In Act 1:1 of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ the audience is shown the ghost of the dead King Hamlet and the genre of a revenge tragedy is introduced. The scene is set in the night which immediately creates a sense of mystery, intrigue and apprehension, linking to the feelings created by the idea of ghosts and the supernatural which were typical of Elizabethan revenge tragedy playwrights. Shakespeare also uses various language techniques to create this mood in this scene. The scene begins with the guard Bernardo asking the question ‘Who’s there?’ creating a tense mood of uncertainty. Half lines are also used by Shakespeare to create a broken rhythm in the conversation, increasing the feelings of insecurity and unease as the text does not flow. The discussion about the Ghost is full of contrasts and tensions showing the uncertainty felt by the characters. Marcellus states ‘Horatio says tis but our fantasy/ And will not let belief take hold of him’, showing the audience that Horatio is sceptical towards the existence of the supernatural. We see that Horatio is an educated, rational character as Marcellus seems to respect and depend on his opinion for deciding on the existence of the ghost. This loyalty in Horatio’s opinion juxtaposes with the treacherous news that Hamlet is about to receive regarding his father’s murder by Claudius. As Horatio is an educated character, his part-acceptance of the Ghost’s existence could persuade the audience to believe in the Ghost as well, as Horatio’s testimony is far more convincing than what the superstitious watchmen say. Marcellus goes on to call the Ghost ‘majestical’ but Horatio says that it acted ‘like a guilty thing’. This indicates that there’s confusion over the Ghost’s intentions and origin from the start. The Ghost also foreshadows the tragedy to come. Horatio wonders if it ‘bodes some strange relation to the eruption to our state’ and suspects the Ghost may have some supernatural knowledge of the ‘country’s fate’ which could save Denmark. This and the Ghost’s military uniform reminds the audience of the likelihood of war, building more tension. This and the Ghost’s silence when it enters build suspense and stronger feelings of uncertainty in both the characters and audience. The Ghost’s origin and motives are already being questioned without being resolved developing the theme of doubt; this is unusual for a typical Elizabethan revenge tragedy showing us that Shakespeare challenged traditional conventions. In Shakespeare’s time the church taught that revenge was a sin – it was wrong for a man to settle disputes himself as the Bible says revenge is God’s responsibility. This explains why when Hamlet sees the Ghost of his father he wonders whether it is the ‘devil’ in a ‘pleasing shape’ because it tempts him to commit the sin of revenge. This temptation emphasises Hamlet’s strong feelings of love and loyalty to his father as he is willing to go against God in order to please his father by avenging his death. The conflict between Christian values and the duty of blood revenge would have contradicted with the Protestant Church’s teachings and became a common theme in Elizabethan revenge theatre. This may have been because religious upheaval during the period made people question their beliefs. This means the audience may have been able to empathise more with Hamlet’s situation allowing him to build a stronger relationship with the audience and expose his emotions more throughout the play, especially during his soliloquies. Although the Ghost rejects Hamlet’s pitiful feelings, the Ghost’s first move is to stir it up by describing his purgatorial suffering. In Act 1 Scene 5 the Ghost terrifies Hamlet with the prospect of divine wrath but then calls upon Hamlet’s sense of filial duty to commit a deed that will condemn him to it. The Ghost described murder as ‘most foul, as in the best it is’, and the murder of a king who is also a near relative as ‘most foul, strange and unnatural’...
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