Consider the significance of the Hamlet's ghost to the play in relation to the characters and the audience, both contemporary and Elizabethan.
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Susana Corona Cruz Consider the significance of the Hamlet's ghost to the play in relation to the characters and the audience, both contemporary and Elizabethan. Hamlet was written some time between 1599 and 1609. During those times revenge tragedies were very popular and ghosts were not an unusual feature. Similarly to the Senecan ghost used in Elizabethan times, Shakespeare's ghost acts as a prologue and sets up the action of the play, it introduces the plot line which irremediably leads to the later tragic consequences. However Hamlet's ghost was in many ways a "revolutionary innovation" and broke previous conventions of ghosts. Unlike its predecessor, the Senecan ghost, a "kind of Jack-in-the-box" (J.W.D) which was no more than a spook puppet used to scare the audience, undoubtedly adding "to the intense edification of the groundlings"; Hamlet's ghost had a much more human and realistic appearance. It was said to have been the figure of the old king Hamlet, still dressed in his old armour "Together with that fair and warlike form" and surrounded by an edgy, cold and frightening environment in which typically ghosts appear "'Tis bitter cold". The ghost disappeared at the sound of the cock crow, when the morning dawned; "(...)
With all my imperfections on my head, O, horrible, horrible! Most horrible!" This declaration also reflects how scared people were of dying without having a chance to purge their sins, of dying unexpectedly without opportunity to cleanse their souls. Which altogether bring us to the reason why Hamlet didn't at first kill King Claudius, as he thought he was praying and asking forgiveness and therefore didn't want to send him to heaven, he wanted to surprise him in a more sinful situation so he would instead suffer and burn in hell's smouldering flames. Despite his revengeful intentions, we cannot help but admire, not an ordinary spirit, but that of a "majestical" king, the spirit of a troubled father who very much loved his son and wanted him to amend what had been set wrong, seeking in him hopes of reparation for his later resting in peace. This was for the Elizabethans a new, exciting and overwhelming character that for them posed challenging questions appealing to their much mixed and confused spiritual backgrounds. "(...) But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison house," A description like the one above would have most certainly scared the Elizabethan audience, as they were very familiar with the afterlife and feared the unknown, what their imagination could produce was in fact worse than what the ghost could tell them.
Are its intents wicked or charitable? There is no right answer to these questions, for Shakespeare cleverly set an unbiased situation in the play, so that each of us could individually make our own conclusions. To begin with, this ghost was in fact an honest ghost, as it did tell the truth about how his brother had murdered him. However was this spirit's demand for revenge justified? Obviously we can see clearly that the ghost had a motive, and we would all agree that King Claudius would deserve no less punishment. But was it right for Hamlet to take justice in his hands, shouldn't he had better left it to God? We can't either forget the tragic consequences the intervention of the Ghost caused. It leaded to no more than a successive chain of deaths, dragging along innocent blood like that of the sweet Ophelia and her father Polonius. The whole play evolves around the apparition of the ghost, whose appearance irreparably alters and entails to the royal family's destruction. Nonetheless, the presence of the ghost becomes less significant by the end of the play. He eventually fades away, as in the end everything seems to take its course naturally, and Hamlet kill Claudius in the spur of the moment (Claudius having accidentally poisoned his mother and having tried to poison him for the same matter) rather than acting in favour of the ghost's revenge.
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