Ghost Essay, Research Paper

The Ghost

The Ghost

Using all of his seemingly infinite faculties to compose Hamlet, Shakespeare gives each

significant character in the play all the depth and emotion of a living human being. Because of

this, the characters, as well as the plot, become extremely intricate and difficult to define.

Simply assigning a “label” to each character does not do justice to their complexity because no

one character acts according to any easily discernible guidelines.

By this reasoning, it is difficult to determine for certain whether the ghost of Hamlet’s father is

either a “Spirit of Health” or a “Goblin Damn’d.” In order to do this, it is necessary to look, not

at the ghost’s intentions, but at the effect of its message on Hamlet’s life. If an assessment of

the ghost had to be made, it would probably be considered a “Goblin Damn’d” rather than a

“Spirit of Health,” based on the disastrous effects its words had on the course of Hamlet’s life.

When the Ghost utters the fateful words “Revenge his [the Ghost's] foul and most unnatural

murder,” Hamlet’s life is forever changed for the worse. Not only does Hamlet’s quest for

revenge divide his family and friends, but it also divides Hamlet himself.

Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”

In the exchange that follows this line between the Queen and Hamlet, Hamlet’s distaste over

his mother and uncle’s brief period of mourning becomes evident. It also demonstrates some of

Hamlet’s suspicion concerning the circumstances surrounding his father’s death. This

exchange, however, occurs

before the Ghost reveals itself to Hamlet. Before his encounter with the Ghost, Hamlet is only

suspicious of the new king and his mother, but after the Ghost reveals the circumstances of its

death, Hamlet is enraged. At this point, Hamlet is left with two choices: he must either

disgrace his father by taking no action, or, as dictated by custom, he must avenge his father’s

murder with the death of Claudiusthe murderer. Hamlet, being of the nobler sort, chooses

the latter of the two, and so begins his quest for revenge:

Remember thee?

Yea, from the table of my memory

I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,…

And thy commandment all alone shall live

Within the book and volume of my brain,

Unmixed with baser matter.

This quest nurtures a bitter hatred in Hamlet not only toward Claudius, but toward his mother,

the Queen, as well. Also, during the course of the play, Hamlet mistakenly murders Polonius,

thus making an enemy of Polonius’ son, Laertes, and driving his daughter, Ophelia, insane. All

of these characters are eventually lost as a direct result of the all consuming nature of

vengeance. Claudius, fearing Hamlet’s wrath, constructs a trap in which he hopes to kill

Hamlet by Laertes’ hand, thus securing his throne and allowing Laertes to have his revenge.

When this trap is sprung, however, the casualties include Hamlet, as well as Laertes, Claudius,

and Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Previously, Ophelia, having lost her wits over her father’s

murder, fell into a river and drowned. When Hamlet discovers this news while in the

graveyard, it causes him great pain:

I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up my sum.

Hamlet’s continuous pursuit of revenge to satisfy the demands of the Ghost, eventually leads

him to his death and the death of those around him.

The Ghost’s demand for revenge also leads to a conflict within Hamlet himself. This internal

conflict is the result of the struggle between what Hamlet feels is his duty, and his inability to

perform that duty. Throughout the play, Hamlet has to justify his desire for vengeance to

others as well as to himself. However, the justification always seems to be for Hamlet’s

benefit; a kind of reassurance or, possibly, a motivator:

I do not know

Why yet I live to say, “This thing’s to do,”

Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means

To do’t. Examples gross as the earth exhort me.

…O, from this time forth,

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

This segment of Hamlet’s soliloquy displays the conflict raging inside of him. At first, he is

bewildered because, although he has ample reason to exact his revenge upon Claudius, he still

has not attempted it. Earlier in the soliloquy, Hamlet is angry with himself because he feels that

he is a mere beast, since he takes no action against Claudius. Hamlet’s soliloquy ends with his

firm resolve that all of his thoughts and actions will be directed toward the task of revenge.

This is a pattern found in many of Hamlet’s arguments that try to justify his quest for revenge.

The madness that Hamlet feigns early in the play is not due to his troubles with Ophelia, as

many of those who are around him think, but to his melancholy over the task that lays before

him. While Hamlet feigns madness, he is left alone

and he is allowed time to mull over the problems that face him. As he thinks them over, he

becomes depressed and bitter toward those around him:

You should not have believed me, for virtue

cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish

of it. I loved you not.

Here, Hamlet denies that he had any feelings for Ophelia, even though he wrote her love

letters, and later, when she is dead, he claims to have loved her deeply. This contradiction may

be the result of Hamlet’s melancholy, caused by the struggle that goes on inside of him.

Was the Ghost a “Spirit of Health” or a “Goblin Damn’d?” Hamlet’s encounter with the Ghost

was a pivotal point in his life. However, from that point on his life steadily became filled with

grief and strife. Considering all the casualties and losses in the name of vengeance, a

vengeance first sparked by the words of the Ghost, it must be determined that the Ghost is a

“Goblin Damn’d.”


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