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"Hamlet's Ghost- to Believe or Not to Believe”

In: English and Literature

Submitted By vickieshipley
Words 1944
Pages 8
Vickie Shipley
Professor Marek
ENC 1102, SEC 87
27 October, 2013
Drama Essay: "Hamlet's Ghost- To Believe or Not to Believe” Of all the plays written by William Shakespeare, Hamlet is the most intriguing. As the plot develops, themes such as indecision, deceit and revenge become apparent. As is expected, questions about the characters' motives arise as these themes are portrayed. Questions regarding Hamlet's love for Ophelia or his sanity arise. However, these questions develop throughout the story. The most important question arises at the beginning of the story in Act 1, and affects Hamlet’s every thought and action thereafter. Is the King's ghost a good spirit, merely seeking justice or an evil spirit sent to corrupt Hamlet? Perhaps the ghost is genuinely that of the dead king, but the fact that the ghost uses Hamlet to exact revenge and demands he commit the mortal sin of murder, clearly shows it to be an evil, malicious demon from hell. During the era in which Hamlet was written, there was a common belief of demonic intrusion, and corruption by the devil. Even today, it is not too difficult to find people who will agree that specters are evil demons, sent up from the bowels of hell to corrupt and destroy the living. In fact, a recent CBS poll reveals that almost half of all Americans believe in evil spirits, and that the dead can return in certain places and situations (Alfano). Because of this belief, the appearance of the spirit, along with the assumption of its wickedness, would not be considered unusual then or now. Subsequently, it is believed that demons can take any form in order to deceive another into committing a sin which will cost them their soul. Often times this was written about in plays, such as William Shakespeare’s King Lear where the character Edgar, pretending to be an onlooker at the bottom of Dover Cliff says, " ...Horns whelk'd and waved like the enridged sea/ It was some fiend...". Edgar is telling the blind Gloucester that he saw his escort change from a man into a demon and that he, Gloucester, had been deceived into forfeiting his soul by committing suicide (Kearney). Seventeenth century Christians and Pagans were not alone in their beliefs of ghosts or the super-natural. Some scientists also believed, and they were perfectly willing to debate the subject of ghosts and whether they were actually seeds of the devil. This is evident in an article published in "The English Journal" which includes an excerpt from Religio Medici, where scientist Dr. Thomas Brown (well known for his writing ability) says, I believe . . . . that those apparitions and ghosts of departed persons are not the wandering souls of men, but the unquiet walks of Devils, prompting and suggesting us unto mischief, blood, and villainy; instilling and stealing into our hearts that the blessed spirits are not at rest in their graves, but wander solicitous of the affairs of the World. (Rea) Many examples in the play support the claim that the ghost of King Hamlet is actually a demon. To start with, Hamlet asserts his father’s demise came while he was in the full bloom of his sins, providing him no chance of redemption. Therefore, the King died with a guilty heart, which would not allow his entrance into heaven, as is evidenced in the Scriptures. The Holy Bible declares that Hell is literally a place of torment, and those who die in sin, without repentance, will be punished in the flaming pits of Hell. For example, 2nd Thessalonians 1:8-9 reads, "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction..." (Holy Bible). Because the king died in sin, it would be assumed that he was sent to hell for punishment. This suggests that the ghost must be arisen from hell. The evil nature of King Hamlet's spirit is evidenced by him asking his son to perform very malicious acts. Instead of asking for forgiveness when he sees his son, he demands revenge by way of murder. God, nor one of his heavenly agents, would promote such an act. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (Holy Bible). In his article published in the "Journal of Men, Masculinities & Spirituality", Dr. Peter Bray suggests that the ghost corrupts Hamlet with feelings of hatred, contempt and revenge, all the while filling his thoughts with nothing other than betrayal, deceit and murder. He says," the destruction of virtue in youth is the inevitable result of the older generation’s misconduct as personified by the macrocosmic transcendence of the ghost's evil intents". In essence, he is saying that he believes the father is responsible for the son's destruction. He also believes that a truly loving father would not add such torment into his son's life, so it must be a hateful pawn of Devil, coming from hell, encouraging such violence (Bray). Another piece of evidence, supporting the claim that the ghost of King Hamlet is from hell, is Hamlet himself. It is clear that Hamlet believes in evil spirits as is shown with his first encounter of the ghost in Act I, scene 4. When Horatio describes the ghost’s previous visits and its appearance to the prince, Hamlet first thinks that it must be an imposter. Now seeing the ghost, Hamlet believes that it is indeed an apparition, but he is not sure whether it is the spirit of the dead king, or if it is a demon trying to deceive him. When Hamlet cries, "Angels and ministers of grace defend us", he is not being courteous. This prayer erupts, almost involuntarily from him, not as if from surprise, but because he is terrified that this might be a demon beneath his father's armor. The language used by Hamlet, “Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d” is an indication that he believes the ghost is supernatural, yet he is still not sure if it is a good spirit or from the devil. This is repeated again but worded differently in the two following lines: Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell/be thy intents wicked or charitable (Shakespeare 516). By reading these lines hastily, one might gain the wrong impression, in that Hamlet believes this to be the ghost of his father, but this cannot be the case as Hamlet is a man of faith and so he would believe that his father’s soul had entered purgatory. He could not think of the specter as being anything other than unnatural or evil (Kikuchi). While Hamlet still questions the apparition's intentions, it is here that Shakespeare makes it clear that Marcellus and Horatio believe the ghost to be of the devil. Marcellus is terrified the ghost will take Hamlet straight to hell, as is apparent when he says, “Look with what courteous action it wafts you to a more removed ground/ But do not go with it” (1.4.Lines 42-43). Horatio cautions the prince also. He warns of the ghost's motives, suggesting it might trick him or lead him to his death when he says, “What if it tempt you toward the flood my lord / or to the dreadful summit of the cliff /That beetles o’er his base into the sea” (1.4.50-52).
It is here though, when Hamlet and the ghost are alone, and the apparition testifies as to whom he is and of his condition, that Hamlet begins to consider this could actually be the spirit of his dead father. In Act I, scene 4 the ghost laments: Ghost: I am thy father's spirit, Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confin'd to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes, done in my days of nature Are burnt and purg'd away. (1.5.9) Hamlet is indeed convinced this is his dead father's spirit risen from purgatory and proclaims, "its canoniz'd bones..../Have burst their cerements" (Low). It is while the ghost speaks of his ruthless murder, of being violated by his brother who appropriates his place and identity, that Hamlet experiences what Sister Miriam Joseph calls spontaneous conviction. He becomes truly convinced of the ghost's identity and of its honesty and good intention but later, will again question the ghost's intentions. In her article,
“Discerning the Ghost in Hamlet”, Sister Joseph writes that spontaneous conviction is normal when faced with such an experience, but it is normal also, for doubt to return sometime after the experience, just as it does with Hamlet. She goes on to explain that doubt arises after the preternatural experience and that there are three plausible reasons for the experience; imagination, the devil, or God. It may be some time since [the soul] heard the words; and both their working within it and the certainty which it had at the time that they came from God have passed away. So these doubts arise, and the soul wonders if the whole thing came from the devil, or can have been the work of the imagination. Yet at the time it had no such doubts and it would have died in defense of their veracity. (Joseph)
Indeed, doubt returns, leaving Hamlet to seek proof of the ghost's claims, which leads to the murder of others and his own death. Ultimately, the demon succeeds in collecting his souls. In conclusion, the ghost's maliciousness and deceitful actions prove it is sent, up from the bowels of hell, to corrupt Hamlet's soul. The ghost reveals his true demonic side by demanding Hamlet revenge him with murder, even before he explains the why of his existence. The ghost instigates rage, lies, deceit, and murder, all of which personify Satan. No loving father would ask his son to commit such sin and risk his immortal soul. Thus, any creature that convinces someone to kill cannot be sent from God, and therefore must be sent from hell. (1694)

