The Ghost in Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

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The Ghost in Hamlet

In Hamlet Shakespeare has designed a supernatural, ethereal character who lacks a physical existence, and yet who is a participating character in the drama. It is the Ghost, the subject of this essay.

Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes the ghost’s activity prior to the opening scene of Shakespeare’s tragedy:

The story opens in the cold and dark of a winter night in Denmark, while the guard is being changed on the battlements of the royal castle of Elsinore. For two nights in succession, just as the bell strikes the hour of one, a ghost has appeared on the battlements, a figure dressed in complete armor and with a face like that of the dead king of Denmark, Hamlet’s
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Horatio and Marcellus make contact with Hamlet and escort him to the ramparts of Elsinore. At one a.m. the Ghost, ironically a sinner suffering in the afterlife (West 110), reveals to the protagonist the extent of the evil within Elsinore, “the human truth” (Abrams 467). The Ghost says that King Hamlet I was murdered by Claudius, who had a relationship with Gertrude prior to the murder; the ghost requests a “restorative” revenge (Gooch 1) by Hamlet: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”

Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,

With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,--

O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power

So to seduce!--won to his shameful lust

The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:

O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there! (1.5)

The Ghost remains two-dimensional throughout the drama, lacking in complex temperament and motivation, which would render him “rounded” in the dramatist’s development (Abrams 33); in other words, he does not become one of Shakespeare’s “sharply etched characters” (Wilkie and Hurt 2155). Philip Edwards’ “The Ghost: Messenger from a Higher Court of Values?” explains the impact of the Ghost on the protagonist:

Hamlet is galvanized into activity by the news of the appearance of a ghost that resembles his
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