During lytic infection, herpes simplex virus subverts the host cell RNA polymerase II transcription machinery to efficiently express its own genome while repressing the expression of most cellular genes. The mechanism by which RNA polymerase II is directed to the viral delayed-early and late genes is still unresolved. We report here that RNA polymerase II is preferentially localized to viral replication compartments early after infection with herpes simplex virus type 1. Concurrent with recruitment of RNA polymerase II into viral compartments is a rapid and aberrant phosphorylation of the large subunit carboxy-terminal domain (CTD). Aberrant phosphorylation of the CTD requires early viral gene expression but is not dependent on viral DNA replication or on the formation of viral replication compartments. Localization of RNA polymerase II and modifications to the CTD may be instrumental in favoring transcription of viral genes and repressing specific transcription of cellular genes.