The Ghost of King Hamlet

The Ghost of King Hamlet

Many Shakespeare plays contain ghosts, perhaps most notably and most disturbingly in Macbeth and Hamlet. The ghost in Hamlet is the apparition of prince Hamlet's father, the dead King Hamlet. However, up until the time when the ghost first appears to Hamlet, interrupting his speech and thoughts, it appears Hamlet is unaware that his father was murdered. As the ghost intones, "I am thy father's spirit, / Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, / And for the day confined to fast in fires, / Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purged away" (Shakespeare I.v.9-13). While more people in Shakespeare's audience were inclined to believe in the supernatural and fantastic, it is likely the appearance of the slain King still has quite an impact on modern audiences. This is because the ghost of King Hamlet tells his son he was murdered and his murder must be avenged for him to rest in peace.

We see that the ghost is a driving force for Hamlet on his way to conscious maturity. There is something rotten in the State of Denmark but the something rotten exists in all places and in all people. Anyone with intellect and a conscience would not tolerate it, as Hamlet does not by willfully going into a battle at the end of the play wherein he knows he will be killed. Further, the ghost is just one more thing Hamlet must escape on the way to his mature self. As Harold Bloom, noted Shakespearian critic, notes about this sea-change in Hamlet's character and its relation to the ghost, "In Act V, Hamlet is barely still in the play; like Whitman's 'real me' or 'me myself' the final Hamlet is both in and out of the game while watching and wondering at it. We feel that if the Ghos...

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... "Why, what should be the fear? / I do not set my life in a pin's fee; / And for my soul, what can it do to that, / Being a thing immortal as itself? / It waves me forth again: I'll follow it" (Shakespeare I.iv.151-55). Hamlet will indeed follow the Ghost and it will cost him his life, but he retains his soul because he is of the constitution that cannot tolerate something "rotten" in Denmark or mankind. Thus, we see that the Ghost creates a tremendous impact on audiences because of its great emotional significance in the play and in setting off the wheels of motion that seal Hamlet's tragic fate.


Anonymous. The Ghost of Hamlet's Father. Available:

Bloom, H. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York; Riverhead Books, 1998.

Shakespeare, W. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 1978.

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