How is the ghost presented in Act One of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’? What impact would it have had on its original audience?
Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ is a tragic story about love, death and hatred. In order to see what impact the ghost would have had on its original audience we have to look at a number of aspects such as, the language, the physical appearance of the ghost, the structure of the act and an understanding of the ghost’s own words.
The play ‘Hamlet’ is a 19th century tale. It’s about the King of Denmark who dies and comes back as a spirit. During this time his wife, Gertrude (who is queen of Denmark), goes and gets married to the King’s brother Claudius.
Hamlet, who is their son, reacts badly to their marriage because he still hasn’t got over his father’s death. This leads to tension and ends in a tragic way.
If this play was to be shown to a modern audience today, then they would or might have a completely different reaction to the original audience depending on their beliefs. The original audience seeing a ghost seeing a ghost would have made them think that there might be a secret to be revealed or the ghost might have unfinished business.
At the beginning of Act One Scene One Shakespeare has started off with minor characters because he doesn’t want to have a huge impact on the audience and this also helps to build tension. If Shakespeare had started off with major characters then there wouldn’t have been a build up of tension and therefore the impact on the audience wouldn’t be as exciting or as realistic as if starting off with minor characters.
Shakespeare describes the ghost’s physical appearance before the ghost actually appears. This is because Shakespeare wants to create an image of the ghost’s physical appearance in the audiences’ minds, so that when the ghost does come on, they will be aware of its physical appearance.
The ghost’s physical appearance is described in a number of places during the first scene. Horatio, who is Hamlet’s friend, describes the ghost as “fair and warlike form.” When Horatio says, “warlike form,” this shows the audience that the ghost is wearing armour which symbolizes war. In this case it might be because the ghost has come back for revenge or he has got some unfinished business. Barnardo who is also a guard, describes the figure of the ghost as “the same figure, like the king’s that dead.” Here the audience get two pieces of information. First of all they find out that the ghost is the king and secondly that it is the spirit of the dead king which means that it is Hamlet’s father.
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In the Zefferelli version of ‘Hamlet’, they miss out the first scene and start with a completely different setting. In the script the setting is outside on a dark night outside the palace with the guards on watch. But in the Zefferelli version it starts off with the King’s funeral maybe because he wants the audience to be aware of the King’s death and maybe a sign to show that he might come up again during the play. Meaning that if Zefferelli wanted to, then he could have missed the King’s funeral out, but he didn’t because it’s an important issue to help the audience understand the play.
During the first scene there are a lot of questions raised. For example when one of the guards named Marcellus says “What, has this thing appeared again tonight?” This means that the ghost has been coming for the past few nights. This raises the question as to why the ghost has been coming back. This makes the audience feel that the ghost has been coming back because his soul is not at peace. When the ghost is shown in the first scene Horatio says, “Stay! Speak, speak. I charge thee to speak.” This shows the audience that Horatio is ordering the ghost to speak but in return the ghost does not say a word. This raises the question as to why the ghost will not speak. Also Shakespeare might not want the ghost to speak because he wants the tension to rise so that there is a huge impact on the audience when the ghost does speak. During the first scene not a lot of information given out this is also to support the fact that Shakespeare doesn’t want a huge impact on the audience.
In this scene Hamlet has come with his friend Horatio to see the ghost. Horatio and the other guards had decided to tell Hamlet about the ghost at the end of scene one. When Hamlet sees the ghost for himself, he starts to describe what he sees in a shocked kind of manor. The ghost beckons Hamlet and he follows but Horatio and Marcellus try to stop but then Hamlet threatens them and they let him go.
At the beginning of scene four Shakespeare has started off with major characters and not with minor characters because the tension is rising so he wants the impact on the audience to be the same. Meaning he wants to share the tension between the characters and the audience. This makes the audience more involved and more enjoyable for them to watch.
