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The Ghost, the Spark of Hamlet

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Essay title: The Ghost, the Spark of Hamlet

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the appearances of the ghost are few and far between. In spite of the rarity of its materialization, it plays an extremely pivotal role in driving the plot of the story. The purpose of the ghost is to inform Hamlet of the murder of his father by his father’s brother Claudius, and inspire him to get revenge. While it is easy to assume that the ghost is that of King Hamlet, this idea is never confirmed by inscrutable evidence and only speculated by the men who view it. The ghost immediately adds an ominous feeling to play, and it leads to the deaths of multiple characters in the play pivotal to the state, including Hamlet himself, as well as the eventual takeover of Denmark by Fortinbras of Norway.

When the ghost first appears in the story, its purpose is unclear, but after its conversations with Prince Hamlet, its purpose becomes obvious. The ghost all but forces Hamlet to take revenge on Claudius for the murder of King Hamlet and the marrying of the previous king’s wife. It first gets the attention of Hamlet by appealing to his love of his recently departed father. “List, list, O list! / If thou didst ever thy dear father love…Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (act 1.5 lines 21-22, 25). After the ghost leaves, the young prince vows to clear his mind of all other thoughts and focus only on murdering Claudius. “I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, / All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past / That youth and observation copied there, / And thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with baser matter” (act1.5 lines 99-104). The ghost had a huge influence on Hamlet and successfully emboldened him to murder King Claudius. At one point Hamlet mistakenly kills Polonius, and following this the ghost returns to focus Hamlet’s attention back on killing Claudius. “Do not forget. / This visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose” (act 3.4 lines 110-111). The ghost knows that the prince is beginning to sway from his mission. By returning to point Hamlet in the right direction, the ghost shows its determination to have Hamlet kill the current king.

Though the ghost claims to be that of the deceased King Hamlet, this fact is never confirmed and is only speculated. Early in the play when Marcellus views the apparition for a second time, he shows that he is not sure of the gender, saying “Look where it comes again” (act 1.1 line 40). Although Barnardo, who is also present, does admit that it is “In the same figure like the king that’s dead” (act 1.1 line 41). The identity of the ghost is at best questionable, and only seems to be that of the deceased King Hamlet. Even when the king’s son sees the ghost, he is not able to recognize it. “Be thou spirit of health of goblin damned, / Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, / Be thy intents wicked or charitable, / Thou com’st in such a questionable shape / That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee Hamlet, / King, father, royal Dane” (act 1.4 lines 40-45). Again the identity of the ghost is questioned, with the possibility of it being a demon being acknowledged. Hamlet admits that whether or not the ghost is in fact that of his father is questionable, but nevertheless decides to refer to it as if it were. Although it is easy to assume that the ghost is telling the truth and is the spirit of the murdered King Hamlet, this idea is never proved.

The identity of the ghost is never made clear, but its effects on the story are irrefutable. First, the ghost immediately gives the play a very ominous tone, foreshadowing much tragedy in the story to come. The play begins with a conversation between two sentinels, with one lookout Francisco taking over duties from Barnardo. The two men are very much traumatized and on edge due to the appearance of the ghost. “Who’s there?” asks Barnardo frantically, and Francisco, obviously on edge himself responds, “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself” (act 1.1 lines 1-2). It is very odd that the two watchmen would be so paranoid, considering that Barnardo should be expecting the appearance of Francisco at this time, and that this exchange is something that should be very much routine to them. Francisco admits that he is “sick at heart” (act 1.1 line 9), hinting

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