Works Cited
Alfano, Sean. “Majority Believe In Ghosts”. CBSNEWS.COM. Central Broadcasting System. February 11, 2009. Web. 26 Oct. 2013. < http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500160_162-994766.html>
Bray, Peter. "Men, Loss And Spiritual Emergency: Shakespeare, The Death Of Hamnet And The Making Of Hamlet." Journal Of Men, Masculinities & Spirituality 2.2 (2008): 95-115. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.
Holy Bible. Camden: Thomas Nelson & Son’s, 1946. Print. Rev. Standard Version.
Kearney, James. "'This is above all strangeness': King Lear, Ethics, and the Phenomenology of Recognition." Criticism 54.3 (2012): 455+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.
Kikuchi, Shigeo. “Unveiling the dramatic secret of 'Ghost' in Hamlet”. Journal of Literary Semantics. 39.2 (Sept. 2010): 103. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.
Low, Anthony. "Shakespeare's Tragedies: Infringement And Identity." Ben Jonson Journal 14.1 (2007): 139-141. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.
Joseph, Miriam. “ Discerning the Ghost in Hamlet”. PMLA , Vol. 76, No. 5 (Dec., 2001): 493-502. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.
Rea, John D. “Hamlet and the Ghost Again”. English Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Mar., 1929): 207-213. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 28 Oct. 2013
Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet - Prince of Denmark". Exploring Literature: Writing and Arguing About Fiction, Poetry, Drama and the Essay, Fifth Edition. Ed. Frank Madden. Boston:Pearson, 2012. 1132-44. Print.

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...misunderstood by the harsh society of Denmark. Mourning the loss of his recently deceased father, King Hamlet, Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, inherits the throne and even marries Queen Gertrude after just one short month. Through chaotic and twisted disastrous events, Hamlet must abide by a civilization that evidently has neither structure nor principles.  After Prince Hamlet suffers from the death of his father, the rest of Denmark is delighted by the celebration of a new marriage. Claudius, the actual brother of King Hamlet, weds with his widow, Queen Gertrude. Claudius remarks that he wants to bring a new light into Denmark after the city was struck with King Hamlet’s death. The rest of the town is thrilled by the news, excluding Hamlet. How could the city of Denmark recover from their grief after just one month? Eventually, Hamlet’s trustworthy watchmen tell Hamlet that they have been seeing a ghost-like figure that represents the deceased King Hamlet. When the ghost visits yet again, he signals to speak with Hamlet privately. Hamlet quickly learns that Claudius is responsible for his father’s death as Claudius plotted a treacherous scheme to rule over Denmark. The ghost commands Hamlet to achieve one specific goal, “ Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,” (Shakespeare, 1.5.31-57). Thus, Hamlet most certainly agrees to avenge his father’s death after the ghost explains the brutal details of how his own brother poisoned him. Because Hamlet has no substantial evidence of...

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