The sentinels, Barnardo, Francisco, Marcellus and even the sceptical Horatio are present at the time the ghost appears. A bewildered Horatio could hardly believe his own eyes when contemplating the old dead king’s figure; “Before my God, I might not this believe Without the sensible and true avouch Of my own eyes”. We even have previous evidence of the ghost appearances on two separate nights before the play opens, when Barnardo and Marcellus are guarding the castle’s doors and reveal to us: “Thus twice before, and jump at this dead our,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch” In this way, Shakespeare has carefully moulded our ghost into a very convincing figure, that with an ultimate total of four appearances and four witnesses (one of them a disbeliever! ) builds up a very solid accumulation of incidental evidence, which has no other purpose than to assure us of its authenticity before it appears to Hamlet. “For Hamlet, and I believe the audience also, are later to entertain doubts about the Ghost, not of its reality but of its nature; (…
)” Coming back to the popular perceptions of ghosts in the times this play was written, it was also believed that ghosts could come from purgatory, it would have come back for a reason, to set right any undone affairs, to give a message of love to dear ones as opposed to, in the worst of cases, to get revenge or reprisal against someone or something. This was of course, the purpose of old Hamlet’s ghost. However spiteful the idea of revenge might seem, we have to take into account how deeply hurt he was by his brother’s betrayal; “Cut off even in the blossoms of my sins,
Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled (… ) 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. That our present audience have over the years increasingly changed towards their religious beliefs and have overtime become more sceptical, therefore finding Hamlet’s ghost too silly, is not Shakespeare’s fault.
He indeed did create an ingenious piece of work by creating this ghost, while we look at it as ridicule and childish, most surely, Shakespeare’s audience, “judicious” or “generality” did not, they regarded it as a very realistic and frightening issue, “To them, (… ), the next world was an intense and everpresent reality; (… )” Thus, we can conclude that unquestionably this was a genuine ghost, neither the audience or the characters themselves for a second doubt its realism. However, Hamlet appears to be a little cautious at the beginning and doubts its origin and intentions,
“Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked or charitable (… )”. He, however, doesn’t doubt its authenticity and without hesitation accepts him as a spirit. Hamlet might have doubts regarding the ghost’s nature and shows himself a little suspicious on this matter, but nonetheless he recognises and accepts him as his father’s spirit immediately, “That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee Hamlet, King, father, royal Dane. O, answer me!
” Hamlet shows desperation and anxiety in discovering what might have brought his father back from the grave, and reveals his previous suspicions on some foul deed having been committed; “O, my prophetic soul”. Hamlet expected something like this to have happened. He immediately accepts the ghost’s version of the story and commits himself to revenge even before he knows of what has happened; “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge. ”
But even after having devoted himself to commit this task set by his beloved father’s spirit, he later doubts of its goodness; “The spirit that I have seen May be a devil, and the devil hath power T’assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy,” Despite his concerns, he stills set his heart on this mission, as he is an anguished and heartsick son, deeply grieving the loss of his father; “O all you host of Heaven! O earth! What else? And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart! (… ) And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain,”
To clear his doubts, Hamlet then decides to get the mummers to play “The Murder of Ghonzago”, (hence the play within the play) in order to prove whether the ghost was truthful in his revelation. This plan, once carried out proves the dead king’s words right and convince Hamlet to execute his murderous deed against King Claudius. “O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound. Dist perceive? ” Nevertheless, after having had the opportunity to do so and avenge his father, Hamlet deliberately decides to restrain himself from murdering Claudius, as he encounters him defenceless, kneeled and praying.
Seeing this, Hamlet resolves not to kill him, as it would mean sending him to heaven, while he is in the act of purging his sins away and asking God for absolution. “Now might I do it pat, now’a is a-praying. And now I’ll do’t. And so ‘a goes to heaven. And so am I revenged. That would be scanned. ” What Hamlet does not know, is that he is in fact asking for forgiveness, but doesn’t actually expect to be forgiven, as he knows that his sins are beyond forgiveness, for he has not only sinned but moreover kept the benefits obtained in the misdeed; “(…
) But, O, what form of prayer Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder’? That cannot be, since I am still possessed Of those effects for which I did the murder, My crown, mine own ambition, and my Queen. ” Hamlet, then, decides to postpone his mission in hope of catching King Claudius in a more compromising or sinful situation. We could also interpret this act of retreat in Hamlet as being purely cowardly. He seems to linger thinking whether he should or should not commit such foul deed against his uncle, however much he resents him or thinks he deserves it.
Even by that stage in the play, when he confirms the truthfulness of the ghost’s words, he still seems very indecisive about whether or not it would be correct to follow his commandment. This poses one of the most controversial questions in the play; is this ghost good or evil? 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.