The Use of Supernatural Elements in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Kyd's the Spanish Tragedy

The Use of Supernatural Elements in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Kyd's the Spanish Tragedy

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Discuss the usage and effects that the supernatural elements have in both Kyd's `The Spanish Tragedy' and Shakespeare's Hamlet. Ghosts or supernatural beings feature both in The Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd, in 1587, and in Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, in 1601. Ghosts and the supernatural `remind the characters and the audience of the constraints the past places on the present, and also the obligations the living bear to the departed' . There were many superstitions surrounding these entities during Elizabethan times. A ghost defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is `the soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form, or otherwise manifesting its presence, to the living.' The supernatural can be defined as `that which is above nature; belonging to a higher realm or system than that of nature; transcending the powers or the ordinary course of nature.' Both these themes feature on many occasions throughout both texts. In The Spanish Tragedy, the ghosts manifest themselves as the dead Don Andrea and the figure of Revenge himself. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the supernatural element is the ghost of the dead King, who appears to instruct Hamlet to avenge his death. In both these instances the ghosts are used to illustrate certain themes and have similar ways of using the characters in the texts to their own advantages.

Thomas Kyd and William Shakespeare are closer than many may think. Both have written a version of the ancient 10th Century Scandinavian legend of Feng and Horwndil, who lived in Jutland and performed many of the same deeds as Hamlet does in the Shakespearian version. An earlier version of the same story, the Ur Hamlet, written around the 1590's, which was later attr...


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...ent, Hamlet.

An Elizabethan audience would have perceived both sets of ghosts differently. This audience would have seen revenge and Andrea more gently as they do not initially appear to any of the characters and are used more as a dramatic device in place of a chorus. The ghost in Hamlet would have created an air of confusion and mayhem, as it appears in a highly superstitious way. The audience would have almost have been scared and ready for a good fright with the inclusion of the ghost.

The characters in the texts react in a similar way to the audience would have. In Hamlet they are initially frightened by the appearance of a supernatural entity, and think that there is evil forthcoming. In The Spanish Tragedy, no one has any contact with the ghosts, but they are still affected by the death of Andrea and seek to take vengeance for this unnatural act.

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