In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears very briefly. However, he provides the basis for the development and eventual downfall of Hamlet’scharacter. The play begins with a dismal Hamlet mourning his father’s death Recognizing this gloom, Queen Gertrude urges Hamlet to “cast thy nighted color off, andlet thine eye look like a friend on Denmark” (I, ii, 68-69). Soon after, the ghost appears,insisting, “If thou didst ever thy father love, revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”(I, v, 24-25). As Hamlet decides to scourge the past and present evils in Denmark, theghost unleashes death and malice onto the stage. The first and most obvious change which the ghost instills into Hamlet is avengeful spirit.
Not only must Hamlet destroy Claudius, but he must also stop Fortinbrasfrom invading Denmark. Although less obvious, the second task can be inferred from thefact that the ghost appears wearing “the very armor he had on when he the ambitiousNorway combated” (I, i, 60-61). Hamlet spends the entire play trying to carry out theseorders, eventually causing the downfall of his spirit. Partly because he feels reserve andguilt for his task, Hamlet delays taking action throughout the play. However, thisparadoxical delay only makes Hamlet feel more guilty.
He questions his self-worth andeven considers suicide, pondering, “To die — to sleep — no more; and by a sleep to saywe end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” (III, i, 60-63). He cannot accept the goodness of life or destroy its evils. Because of the ghost’s words, Hamlet also becomes increasingly concerned withhis mother’s sexual relations with his uncle. In his first appearance to Hamlet, the ghostinsults his brother saying, “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast. .
. O wicked wit andgifts, that have the power so to seduce!–won to his shameful lust the will of my mostseeming-virtuous queen” (I, v, 42-45). Hamlet, adopting this malicious spirit, laterresponds to the ghost with a fervent, “O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain,smiling, damned villain” (I, v, 105-106). Hamlet now has a valid reason to be disgustedwith both his uncle and his mother and proceeds to confront his mother on this incestualissue.
He does this by comparing his father, a “combination and a form indeed whichevery god did seem to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man” (III, iv, 61-63), to his uncle, a “mildewed ear blasting his wholesome brother” (III, iv, 65). Hamletfocuses on a minute and inconsequential part of avenging his father’s murder; thus, heThe ghost also induces Hamlet’s preoccupation with death and decay, seenthrough Hamlet’s many allusions to the subject. Hamlet makes puns involving death: “Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fatourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service-twodishes, but to one table” (IV, iii, 21-24).
He ponders and foresees death: “I see theimminent death of twenty thousand men that for a fantasy and trick of fame go to theirgraves like beds. . . O from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth”(IV, iv, 60-66). Hamlet even seems fascinated by death: “That skull had a tongue in it,and could sing once.
. . That might be the pate of a politician. .
. might it not?” (V, i,67-71). We can assume that Hamlet was not previously obsessed and intrigued by deathand decay. However, with the ghost’s appearance, and with his increasing feelings ofguilt, Hamlet becomes more macabre and (covertly) depressed. The ghost ultimately causes Hamlet’s destruction by requiring that his son avengehis death. The ghost also causes Hamlet’s feelings of self-doubt and guilt thanks toHamlet’s procrastination — he never even reaches the task of stopping Fortinbras — and to his somewhat incestual preoccupation with his mother’s and uncle’s relationship.
Theghost’s influence wrenches Hamlet’s spirit out of its normal frame so that he destroyshimself while simultaneously destroying his enemies. Bibliography: