at Francisco’s refusal to tell anybody that he eventually throws up his hands and tries Marcellus and Bernardo.  Meanwhile Francisco’s all, “Yeah, I’m not saying a word about this.”

You could even work it in here:

BERNARDO Have you had … quiet guard?


(wait for it…..wait for it…..) Not a mouse stirring.
“If you’re asking whether I saw the ghost of dead king Hamlet then no I most certainly did not thank you very much, I’m going to bed.”

20 thoughts on “What Francisco Saw

  1. How come one guy is being relieved by two?

    –Actor salary/budget limitations.

    Second question – do you think Francisco saw the ghost?

    A very interesting question in terms of interpretation, but the answer is probably no according to the text. Both Bernardo and Marcellus separately mention that they ("we") have seen it, meaning they who stand watch together, that the Ghost appeared to them a total of two times at the same hour on separate nights. So apparently it has only appeared to them. Only the two of them go with Horatio to inform Hamlet.
    Also, if Francisco knew, something as monumental as this would probably have been part of the dialogue between he and Bernardo in the opening. Bernardo is the jumpy one, asking "Who's there?" (possibly the ghost he thinks he hears?) when it really is Francisco's office of command to ask such questions. Francisco upbraids him, so to speak, by saying "Nay, answer ME. [YOU] stand and unfold yourself." [to me, not the other way around]
    The rest of the conversation is fairly generic for guards exchanging the watch, but I've often wondered why Francisco says "And I am sick at heart." It could mean 'filled with forebodings', but about what exactly? It could also mean he simply feels wretched from the cold.

    Lots of possibilities here for foreshadowing, and setting the mood, though, even if he doesn't know. As I said, to me, a very interesting question.

  2. Interesting post, thanks.
    And "i am sick at heart" makes it even more ambiguous to me :
    => only the "pure at heart" can see the ghost ?
    => he saws it too and has become sick at heart ?
    Anyway, he could be a nice rich way to play this ambiguity, all the more since it's past midnight already.

  3. It's fairly clear that Francisco is "sick at heart" because of indigestion. Let's face it, even in the modern age (with ample refrigeration and preservatives) eating the leftovers from the funeral at the wedding (if if it follows hard upon) can lead to heartburn (if not actual food poisoning).

    His line "Not a mouse stirring" provides additional evidence (as if any were needed). No mouse stirring -> nothing to eat the stale cheese -> somebody has to eat the stale cheese -> I ate the stale cheese.

    And I agree that it's a fascinating question. I wonder which role would have doubled with Francisco.


  4. I think this is the first time that you liked one of my wild speculations, J! 🙂

    re: "would have been part of the conversation", that's why I was wondering about Francisco being alone. Bernardo knows that Marcellus saw it as well. But if Francisco saw it by himself, would he really be so quick to tell another guard "Yeah, totally saw the dead king's ghost. Other than that, you know, not a mouse stirring." Is seeing a ghost at this time the kind of thing you run to report, or the kind of thing you keep to yourself lest people think you're insane?

    Until now I'd always taken "sick at heart" to simply mean miserable because of the cold. But maybe we could spin that into something more omninous to go along with this idea.

  5. "I think this is the first time that you liked one of my wild speculations, J! :)"

    –I don't think it's so 'wild', Duane. Shakespeare "doesn't say" and it's within the parameters of creative speculation, which is why it's so interesting. There are plenty of places in the work where such speculation is welcomed. It's supposed to spur thought. Otherwise, the occasion for presenting the plays would dwindle to the very few.

    But please tell me you haven't left your daughter with the impression that Hamlet the heartless woman hater "dumped poor Ophelia". If so, I promise to hunt you down to the ends of the earth in an attempt to soundly noogie you on the head. 🙂

  6. Please note the additional textual evidence that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. What could it be if it's not stale cheese?


  7. The ultimate question is:

    Did Bernardo and Marcellus see the Ghost Sans Francisco?

    The answer must be no. They were in Denmark.

    –Sorry, had to.

  8. A² said: "And "i am sick at heart" makes it even more ambiguous to me"

    Exactly. Which is why Duane's speculation is so interesting to me. And everything you and he wrote *could* possibly follow even though, as I said, what the text immediately indicates *could* make it unlikely. As Duane has indicated, the image of Francisco standing the watch by himself, wondering what might happen is eerily tempting to entertain. And there has been previous talk in interpretive literary circles re: the interpretation of that very line. When I read it for the first time I penciled in "why" next to it in my script.
    It makes "Not a mouse/ stirring" all the more fraught with possibilities. In my parlance, there is what's called a 'separation' there. Why? Maybe no reason…maybe not.

  9. Excellent! That also helps explain away a textual difficulty in the modern printed text. Due to eyeskip by the compositor of Q2, these lines have always been mistakenly printed. Here they are with the correction:

    And we beseech you, bend you to remain
    Here, in the cheese and comfort of our eye,
    Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.


