The Ghost in "Hamlet"

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The ghost is the first thing we are introduced to in the play. It is seen by two guards and Horatio. The guards first refer to it as "the thing" then the "apparition." This is a deliberate ambiguity used to show the fear of the guards and to evoke the curiosity of the audience.

The ghost is a very important character in Hamlet though it appears in few scenes. Its importance rises from the fact that it is through the ghost that we get to know how the father of Hamlet died before the play started. When Hamlet sees the ghost of his father, the latter tells him about "a murder most foul." He tells hamlet that he was poisoned by his own brother Claudius.

But, the ghost is not important just because it is a prologue ghost but rather because it is also a revenge ghost. The apparition asks hamlet to revenge his death. It is the ghost that plants the idea of revenge in the mind of Hamlet. Earlier in the play Hamlet was lamenting the death of his father, dressed in black as a sign of his grief, angry with his mother because she married so soon "ere those shoes were old/ With which she followed my poor father's body,." But his grief was passive. It is the ghost which evokes revenge in him. Thus, if the ghost did not exist the whole story won't have happened. This makes the ghost of king Hamlet a driving force in the play.

Shakespeare kept the nature of the ghost a mystery hovering over the play. He takes care not to reveal it. We never know if the ghost is good or evil spirit. To understand this idea we have to go back to the Elizabethan belief during that period of time. Most Catholics believed that ghosts could be the spirits of the dead coming from the purgatory to finish unfinished matters so their wandering souls may find rest. However, the Protestants didn't believe in the existence of the purgatory though they believed in apparitions. According to the Protestants all apparitions are evil and they are not the spirit of the dead but rather evil spirits which take the shape of dead people and come to cause destruction on earth.

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"The Ghost in "Hamlet"." 23 Jun 2018
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Hamlet doubts the identity of the ghost and the place from which it comes. Is it his father's spirit or a devil or even an angel? But he says:

"If it assumes my noble father's person,

I'll speak to it though hell itself should gape

And bid me hold my peace."

So, the ghost in Hamlet can be seen as a devil which came from hell to spoil Hamlet's life and cause his spiritual damnation by encouraging him to kill Claudius, or it could be really the ghost of Hamlet's father coming from the purgatory to impose justice on earth.

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