Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Importance of a Ghost

Sam Montagna
Professor Mulready
Shakespeare I
5 November 2012

The Importance of the Ghost
           Things are definitely not as they seem in the House of Hamlet. This is abundantly clear from Act I, Scene I to Scene V. The ghost of King Hamlet plays a pivotal role in Act I. The ghost is the key to letting the audience know that there is something wrong. The mere fact that a ghost of the dead king is wondering around in the first scene is suspicious. The dead King, as a ghost, has not moved on and wonders around. The dead King says that he is “doomed for a certain term to walk the night,/ and for the day confined to fast in fires” (Shakespeare 1712-10-11). The ghost has unfinished business and, therefore, a purpose in the play. He cannot move on or at least find peace with his ghostly self until he accomplishes his goals.
            Before Hamlet speaks to the ghost, Hamlet seems like a rebellious teenager who is mad at his mother for remarrying. Claudius, at first, seems like a reasonable king who is mourning his brother and trying to comfort his nephew (and new step-son). Claudius announces “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death/ the memory be green, and that it us befitted/ to bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom/ to be contracted in one brow of woe” (1700-1701.1-4). Hamlet, before Scene V, does not have a credible honor. He is next in line for the throne and Polonius and Laertes do not even want Ophelia to spend time with him. In other plays, they would be pushing them to marry because of his royal status. Hamlet's apparent negative character outweighs the fact that Ophelia could become queen if they marry. Polonius says “In few, Ophelia,/ do not believe his vows, for they are brokers,/ not of the dye which their vestments show, but mere imploratators of unholy suits,/ breathing like sanctified and pious bawds/ the better to beguile” (1709.126-131). When Hamlet speaks to the ghost in Scene V, however, everything changes or at least, will be begin to change.
            The ghost reveals that he is Hamlet's father and he was not bitten by a snake. King Hamlet tells Hamlet that Claudius poisoned him and then married the weak and lustful queen. In addition, the ghost is angry because he was not given his last religious ritual and he is stuck in purgatory as a result. The ghost wants revenge. This sets the stage for the plot. Hamlet, then vows to kill Claudius, and as a result, he will become King. Hamlet vows “So uncle, there you are. Now to my word:/ it is 'Adieu, remember me'./ I have sworn't” (1714.111-113). The ghost's purpose was to give Hamlet purpose. Hamlet, before, was an angry student. Now, he is a rebel against the current king. His goals have focused to killing the King to revenge his dear father and make everything right again.


Vanessa Pavelock said...

I enjoyed how you explored the role of the ghost within the play Hamlet. You write in your post that the ghost is a figure who reveals the truth, expresses the injustice of his state, and ultimately inspires Hamlet to avenge his death. I believe that the ghost's long speech at 1.5.42 and Hamlet's response at 1.5.92 are extremely crucial parts of the play. Here, we see that the ghost of Hamlet's father is trying to incite action in his son by exposing how he has been wronged. He says, "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch of luxury and damned incest"-- telling Hamlet that he cannot sit back and let Claudius win. In response, Hamlet quickly becomes obsessed with his hatred towards Claudius and the idea of revenge. As you mentioned in your blog post, the ghost does not have the direct power to destroy Claudius. Instead, the roaming ghost does the next best thing-- he spurs such action in his son.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Hamlet behaves like a sullen teenager at the begining of the play. I thought he was a teenager! He is silently protesting what he does not approve of and can not control.
While Claudius does attempt to comfort Hamlet, he does a rough job of it. I think he is suspicious from the start becaus he married his brother's wife. I am also don't know why Hamlet wasn't crowned after his father's death.
In regards to Ophelia, I was thinking similarly to you. I was suprised her father and brother were not pushing her into a union with Hamlet. Wouldn't marrying her off to a future king be a score regardless of his character?
The ghost appears to be the catalyst Hamlet needs to take action about his unhappy circumstances.

Cyrus Mulready said...

It's great that you spend your post focusing on the ghost, Sam, perhaps one of the more underestimated but important characters in the play. His call for vengeance sets in motion the action of the play and gives the plot its purpose.

Just an aside: why is it so prominently thought that Hamlet is an adolescent? We'll see later in the play the evidence of his actual age (not in the teens!), but I'd be interested in hearing what people think about that question.