  10. This reading also answers questions about what kind of Danish is alluded to throughout the play (it was a cheese Danish), how to classify Hamlet's Melancholy (it's a kind of Danish blues), and what Ophelia was talking about ("He seemed to find his whey without his eyes").

    But the issue of Francisco is seriously even more interesting than these dairy-related jokes (Conscience doth make cow-ards of us all).

    Whether he has seen the ghost or not, he's clearly upset about what's going on. He's sick at heart. He may feel angry about being up late at night on watch when he might not normally be called upon. Perhaps there's some resentment in "not a mouse stirring"–they kept me up all night, and for nothing. He seems to be upset at Bernardo for arriving late (or, since Bernardo says he's right on time, for his not arriving early).


    He gives us all that in roughly a dozen speeches.


  11. LOL

    Your attempt to make a more "cheesy" observation than "Sans Francisco", thus deflecting the dark onus from me re: that bit of 'humor' I attempted (if it can be so termed) with a bit of 'humour', is duly noted and appreciated.

    It's clear that Francisco has limited time in which to don his ghosty costume. He keeps repeating "Give you good night" in an effort to rush off stage. This must also be the explanation for his lack of stage time otherwise. After all, he's no Patrick Stewart.

  12. Serving stinky cheese at the wedding… Makes sense. Always wondered what Claudius means when he says

    "O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven."

    As I have always said, the answers are in the text.


  13. "Here, in the cheese and comfort of our eye,"

    Can't top that one. It's *too* good.

    Same for the Folio … 'cheere' and comfort? –with an e on the end? It's so obviously 'cheese'–what else could it be? Couldn't *anyone* spell back then? To be fair, there were no dictionaries –otherwise bat boy could have looked it up.

  14. Additionally, it seems that Marcellus doesn't know Francisco at all (or, at least, not that well). His line "O, farewell, honest soldier," seems to indicate that he doesn't know his name.

    Who is this Francisco anyway?


  15. I think you're on to something, S.G.

    Francisco is a spy, sent to discover just how disjoint Denmark is.

    F for Francisco . . .

    F for Fortinbras!


    Additionally, you ask (way up in the original post), "How come one guy is being relieved by two?"

    He's not. One guy (Francisco) is being relieved by one guy (Bernardo). Essentially, Marcellus is there to investigate, with Horatio, the odd goings-on that have been occurring.

    You might think that "the rivals of my watch" might mean "fellow watchmen," but it doesn't. Horatio can't really be a fellow watchman, but he's described as a rival of Bernardo's watch.

    OED defines this instance of "rivals" in this way:

    3. A person having the same objective as another, an associate. Obs. rare.

    It sites this line in Hamlet as the only instance.

    What do you all think?


  16. *cites.

    Too much internet is bad for the difference between site and cite.


  17. If Francisco looked suspiciously like a Great Dane (ha!) dressed up in a hat and an overcoat, walking on two legs like a person, then I have a theory.


  18. kj–all of this makes perfect sense:

    "He's not. One guy (Francisco) is being relieved by one guy (Bernardo). Essentially, Marcellus is there to investigate, with Horatio, the odd goings-on that have been occurring.

    You might think that "the rivals of my watch" might mean "fellow watchmen," but it doesn't. Horatio can't really be a fellow watchman, but he's described as a rival of Bernardo's watch."

    Except that it's not the first time Marcellus and Bernardo have been on the watch together. They speak of having seen the Ghost together on two occasions. I have always thought of it with the idea that because it's the 'graveyard' shift, two men instead of one might be required. (Although I've worked graveyard shifts by my lonesome more than once…scary kids!)

    But what you're saying, as I said, makes sense. Bernardo 'could have' seen it by himself once, and told Marcellus, who has seen it twice, (which would make 3 times for Bernardo btw) enough for him to involve Horatio… BUT… if *that's* not the case, then Duane's idea about Francisco…hmmmmmm

    Who's there? 🙂

  19. Excellent, JM! Bravo. Yes, it seems that Marcellus and Bernardo saw the ghost while on watch together twice before:

    . . . this dreaded sight, twice seen of us


    . . . What we have two nights seen.


    Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
    With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.


    I have two thoughts from this, then.

    1. Instead of "How come one guy is being relieved by two?" we might ask "How come one guy has been standing watch all by his lonesome?" Did another guard not show up? A guard named Oakland, perhaps?

    2. I never noticed this before–each other time the ghost appeared, he only appeared once. That last line above may be there to fool the audience into thinking that that's all the business with the ghost–until (gasp!)–Look where it comes again! But it's also interesting (interesting in addition to the dramatic force the second appearance has) that the ghost walks twice on this night. Why does he? Was it offended that first time? And has it gotten over being offended now? Has it recognized Horatio in particular (a fascinating thought)? Did it need to slip backstage to freshen up its makeup?

    I'd love to hear more thoughts from JM and other readers of Shakespeare Geek.



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