Hamlet - Ghost


Hamlet - Ghost

The presence of the apparition in the opening scene of William Shakespeare?s
Hamlet sets a macabre and eerie tone while emitting and foreshadowing a
theme of death. In addition to the death theme the presence of the ghost
illuminates on the mystery surrounding the death of Hamlet?s father, the King of Denmark. Often in literature the presence of a ghost indicates something left unresolved. In this case, the death of Hamlets father is the unresolved event as well the revenge necessary to give the tormented soul repose. The ghost created mystery for the audience, spawns the chain of death and treachery in Denmark, causes characters to question the death of their former king, and
makes the metaphysics of the play dark. The ghost says nothing despite the valiant efforts on the parts of Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo. Suspense is created when the audience is ignorant as to the purpose of the ghost. Later in the play the ghost is utilized to allow Hamlet and the audience knowledge of the vile murder of the king by Claudius, the kings own brother. When the ghost finally speaks, he tells Hamlet,
"Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Murder most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural."(I.v.25-28)
These quotes let Hamlet as well as the audience know that the fathers death
was foul and unnatural contrary to popular belief. The spirit then reveals the
murder to Hamlet by professing this:
"A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father?s life
Now wears his crown.(I.v.35-39)
This statement not only reveals the culprit; it eludes to the manner in which the king was assassinated. Upon hearing this Hamlet and the audience realize who the murderer is and how the plot of vengeance will unfold. Without the
apparition the beginning of the play would lack the supernatural and eerie aura
as well as the revelation of most wretched crime thus making the play bland and
meaningless.
Although the ghost is apparently Hamlet?s father those who saw him were
fearful. The reason behind this is that in the sixteenth century a ghost could be a demon trying to deceive Hamlet rather than the soul of his murdered father.
"The papists in former times have publicly both taught and written that
those spirits which men sometimes see and hear be either good or bad
angels, or else the souls of those which either live in everlasting bliss, or
in purgatory, or in the place of damned persons; and that divers of them
are those souls that crave aid and the deliverance of man (Lavater 2).
"for otherwise the divel may delude and deceive us, as he doth very often(Lavater 2)."
The three characters in the first scene are Marcellus, Horatio, and
Bernardo. They are on watch and see nothing until the ghost, which looks like
the former King of Denmark, appears. Horatio is filled with fear and wonder to
the point of turning pale. The ghost does not speak but disappears. Following
this, Marcellus and Horatio speak of King Hamlet and Fortinbras of Norway.
When the ghost appears for the second time Horatio states:
"If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease, and grace to me,
Speak to me"(I.i.130-132)
In this quote Horatio is asking: Is there anything that I can do for you to help
resolve your situation? The former king does not answer. Following this, the
cock crows and the spirit disappears probably because it cannot be out in
daylight. Bernardo, Marcellus, and Horatio attempt to make the ghost stay by
striking him. They realize that an attempt at striking the ghost is futile. Horatio states:
"Unto young Hamlet, for upon my life
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him with it,
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty"(I.i.170-173)
The three decide that they must tell Hamlet of their findings and go to him in the morning. The dark and rainy atmosphere of Denmark is supplemented by
Shakespeare keeping the play very serious, just as a tragedy should be. In the
opening scene Francisco states:
" ?Tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at the heart"(I.i.8-9)
The bitter coldness is yet another illustration of the mood of the play. A second example of the bitter coldness occurs in conversation between Hamlet and
Horatio:
Hamlet "The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold"(I.iv.1)
Horatio "It is a nipping and eagar