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What does the role of the Ghost of King Hamlet add to the beginning of the play? Consider how Shakespeare creates mood, atmosphere and uses the ghost to advance and reveal the plot.

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Introduction

What does the role of the Ghost of King Hamlet add to the beginning of the play? Consider how Shakespeare creates mood, atmosphere and uses the ghost to advance and reveal the plot. The play opens in an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. The opening scene depicts the changing of the guard at Elsinore, where tension and fear are created by use of conversation and description. As Bernado is approached by an unknown figure, the first words are a question: 'Who's there?' Francisco does not feel sufficiently confident to disclose his identity, only establishing his loyalty to the King. When Horatio and Marcellus arrive, this pattern is repeated. Bernado exclaims ''tis now struck twelve', pointing out that it is midnight and reinforcing the idea introduced by the men when they strive to identify each other that all is dark. Francisco mentions the 'bitter cold' in the first few lines also, so the reader realises the conditions endured by the men. Shakespeare often refers to the circumstances regarding climate and visibility to indicate to his audience the setting, because scene lighting could not be changed dramatically in his time, as performances in the Globe Theatre were shown in the afternoon. Marcellus, Francisco and Bernado reveal their tension by speaking brief sentences until they begin to discuss what has happened the two nights before. Horatio does not believe in this 'dreaded sight twice seen'. Francisco arrives punctually, demonstrating that he is anxious to hear news of the ghost but to no avail, as there has been no sighting. ...read more.

Middle

Shakespeare delays the scene in which Hamlet learns of his father's ghost until we have witnessed his difficult relationship with Claudius his one time uncle, now his step-father, and his newly remarried mother, Gertrude. In scene two, Horatio, Marcellus and Bernado decide to consult Hamlet about the unearthly visitant that they have encountered three nights in a row. They inform him that this fiend resembles the late King and Horatio gets straight to the point when Hamlet mentions his father. Hamlet is eager to learn about this ghost and promises to visit the guards upon their platform ''twixt eleven and twelve' to witness it for himself. Whilst the three men are conferring with Hamlet, it gives him some time for bitter reflection on the speed of his mother's remarriage, 'The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables'. Hamlet is referring ironically to the hot flesh, served at his father's funeral, exclaiming that the meat was distributed cold at his mother's wedding. Evidently he is still mourning his father, and does not wholly approve of his mother's insensitivity in forgetting her late husband and moving on to his brother so rapidly. Hamlet tells Horatio in no uncertain terms that he would rather have died than seen the day of his mother's second marriage and makes it clear that he is disgruntled about the jovial attitudes of the courts and his family. The conversation between Hamlet and his associates provides Shakespeare with a chance to describe the Ghost's terrifying appearance and ominous presence. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Ghost lures Hamlet into a trap by saying this, as he is unable to refuse to help his father on family moral grounds. The apparition discloses that his assassin 'now wears his crown', to which Hamlet replies with great gusto 'oh my prophetic soul!' He means by this that the suspicions of foul-play that he had predicted have proved accurate. Shakespeare uses lots of negative and emotive language in the Ghost's speeches, i.e. 'incestuous', 'adulterate', 'traitorous' whilst describing his brother Claudius and his affair with his wife, Gertrude. 'Incestuous' seems rather a harsh word for this type of extra-marital activity, as the culprits are not blood-related, but in Shakespeare's time it would be an apt description of the act between sibling-in-laws. Furthermore, the King's ghost requests that Hamlet must revenge his father's death whilst not punishing his mother in any way for her crime, as he sees Gertrude largely as a victim. He believes that Claudius, who committed this shocking act of treason, seduced her with his wily ways so she should be disciplined by God. To this plea for retribution from his father, Hamlet replies with great empathy, understanding what has to be done and promising 'now to my word; I have sworn't'. In conclusion, the role of the Ghost of King Hamlet is to provide a structure to the play, he is the backbone of the story, unveiling the plot and supplying the audience with a high pitch of expectations. Shakespeare creates peaks of fear and tension by using atmospheric lexis throughout the periods that the ghost appears and disappears. ...read more.

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