Line by Line: Act 1, Scene 1, Line 40

"Ghost" by Marc Nelson

“Ghost” by Marc Nelson

BARNARDO: In the same figure like the King that’s dead.

When taken in isolation, this line sounds very awkward. Although modern ears should have no trouble understanding the meaning, it does sound a bit strange that Barnardo should say “like” instead of “as.” And adding “that’s dead” — presumably to distinguish this King from the current, living King — seems unnecessary, until one remembers that the audience has only heard one mention of the word “apparition” up till now, and no talk of ghosts whatsoever.

Even still, it feels like Barnardo doth protest too much here, especially considering his next line is pouring it on even thicker: “Looks ‘a not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.” In delivery, you could add a comma after “figure,” and thereby use “same” to refer to the previous two visitations, rather than to the former King. If you were playing this scene for laughs, it would be all too easy to make Barnardo’s lines read as “I told you so”s.

But, as usual, I’m inclined to interpret these characters as deeply, viscerally disturbed and frightened by this unnatural event. Even though they knew it was probably going to appear again, and even though they knew what it would look like (based on the last two times), they still nearly fall to gibbering when the manifestation occurs. Thus, Barnardo, who was just starting his story before the Ghost entered, now skips maniacally to the end: “And it was the DEAD KING!” he shrieks, leaping up from his seat and pointing his weapon at the Ghost. And he stumbles over his words, resulting in three choppy statements instead of one coherent thought:

BARNARDO: In the same figure! Like the King — that’s dead!

Am I going too far, in turning these brave soldiers into scaredy-pants? Feel free to offer an alternative reading for the line, or to talk more broadly about what sort of tone you imagine (or have seen) for this scene.

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