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Examine the presentation of the ghost in 'Hamlet' and the differing reactions to him. How would a seventeenth century audience's response differ from one today?

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Introduction

'Angels and ministers of grace defend us/ Be thou a sprit of health or a goblin damn'd' Examine the presentation of the ghost in 'Hamlet' and the differing reactions to him. How would a seventeenth century audience's response differ from one today? The ghost in 'Hamlet' is the character that causes the initial conflict between Hamlet and Claudius and who introduces the revenge motif. The element of a paranormal being in the play makes 'Hamlet' much more exciting due to the fact that it is not just "real life" but has aspects of an afterworld which to the Elizabethan audience would be comforting and reassuring. The first sighting of the ghost in 'Hamlet' is in the opening Act and scene. Francisco is on watch on the gun platform of Ellsinore Castle. It is midnight and Barnardo comes to take over. Francisco is very happy to be relieved; it is bitterly cold and he feels 'sick at heart'. As he leaves, he encounters Marcellus and Horatio on their way to join Barnardo. Marcellus asks Barnardo whether 'this thing' (the ghost) ...read more.

Middle

It dwells luridly upon Gertrude's sexual depravity but then tells Hamlet not to think ill of her. The Ghost's moral code is a mass of contradictions, which could confuse Hamlet as to what exactly the ghost wants him to do. During this scene Shakespeare signals to the audience Hamlet's unfitness for the role of revenge hero by the clever use of a confused simile. In the quote from 'Hate me to know't, that I with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love/ May sweep to my revenge' the middle part of the quote is deliberately out of place with the sentiments the situation demands. The Ghost's response is a cunning mixture of ironic praise and implied criticism: 'I find thee apt/ And duller shouldst thou be.../ Wouldst thou not stir in this'. 'Dullness', and a feeling of failure to live up to what is expected of him, is something that Hamlet castigates himself for a number of times before being sent to England (with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) by Claudius halfway through Act 4. The Ghost's narrative of the murder is graphic and gruesome in its horrible details. ...read more.

Conclusion

Hamlet kills Polonius who was eavesdropping on Hamlet and his mother's conversation by accident as he thought it was the King. The lack of remorse for his actions shocks Gertrude as she talks of it as a 'bloody deed' but Hamlet manages to throw back the phrase at her and retorts in a jeering couplet: 'A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother, / As kill a king and marry with his brother'. When the ghost appears, this time not 'in complete steel' but 'in his habit as he lived' only Hamlet can see it and Gertrude believes Hamlet is still mad. For the Elizabethan audience the appearance of the ghost in 'Hamlet' would scare and frighten the audience immensely. Unlike today Elizabethan theatregoers would not have access to television and horror films so any representation of the supernatural would be terrifying for them. A historical writer at the time even tells of how an audience ran out of a theatre because they thought the ghost on stage was real! Today with the advances in technology and special effects on television a modern day audience would have a much less response on seeing the ghost in 'Hamlet' because they feel comfortable in knowing the ghost is just being played by a human actor. ...read more.

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