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Hamlet's Ghost/ Influencing Obsessions

In: English and Literature

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In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the ghost of the late King Hamlet has influenced his son to become obsessed with the idea of death. When young Hamlet is informed of the ghost’s sighting, he is anxious and curious to find out who this ghost is and what news it has to deliver. After the ghost reveals himself as Hamlet’s deceased father, Hamlet’s curiosity increases. The ghost divulges to Hamlet that his brother, Claudius, poisoned him to take his life as well as his throne, which infuriates young Hamlet. After this shocking revelation, Hamlet becomes obsessed with thoughts of death and avenging his father’s murder, which contributes to his insanity. When Hamlet speaks to his father’s ghost, his father insists that Hamlet avenge his death by killing Claudius. The ghost explains to his son that King Claudius has corrupted the nation of Denmark, has robbed him of his own life, and therefore, achieving revenge is crucial. After conversing with the ghost, Hamlet vows to seek vengeance on Claudius. This “seeking” of vengeance very quickly turns into an obsession. Hamlet’s every thought seems to revolve around his plot to kill Claudius, causing friends and family to express concern over his strange behaviors. Rumors begin to travel around Denmark that Hamlet has “gone mad,” while Hamlet claims to only be feigning his insanity. Hamlet’s soliloquy where he contemplates suicide is one example of his obsession with death. Amidst the stresses of planning Claudius’ murder, Hamlet even considers ending his own life: “To be, or not to be: that is the question” (III.i.58). In this well-known soliloquy, Hamlet brings up the point that why would someone go through the “whips and scorns of life,” grunting and sweating, when one could escape these trials and end it at any moment. Clearly, Hamlet believes that the easiest way out of his misery here on earth is by suicide. However, he realizes that the consequences of taking his own life would be to suffer in the blazing flames of hell in the afterlife. When his father’s ghost spoke to him, he told Hamlet that he would remain in purgatory “…till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away” (I.v.12). The ghost also explains that he is not able to share the secrets of purgatory, secrets that would “harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end…” (I.v.16). The fact that his father cannot even speak about the horrors of purgatory has instilled fear in the bones of Hamlet. He realizes that if he were to commit suicide, he, too, would have to endure the wrath of purgatory. Throughout his soliloquy, Hamlet weighs out the pros and cons of suicide, which demonstrates his obsession with the afterlife and death. Hamlet says that suicide is only for those who are not cowards, “…thus conscience does make cowards of us all…” (III.i.84). After speaking with his father’s ghost, he knows what would be in store for him after death, and determines that instead of taking his own life, he must persevere these hard times and carry out with his original plan to kill Claudius. In addition, Hamlet’s obsession with death includes an odd fascination with the grotesque decomposition of bodies and what happens to the deceased in the afterlife. In Act III, when Claudius is in prayer, Hamlet contemplates killing his uncle while he is off guard. Suddenly, it dawns on Hamlet that if Claudius were to die during prayer, his soul would go to heaven. This would ruin Hamlet’s whole scheme of revenge, Hamlet thinks, as Claudius killed King Hamlet before the king was able to make his last confession, ensuring that his brother’s soul would not go to heaven. Especially after being informed by his father’s ghost of the suffering and torment he has had to endure in purgatory, Hamlet wants to guarantee that Claudius, too, would experience the same affliction that his father faced. Relevant to his obsession with the afterlife, in Act V while Hamlet is in the graveyard, he asks the gravedigger several questions about the skeletons of the dead. Hamlet is appalled that the gravedigger would crudely toss around skulls that could be the remains of politicians, lawyers, courtiers, celebrated beauties, great buyers of land, or king’s jesters. Hamlet is intrigued with the body’s decomposition as he envisions lips and eyes on the skulls of the deceased head he held in his hands. After observing this rotten skull, Hamlet realizes that all men will eventually turn to dust: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel? (V.i.83). Hamlet here theorizes that all men, even the greatest leaders in the world, will all die and become remnants of the earth in the end. No matter how rich or poor, famous or not, all end up the same when all is said and done. This allows Hamlet to recognize the vanity of life, in which we are all destined to parish. Also contributing to Hamlet’s infatuation with the dead, in Act IV after Hamlet hid Polonius’ body following his death, Hamlet has some disturbing comments when asked for the location of the body. Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service-two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end. (IV.iii.21). Hamlet gruesomely describes the process in which decomposition occurs and that Polonius’ body is being eaten by worms. Since the ghost appeared to him, his obsession with death has become bizarre and morbid. Another point to bring up is that during the carrying out of his revenge for his father’s death, Hamlet has no sympathy for the lives of others. In his devoted quest to kill Claudius at the request of his father’s ghost, he has no sorrows for those who get in his way. In Act III, where Hamlet confronts his mother, he does not hesitate to stab at the person hiding behind the curtain. Even after he realizes that he has killed Polonius instead of Claudius, he seems to have no remorse in his rash act of killing him: “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell…take thy fortune. Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger” (III.iv.32). After Hamlet kills Polonius, the ghost appears to speak to his son. Instead of scolding him for killing an innocent man, the ghost encourages Hamlet to continue with his plot to kill Claudius. Equivalently, even though Ophelia committed suicide because of the pain she felt following her father’s murder, Hamlet never once feels even partially responsible for her death. In addition, when Hamlet escapes Claudius’ evil plan to have Hamlet put to death in England, Hamlet forges a letter which ordered for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be sentenced to death. Hamlet states: “…they are not near my conscience. Their defeat does by their own insinuation grow…” (V.ii.62). Hamlet is angered by the fact that he believes they betrayed him by accommodating Claudius in his conspiracy to have Hamlet put to death. However, these former friends o f Hamlet actually were forced by the King to spy on Hamlet and be part of King Claudius’ evil plan to kill the young Prince. Not taking this point into consideration, Hamlet seems to feel no pain for those who try to interfere with his pledged revenge for his father’s murder. In conclusion, the ghost of Hamlet’s father has caused Hamlet to become obsessed with thoughts of death. This obsession can be further classified into obsessions with his own death, the revenge of his father’s death, and what happens to the body after death. He is determined to avenge his father’s death at the request of his father’s ghost, and anyone or anything that gets in his way will not stop him from carrying out the deed. In fact, Hamlet’s infatuation with avenging his father’s death has led to the deaths of eight people, including his own. His thoughts constantly revolve around his plot to kill Claudius, causing people to worry about his odd behaviors. Throughout these times of trials, Hamlet even considers ending his own life. However, after the ghost tells about the terrible conditions in purgatory, Hamlet concludes that the torture of the afterlife would be a worse alternative. His overall feelings toward death has become hardened, and he values no one’s life – even his own. After the ghost of Hamlet’s father demanded vengeance for his murder, it caused Hamlet’s thoughts to become consumed with death, which in turn created a murderer. Arouet, Francois Marie. *“Voltaire on the Ghost in Hamlet.”*Literary Reference Center Plus. http://web.ebscohost.com/lrc/detail?vid=4&hid=5&sid=4ef9d6b7-a596-459c-88dc-ea969ea955a6%40sessionmgr14&bdata=JnNpdGU9bHJjLXBsdXM%3d#db=lkh&AN=16286908 (2006). Bloom, Harold. *Bloom's Major Dramatists: Shakespeare's Tragedies.* 2007. *Fly, Richard. Accommodating Death: The Ending of Hamlet.* 2001. *Gellert, Bridget. **The Iconography of Melancholy in the Graveyard Scene of Hamlet.* *Literature Resources from Gale.* 2004. Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory**.* *Princeton University Pr. 2002. Greg, W. W. "Hamlet's Hallucination." The Modern Language Review** 12.4 (Oct. 1917) *Harris, Laurie Lanzen*. Shakesperian Criticism**.* *Vol* 1.* Detroit: Gale Research. 1984. Hays, Michael L. "Hamlet: Courtly Revenge and Chivalric Justice." Shakespearean Tragedy as Chivalric Romance: Rethinking Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear**. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003. *130-154. Rpt. in **Shakespearean Criticism.* *Vol. 111.* Detroit: Gale, 2008. Kelly, Joseph. The Seagull Reader: Plays*. **Hamlet.* PP. 55-182. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009, 2005. *Lee, Michelle. "Hamlet."* Shakespearean Criticism**.* *Vol. 102.* Detroit: Gale, 2007.* Skulsky, Harold. *"Revenge, Honor, and Conscience in Hamlet."* PMLA** 85.1 (Jan. 1970)

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