The longest tragic and one of the most powerful and influential plays of Shakespeare begins with a question “Who is there?” asked by Bernardo, a guard, who has come to the platform to relieve a watchman named Francisco. The question creates an immediate suspense and interest of the audience and the reader. It also creates a feeling of uncertainty, anticipation, apprehension and nervousness. The scene opens in a bitterly cold midnight with heavy darkness that adds mystery and some unknown fear amongst the guards. The question is the first dialogue in this play that is asked not by the guard on duty, but by the guard who comes to substitute him, which shows that Bernardo expects to meet someone unknown. It sets the scene and adds the elements of mystery and suspense as well as makes the audience curious to know more.
Francisco, the guard on duty, immediately relieves the audience from the present suspense by his answer “Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.” Francisco is the first character in the play that faces the sickness in his heart that was engulfing Denmark. He is pleased to see Bernardo who comes to relieve him as he is feeling sick and prepares to go home and rest as well as sets the tone of this powerful tragedy with his famous lines "'Tis bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart."
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