In this scene the ghost’s physical appearance is described mostly by Hamlet. When Hamlet sees the ghost for the first time, he says, “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” When he says, “angels,” this shows the audience that he is religious and then when he says, “ministers of grace defend us,” this shows the audience how scared Hamlet is. Another place where the audience can see that Hamlet is religious is when he says “spirit of health,” which shows he is asking protection from God. He describes the ghost as “King, father, royal Dane.” All of these things are related to fit his father. This shows the audience that the relationship between Hamlet and the King might have been a strong relationship. Hamlet also describes the ghost’s physical appearance as “ponderous and marble jaws.” Here the ghost is being personified meaning that the ghost is been given human qualities to make the audience have a threatening or powerful image of the ghost in their minds. While Hamlet is saying this, the impression that the audience get from him at this moment in time is that, he is out of control. This is because he flicks from one topic to another and is still shocked from seeing the ghost. This is shown when Hamlet says, “Say, why is this? wherefore? What should we do?” Horatio mentions the ghost’s physical appearance when he is trying to stop Hamlet from following the ghost. Horatio says, “horrible form.”
Tension is at its highest levels when Horatio and Marcellus try to stop him going to see the ghost when the ghost beckons him. They do this because they think that the ghost might do something to Hamlet. Horatio says, “dreadful summit off the cliff.” Meaning that he might be pushed off a cliff by the ghost if Hamlet goes. And then a line after that Horatio says “base into the sea.” This shows the audience that at the end it will lead Hamlet to the sea. Meaning he might be drowned. Another argument that Horatio uses to stop Hamlet from following the ghost is “And draw you into madness.” This shows the audience that if Hamlet goes then he might get mad. Hamlet then says in an ordering tone to his friends “I’ll follow thee,” and “Hold off your hands.” Meaning that he will follow the ghost and no one can stop him. When Hamlet and the ghost have gone
The audience gets some more information near the end of the scene as to why the ghost has come back. Marcellus says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Meaning that if the ghost has come back then there is something wrong with the nation. Marcellus says, “Nay let’s follow him.” Meaning that they are going to follow Hamlet, in case of any danger to him from the ghost.
During scene four the relationship between Hamlet and his friends are not that strong as to when in scene one which seemed that they were good friends because we knew that Horatio was Hamlet’s fellow friend. Even thought Hamlet has reacted badly to what Horatio or Marcellus have said, they still follow him for his safety. This shows the audience that Horatio and Marcellus don’t take Hamlet’s words strongly. Meaning that they don’t care what he says but they will still look out for him.
The impact on the audience during this scene has been a great deal. This is because it was a short scene and had quite a lot of tension in it but not as much as the next scene after which has the most tension in it. Also because Shakespeare might be preparing the audience for more tension which is to come.
In scene five we actually get to hear the ghost speak. He reveals to Hamlet as to why he has come back and what he must do.
Shakespeare has started again from major characters which means that there is going to be a huge impact on the audience and also a lot of tension.
The first thing that the ghost says is, “Mark me.” The audience know that he is going to reveal as to why he is hear because he says, ”Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold.” We then told that he wants Hamlet to go and get revenge after he has told him as to why he has come back. The impact on the audience is that they are hearing the ghost speak for the first time which, for them, might symbolize tension depending on their beliefs.
The ghost then goes on to say, “To tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood.” This shows the audience that this is going to be shocking or seem unreal to them when the ghost is going to tell his story. Hamlet and the audience might be feeling the same thing at this point in time. With hatred, the ghost reveals another thing to the audience, he says, “Revenge is foul and most unnatural murder.” The audience might be feeling very tense now because the word “murder” has come up and there will be a mention of it later on because if it wasn’t going to come up then it wouldn’t have been mentioned.
When the ghost says, “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears the crown.” This is the most important thing that the ghost tells Hamlet and the audience. This means that the present king now, who is Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, killed his father. The impact on the audience has increased by this sentence. This is because the murderer is actually Hamlet’s uncle and now the relationship between Hamlet and his uncle will not be strong at all and this will also cause tension to rise. The ghost then goes on to tell about how the murder happened and what he wants Hamlet to do. When the ghost leaves, the impact on the audience goes down. Maybe because the tension part of the scene is over and they are a tiny bit relaxed but still have to think about what the ghost has said. From this the audience know that there is going to be conflict between Hamlet and his uncle. When he is able to he is going to do things that remind his uncle of what he has done.
The relationship between the ghost and Hamlet seem to be a close relationship because the ghost hasn’t spoken to anyone except Hamlet. This shows that Hamlet is the only one he can trust and depend on doing his work for him. The relationship between the ghost and his brother, Claudius, doesn’t seem to be a good relationship because he describes him as a “serpent,” and also because he killed him. This raises the question as to why Claudius killed his brother.
Shakespeare uses different ways to reach the original audience to see what impact it has on them. Throughout the play tension is always rising.