Ghost in Hamlet

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  • Topic: Hamlet, Characters in Hamlet, Ghost
  • Pages : 7 (1703 words )
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  • Published : March 20, 2013
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The Role of the Ghost in Hamlet by William Shakespeare 

The role of the ghost in Hamlet is twofold: firstly it is to create  interest; secondly it is to further the narrative of the play. 

Shakespeare recognized that he needed to create interest in the  audience from the very first scene of the play. 

The play opens with a conversation between Officers of the Watch who  patrol the Battlements of Elsinore castle. Their talk is of a ghost  who has appeared before twice previously: 

" What, has this thing appeared again tonight?" 

Immediately this arouses the audience's curiosity. What is the nature  of 'this thing' that has appeared? 

Horatio, who has not seen the ghost, voices the scepticism that some  of the audience may have been feeling: 

" Tush, Tush, 'twill not appear". 

Suspense is therefore created in the minds of the audience i.e. will  the ghost actually appear; does the ghost exist? 

The character of Horatio is contrasted with that of Barnardo,  Francisco and Marcellus. 

Barnardo, Francisco and Marcellus are believers in the ghost, whereas  Horatio, who is highly educated, unlike Barnardo, Francisco and  Marcellus, questions the ghost existence. 

When the ghost finally appears in line 40, cutting short Barnardo's  line, it is a moment of high drama resulting from the tension that has  been created. 

The appearance of the ghost has a huge impact on both the characters  and the audience (who together with Horatio see the ghost for the  first time). Horatio, sceptic, expresses his fear and amazement in the  first line he speaks since seeing the ghost: 

"…. It harrows me with fear and wonder". 

The audience would have been filled with similar emotions on seeing  the ghost, and would have realised that the appearance of the ghost  signifies that something is wrong. Elizabethans believed that only  people who died without the chance of confessing their sins walked the  earth as troubled spirits. Horatio questions the ghost, which  disappears mysteriously without speaking. When the ghost fails to  speak, it adds to the tension of the scene and the apprehension of the  characters. 

The ghost makes a second appearance in Act 1 Scene 1 after Horatio has  talked about preparations for war with Norway. This sets up the idea  in the minds of the audience that the ghost may have something to do  with the on going war, but, again the ghost does not speak, and so the  audience is left with unanswered questions. This sense of mystery  sustains interest and builds suspense in the preparation for scene 2. 

At this point the nature of the ghost is ambiguous. Is it a good  ghost, it appears in the form of Old Hamlet, or is it an "erring  spirit"? 

It disappeared when the cock crowed i.e. at first light. The audience  would have known that light represent goodness, and dark represents  evil. Horatio comments: 

"And then it started like a guilty thing". 

The audience would have been left wondering why the word 'guilty' had  been applied to the ghost. Is the ghost to be trusted, or not? The  only thing person who can decide is Hamlet: 

"Let us impart what we have seen tonight unto young Hamlet…." 

In the next scene Horatio tells Hamlet after some prevarication, that  he has seen his fathers ghost. Hamlet is thoroughly depressed because  his mother Gertrude, has re-married very quickly. To make matters  worse, she has married Claudius, Old Hamlets brother, whom young  Hamlet mis-trusts. This is a man 

"With one auspicious and one dropping eye" 

Which an Elizabethan audience, would have recognized as the sign of a  hypocrite. 

Horatio describes the ghost to Hamlet, emphasising that the ghost  appears to look like Old Hamlet: 

"…. A figure like your father armed exactly, cap-a-pe" 

And is dressed in armour. Hamlet wants to know everything about the  ghost, where it appeared, whether it spoke etc, and through his short,  excited questions which he utters in...
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