• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Discuss the significance of the ghost in Act 1

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

Discuss the dramatic significance of the ghost in Act 1. "It harrows me with fear and wonder." Horatio's expressive words on first encountering the ghost in Hamlet are reflective of the concerns that were preeminent in the minds of the Elizabethans of Shakespeare's time with regards the supernatural. The influence of the people's rampant belief in ghosts, witches and superstitious ideas is evident on the pages of such Shakespearean works as Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Richard III. This idea of ghosts triggered a sense of fear, and instigated thought on matters such as death and the afterlife. The appearance of King Hamlet's ghost is thus not only typical of the era in which the play was supposedly written, as well as typical of other Shakespearean works, but brings to mind issues which are still widely debated today. Act 1 begins with a change of guards at the Elsinore castle, an active scene which has been interpreted by some to set off the tension in the play. The guards on duty, Marcellus and Barnardo, attempt to convince Horatio of an 'apparition', a 'dreaded sight' which they had twice previously seen. Horatio, however, is filled with disbelief, proclaiming, "Tush, tush, 'twill not appear." The repetition of the word 'tush' in this alliterative statement draws our attention to his doubts of the ghost's appearance, and thus makes it even more dramatic when the ghost suddenly appears. The setting of the first scene on the castle battlements past midnight, and the manner in which the ghost's previous appearances are described by the guards, employing such adjectives as 'dreaded' and references to heaven and the "star...where now it burns" all come together to create a fearful scene. These all pave the way for the appearance of the ghost, and further dramatic description of it and its actions. The way the ghost moves and acts, seen in the use of sibilance in "See, it stalks away", and in the stage directions, "It spreads his arms" can be described as frightening and haunting. ...read more.

Middle

The appearance and words of the ghost confirms the speculation by the guards and Horatio that "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." This is reminiscent of where Horatio earlier points out, making use of alliteration, that "this bodes some strange eruption to our state." There is a lot of war imagery used in this Act, including "...assail your ears/ That are so fortified..." and "martial stalk". The Danes are worried that war will be waged on them by Fortinbras of Norway, and thus the reason for people working to make weapons day and night, and guards watching the palace all night long. The ghost only seems to buffer these thoughts, appearing in "warlike form" and wearing the same armour which King Hamlet had on when he "combated" Norway. However, the ghost's calling of Hamlet aside is significant as it proves that he has appeared for a more private reason than those concerning the wars of Denmark. The evocative and vivid language which the ghost employs in speaking to Hamlet about purgatory is highly significant as it encourages Hamlet to spur to action in avenging his father's death. The ghost states that he is 'doomed for a certain term to walk the night' and in the day to "fast in fires". The alliteration in the last phrase places emphasis on the suffering which he is going through. He further describes purgatory with the imagery of a "prison house" and says, in a simile, that should he detail Hamlet on the secrets of purgatory, his hairs would stand on end like quills upon a 'fretful porpentine'. The ghost also introduces the idea of murder in the play, stating alliteratively, "Murder most foul." Orders are also given to Hamlet by the ghost such as "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" and the haunting "Remember me." All of these factors come together to make Hamlet pity his father and be even more prepared to seek his father's revenge. ...read more.

Conclusion

The ghost charges him to avenge his father's death and, should he slack, the ghost reappears to urge him to carry out the revenge. For instance, the ghost appears when Hamlet is being violent towards his mother later on in the play, rather than paying full attention to what he had been charged to do- to revenge. However, the fact that the ghost is present in the play means that we, and Hamlet, can question the validity of what the ghost says. The whole basis of the revenge lies on the words of the ghost, but what if the ghost is an illusion of Hamlet's? What if the ghost leads Hamlet to destruction, as is hinted at by Horatio's rhetorical question "Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason/ And draw you into madness?" This is notably the first hint at madness in the play, and Hamlet, perhaps having doubts about what the ghost says, delays his revenge and sets out to find proof for himself. He wants proof to assure himself that the ghost's words are valid, and thus he puts on a 'play within a play' on the theme of his father's death called the Murder of Gonzago to watch the reaction of his uncle. Whilst he delays his revenge, Hamlet does pretend to be mad, fulfilling Horatio's prediction in a manner. The result of all of this is that Ophelia, his lover, actually turns mad and commits suicide. The play is thus, very importantly, set off by the appearance of the ghost. He is a sort of catalyst to the subsequent events of the play. Described in Act 1 as a "portentous figure", the ghost does not fail to fulfil its potential as the initial trigger which led to the chain of events that make up the plot of this play. The significance of the ghost in this Act is therefore highly important, as the ghost's appearance, words an actions, are the basis on which the rest of the play is built. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Hamlet section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)

The writer has a good knowledge of the text but should ensure that the question is addressed more analytically and less descriptively. Context is used effectively and much of the textual analysis achieves a good standard. ****

Marked by teacher Karen Reader 08/03/2012

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Hamlet essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Explore the "loving mother-son" relationship between Gertrude and Hamlet, with focus on language.

    4 star(s)

    To us, Ophelia is the personification of goodness. Very much like Gertrude, young Ophelia is childlike and naive. Unlike Queen Gertrude, Ophelia has good reason to be unaware of the harsh realities of life. She is very young, and has lost her mother, possibly at birth.

  2. Marked by a teacher

    Explore how Shakespeare examines the theme of revenge in Hamlet.

    3 star(s)

    And that would be an inadequate revenge. The phrase 'Revenge is a dish best served cold' comes to mind and means vengeance is often satisfying if it is delayed.

  1. Marked by a teacher

    The Downward Spiral of Hamlet.

    3 star(s)

    Polonius allows himself to appear as a caring well doing dad, when he really is a spying, manipulative man. By Polonius wearing a mask, and not showing his true colors he adds to the plot of the play because Hamlet felt betrayed by Ophelia.

  2. How does Shakespeare present aspects of love in Hamlet?

    Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation: to this point I stand, that both the words I give to negligence, let come what comes; only I'll be revenged most thoroughly for my father'. The characters relationship is understated compared to others however Shakespeare successfully shows true love between them.

  1. Compare and Contrast theCharacters Hamlet and Laertes.

    For two months he procrastinates, and he chides himself for doing so. Hamlet agonizes over what he is to do, and how he is to avenge the murder of his father. Whilst Laertes acts on impulse, and on a tryst with Claudius arising from the emotions of anger and revenge,

  2. Critical review of 'Hamlet'

    thoughts that she should 'set your entreatments at a higher rate', telling her not to associate with Hamlet. However, after her death he has a short spell of anger towards Laertes at her gravesite due to who loved her more.

  1. The Dramatic Function of Ophelia in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'.

    rose / From the fair forehead of an innocent love / And sets a blister there" (III iv 42- 45) The juxtaposition of the beautiful fragility of a 'rose,' (perhaps symbolic of Ophelia) and the 'blister' emphasises the extent of Hamlet's damage.

  2. How does Shakespeare create and maintain our interest in Act One of Hamlet?

    The first dialogue that we receive from the characters capture the audience as their lines are short and quick and they are very responsive to each other, 'Who's there?/Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself./ Long live the King!/Barnardo?/He.' This shows the audience that they are terrified and we are

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work