the role of the ghost in Hamlet : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

what is the importance of the role of the ghost in Hamlet?

-- dalianoaman (, March 20, 2002


As all the books say, a ghost was a common feature in the genre of the Revenge Play, of which HAMLET is a highly developed example. Shakespeare used them in other play as well, noteably MACBETH, JULIUS CAESAR and RICHARD III. Belief in ghosts was common in Shakespeare's time (though many of the more educated did hold belief in them to be merely superstition). King James I wrote a treatise on demons and ghosts and stuff. Different spirits were understood to have different characteristics and meanings.

Specifically in HAMLET, I think the ghost has several functions.

Hamlet never doubts the existence of the spirit, only questions whether it is actually his father, and whether its intentions are good or evil. See I.ii.244-245, I.v.40-44, II.ii.595-600, III.ii.80-84.

That it appears, and in armour, indicates to Hamlet and Marcellus that 'all is not well', that 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark', as indeed it turns out to be: Claudius has killed the King and usurped the throne.

The ghost scares the hell out of Marcellus, Bernardo and Horatio, so the way Hamlet faces it is clearly meant to show his bravery.

It speaks only to Hamlet. I.v, as well as furthering the plot by having Hamlet made aware of Claudius' act, also gives some opportunity to show the relationship between father and son.

Hamlet is certainly unhappy in II.ii, but his encounter with the ghost must be seen as adding to his anguish and trauma and despair, and plunging him into a whirlpool of doubt and self-doubt. Hamlet is a humanist by education and inclination, a firm believer in the Dignity of Man (see I.ii.187-188, II.ii.303-309, IV.iv33-39). But the ghost's news shakes this to the core, making him aware, in an extremely personal way, of the depths to which mankind can also descend.

It is his father's ghost which intitially pressures Hamlet into taking revenge, and it reiterates the demand in III.iv. Though this means killing his uncle and his King and his mother's husband, Hamlet never resents being told to do it by the ghost. He sees it as a duty owed to his father. But it goes against his sense of moral and Christian right at least until Act V (see V.ii.63-70). The ghost can therefore be interpreted as a little ambiguous, as regards good and evil.

Perhaps the ghost is a parallel to Polonius: a father sacrificing a child to a principle or a perceived greater good. The ghost doesn't reappear after Act III. Neither does Polonius. The functions of both are completed. Ophelia goes mad and dies. Hamlet, who was never mad, kills Polonius, comes to terms with death, and thus also with life, finally kills Claudius, and dies himself. Good and evil, life and death, married in one man, as is the true nature of mankind. Without the ghost, Hamlet could not reach that fulfillment of himself.

In addition, the ghost has a great wodge of really powerful poetry, including one of my favourite bits, '... So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,/ Will sate itself in a celestial bed/ And prey on garbage.' Oh wow!

-- catherine england (, March 21, 2002.

what is the ghost in hamlet?

-- gloria garcia (, December 05, 2002.

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