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"Spirit of health or goblin damned?" How do we understand the ghost in Act 1 Scene 5 of Hamlet?

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Introduction

"Spirit of health or goblin damned?" How do we understand the ghost in Act 1 Scene 5 of Hamlet? From the opening scene of the play, the ghost of Hamlet the King of Denmark is a figure that is shrouded in mystery. Only appearing in the dead of night, and moving "like a guilty thing", it's intentions remain uncertain until Act 1 Scene 5. Despite giving it's reasons for it's "walking of the night", the issue of the ambiguity of the ghost continues to arise, and no question is more prominent in the minds of the audeince than it's intentions: "wicked or charitable?" Having guided the main character Hamlet away from his company of Horatio and Marcellus, Shakespeare uses hendiadys when the ghost decribes the catholic perception of hell: "sulphorous and tormenting flames". This proves to be a common feature of the ghost's idiom, and this quotation in particular solves a certain aspect of the mystery that had surrounded the apparition since it's haunting appearance in the first scene; the ghost is catholic. The "torment" of purgatory that he describes is a catholic concept. However, as the audience will discover, there are many more aspects of ambiguity to the character. ...read more.

Middle

I feel the sentence gains its power from the of the verb "sting"; to sting a life seems considerably more terrible than to take a life. The ghost's narrative of the murder is full of vivid description, such as "with vile and loathsome crust all my body", this is done in an elaborate fashion in order to confirm the audiences suspicions of Claudius to dramatic effect, but more importantly to provoke emotion in the already unstable Hamlet. The audience are reminded of Hamlet's reference in the previous scene to "the stamp of one defect". Could this be his weakness, will the murder of his father prove to be his his downfall, will he "take corruption from that particular fault"? The heroes of Shakespeare's tradgedies are plagued by a small weakness that proves to be their downfall; the audience is always aware of what the outcome will be. "Let not the royal bed of denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest." This metaphor, in which Shakespeare yet again makes use of hendiadys, demonstrates another aspect of ambiguity in a play that is riddled with contrtadictions. Were Gertrude and Claudius having an "incestious" relationship before the death of the king? ...read more.

Conclusion

The question of the soul of the former king arises again through the character's location below the ground. However, Hamlet's language is jovial when adressing the ghost beneath the stage; "this fellow in the cellerage". Shakespeare is almost ridiculing the audiences belief in the ghost and the limits of stagecraft at the time in this clear reference to the area beneath the stage in the Globe Theatre. Despite Shakespeare's realistic approach to the metaphor of purgatory, and the Elizabthan stage, the end of the scene certainly does not lack power or emotion as Hamlet swears to avenge his father's death. To conclude, the ghost remains one of the most prominent aspects of the plays ambiguity. The plot is riddled with mystery and questionable outcomes, and I feel that this stems from the appearnce of the ghost in the opening scene. The question of it's religion and incentive, are key issues that in 1600 would leave a protestant Elizabethan audience questioning the reliablity of a Catholic ghost; Shakespeare's paradoxes are evident. Furthermore, I feel that the apparition represents Hamlet's conflicting emotions and the moral diallema that will prove to be his downfall. The ghost is not merely a questionable figure of purgatory, but the character that represents the confusion of Prince Hamlet, and him on to a confused quest for revenge that proves to be the downfall of many. ...read more.

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