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Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost

From Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear by Alexander W. Crawford. Boston R.G. Badger.

The ghost in Hamlet no doubt performs an important dramatic function. Whatever may have been Shakespeare's belief about ghosts he utilizes the popular conception to render objective what is in the minds of his characters. The ghosts or witches that appeared to Macbeth spoke out only what was in his mind, and revealed his inner thoughts to the audience better than any words of his could do. In the same way, the ghost in Hamlet discloses to us the suspicions already in the minds of Hamlet and his friends. When Hamlet sees the ghost and hears its revelations, he voices this thought by saying, "Oh my prophetic soul!" (I. V. 40.) And the fact that it first appears to the friends of Hamlet suggests that they shared his suspicions and perhaps even anticipated them, though no word had been spoken. The inquiry of Marcellus about the cause of the warlike activity and his later remark about the rotten condition of Denmark seem to imply a suspicion that he is endeavoring to verify or to disprove.

The scepticism that all at first show concerning the ghost seems to indicate their unwillingness to put faith in their suspicions. They do not willingly think evil of the king, and they all want some undoubted proof, not only of the fact of the ghost's appearance, but of the truth of his words. Horatio hesitates to take ths word of Bernardo and Francisco, and is convinced only by the actual sight of the ghost. Hamlet, apparently the least suspicious of all, for he is the last to see the ghost, seems reluctant to believe that Horatio and the others have seen it. To convince him, Horatio assures him with an oath of the truth of his report, saying,
"As I do live, my honor'd lord, 'tis true."
(I. ii. 221.)
His doubts are not finally removed until the fourth scene when he sees the ghost for himself. At last, the evidence overcomes his moral reluctance to believe such foul suspicions, and Hamlet is convinced of the guilt of the king.


How to cite this article:
Crawford, Alexander W. Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear. Boston R.G. Badger, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < >


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The Ghost in his Own Hamlet

Scholars believe Shakespeare might have played the title role in Edward I (a play by Edward Peele) in 1593. It is also assumed that Shakespeare played many roles in a variety of his own plays, including Macbeth (King Duncan), As You Like It (Adam), Henry IV (King Henry), and Hamlet (the Ghost of Hamlet's father). Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, mentioned that Shakespeare's role as "the Ghost in his own Hamlet" was "the top of his performance." Read on...

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