The Ghost Of Hamlet’s Father
What would Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, be like without the character of the Ghost? The drama simple wouldn’t BE! The Ghost, though not a human character in most senses of the word, is crucial for the development of the play. This essay will analyze this interesting character.
Frank Kermode in “Hamlet” fits the Ghost into the local and national scene:
But meanwhile the ghost – “this thing” – has appeared. (Horatio as skeptic raises questions as to its status which could have been avoided.) There has been speculation as to its purpose, but one thing seems sure: it has to do with the state of the nation – it “bodes some strange eruption to our state” – and with the armaments drive now in progress under the threat from Norway. That it genuinely has to do with the state of the nation – its spiritual rather than its merely political state – we shall learn; and to give us a “musical’ sense that this is so, there is the unexpected speech about Christmas. (1138)
The Ghost means more than a commentary on the spiritual and political state of the nation. Gunnar Boklund’s “Judgment in Hamlet” introduces the Ghost in terms of the dilemma of the protagonist:
It is a commonplace to refer to Hamlet’s “dilemma” and a critical problem to explain in what this dilemma consists. A natural way to come to terms with the problem is obviously through the character that forces the dilemma upon Hamlet, that is to say, the Ghost. This is a particularly attractive approach, since it promises to bring the findings of modern research into Elizabethan demonology to bear directly upon the question of the nature of the Ghost and its message. It was apparently generally believed, among Catholics and Protestants alike, that a ghost could be dispatched into this world by either God or the devil, and consequently it became the duty of the receiver of its command to test it conscientiously before acting upon it. This is what we see Hamlet do when, in spite of his immediate conviction that it is an honest ghost he has seen, he arranges a trial of its veracity in the form of the play within the play. (117)
Thus is explained the rationale of the “play within a play” which is seen as necessary for the climax of the drama. To begin consideration of the Ghost, let it be said that the Ghost makes his appearance even before the play has opened. 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 father. A young man named Horatio, who is a school friend of...