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The Use Of Supernatural Elements In Shakespeare's Hamlet And Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy

1690 words - 7 pages

Discuss the usage and effects that the supernatural elements have in both Kyd's `The Spanish Tragedy' and Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ghosts or supernatural beings feature both in The Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd, in 1587, and in Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, in 1601. Ghosts and the supernatural `remind the characters and the audience of the constraints the past places on the present, and also the obligations the living bear to the departed' . There were many superstitions surrounding these entities during Elizabethan times. A ghost defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is `the soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form, or otherwise manifesting its presence, to the living.' The supernatural can be defined as `that which is above nature; belonging to a higher realm or system than that of nature; transcending the powers or the ordinary course of nature.' Both these themes feature on many occasions throughout both texts. In The Spanish Tragedy, the ghosts manifest themselves as the dead Don Andrea and the figure of Revenge himself. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the supernatural element is the ghost of the dead King, who appears to instruct Hamlet to avenge his death. In both these instances the ghosts are used to illustrate certain themes and have similar ways of using the characters in the texts to their own advantages.

Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare are closer than many may think. Both have written a version of the ancient 10th Century Scandinavian legend of Feng and Horwndil, who lived in Jutland and performed many of the same deeds as Hamlet does in the Shakespearian version. An earlier version of the same story, the Ur Hamlet, written around the 1590's, which was later attributed to Thomas Kyd. It is speculated that some of the language of the ghost has been directly transferred from the Ur Hamlet into the Hamlet we know today, as the ghost tends to over moralise in some places, which is not typical of Shakespeare. All we know of the ghost in the Ur Hamlet, as the original text has not survived, is that it was a `ghost who cries like an oyster wife in the cellarage', which is extremely unlike the ghost we see in Hamlet, but that could have been an initial starting point for Shakespeare to work from.

In the play Hamlet, the ghost initially appears to a group of sentries stationed outside the palace on a cold and eerie night. Ghosts and the supernatural were extremely popular in the drama of the period, and symbolised many things. In other texts of the time the usage of ghosts became extreme, as they started to talk to the characters and quickly lost their potency as a dramatic device. To an Elizabethan audience the appearance of the ghost at this particular time could have any of four meanings. It could be the actual ghost of a person returning to perform a task, an evil omen of a forthcoming event, an incarnation of the devil, or finally a symbol of the craziness and madness...

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