The Ghost: lynchpin of the play More Information

In spite of being one of the most significant characters in the play, with 84 lines (more than Marcellus, Guildenstern, Osric, or the Player King and Queen combined (Van Dam [vand], p. 252) and with one of the longest uninterrupted speeches in the play (47 lines, 729-76), the ghost has seldom benefited from the interpretation of a great or even a good actor. He is visible to one or more characters (if not to the audience) in four scripted scenes, but spoken of or thought about in several others: in effect he broods over the whole play. Sometimes an actor plays the ghost as well as another role: Claudius, Gravedigger, and even Hamlet in the versions (Olivier's, Richardson's, Pryce's, for example) that use Hamlet's voice to speak the ghost's words. The doubling of another role with the ghost's automatically lends it potential for depth when a better-than-usual actor is hired to play the double role. Films tend to do better: vide Paul Scofield in the Zeffirelli film (1990) and Sam Shepherd in the Almereyda film (2000). Many critics have thought that only in the armchair can one conjure up an appropriately awe-inspiring ghost, that the versions on stage can only approximate the terror the ghost seems meant to evoke and the compelling neediness it conveys. Again, films are usually able to do more on the awe-inspiring side, as in Olivier’s and Kozinstev's versions. But Shakespeare had to achieve the effects he desired without even the help of darkness. The discrepancy between what the ghost seems meant to be and do, coupled with what we know and surmise about Shakespeare's theater, makes it all the more difficult to determine what Shakespeare intended. The myth holds that Shakespeare himself played the ghost and also maintains that he was not a very good actor: but these are not verities and cannot be used to good purpose. We have to rely on what we do know.
Of what does the ghost accuse Claudius and Gertrude? Is she supposed to feel guilty about her speedy remarriage or about adultery? When the ghost uses the word “adulterate” (729) does he mean that the pair was adulterous before his death? Or that his brother had adulterous as well as incestuous designs on his queen, who was innocent of that crime? Bertram Joseph (1953) insists that the word adultery in early modern sermons was widely used for incest, marriage within proscribed bounds.
The play-within does not show the queen as a co-murderer, but Hamlet says only that it "comes near [italics mine] the circumstance . . . of my father's death" (1927-8). Some versions of the dumb show, such as Richardson’s stage and film version in 1969, display her complicity. But textually the murderer in the play-within wins the widow soon after but not before the death of her husband, and then only after some demurral. This enactment does not prove her innocence, for since Hamlet later accuses his mother, briefly, of murder (2410), he may have designed the play-within to protect her from accusations of both murder and adultery, leaving her to heaven as the ghost had beseeched (771).
If the ghost accuses her of adultery, he is horning himself (characters in Sh. who declare themselves cuckolds are always wrong: Leontes in Winter's Tale; Othello and Iago in Othello). There is something shameful about the admission, and that shame devolves upon the father’s child; Mel Gibson in Zeffirelli's film indeed looks shamed as the ghost speaks of his brother's lust. Better by far for the son to think that his mother's crime is her "hasty marriage" (1081).
The ghost’s apparent nature, Hamlet's changing attitude toward it, and the compulsion Hamlet sporadically feels to obey its wishes are not in complete accord. Yet, many critics, including the redoubtable A. C. Bradley, have been certain that Hamlet has a holy duty to obey the ghost's call for revenge—ambiguously laid out as it is. Others have been as certain that the only saving grace for a doomed Hamlet, who has not seen that his true obligation is to eschew revenge, is finally to refuse to kill the king except, perhaps, in self-defense. And positions between these poles are ranged in rows that never meet. From earliest times, writers express these oppositions (see Stubbs, for example, one of the first commentators.) The ghost has, potentially, almost as many facets as does Hamlet himself.


Dante (1265-1321), Purgatorio, canto 5: Three who were murdered died without the necessary rites. and beg for prayers to release them.
Coverdale (c. 1488 – 1568) (p. 475, apud Greenblatt, 2001, p. 145; 294, n. 68): “Let no man . . . be moved by those deceitful spirits, which, as they say, do appear unto men, and desire their help, praying that masses, pilgrimages, and other like superstitious ceremonies, may be done for them; . . . . Neither is it a wonder, if the devil can disguise himself in the form of a dead man, seeing he can transfigure himself into an angel of light.”
Lavater see CN 34, 39, 59, 682 (and search HW for additional references)
Lavater (apud Drake) see below:
Hutchins' 'Of Specters' (1593 Latin ms. trans. Heltzel & Murley in 11 HLQ [1948]: 407-29), in his dedicatory epistle (409-11) to Thomas Egerton Esquire, says that specters are believed by the “unskilled multitude” to be “persons who have died.” Though they are wrong, he asserts that no one will deny the existence of specters. There are too many known instances. He explains what they are if not revenants. “As regards the golden chain by which the highest things are joined to the lowest by the First Cause of all, . . . . and therefore higher emanations can when circumstances are favorable enter into lower things.” The specter one sees is a body taken over by a higher power. Though “melancholics imagine for themselves strange apparitions . . . .Also, fearful people . . . [neither] melancholics nor timorous are all to whom specters show themselves.” He refers to Lavater, whom he criticizes for using examples rather than reasoning to prove his point. The higher creatures can do much but nothing without the permission of the Prime Mover. Evil powers that take on the shape of a body can make it move in all aspects. Demons can enter and animate a corpse. But depraved souls cannot return to their dead bodies. “The Devil has not only impiously fabricated that whole doctrine of the wandering ghosts of the dead, but also iniquitously augmented it, so that he might firmly establish the accepted custom of funeral ceremonies and the idolatrous practice of celebrating masses for the dead. Nay, also, demons frequently pretend that they are the souls of the dead, to confirm the error of the Gentiles.” Specters do appear, either evoked by the living or on their own accord, “the evil ones to inflict fear on men and impel them to wander from the true way of truth and virtue; the good, to bring solace to broken hearts and guide the zealous as they tread the straight path of piety.” Only atheists do not believe in specters.
Anon. The Puritan, or the Widow of Wattling Street, 1607 (apud Ingleby 1874, p. 331): “We'll ha' the ghost i' th' white sheet sit at the upper end o' th' table.” Ed. note: Most likely this refers to Macbeth, but it perhaps shows that displaying a ghost in armor (rather more expensive than a sheet) or in his habit as he lived (a king's robe?) was not the ordinary way.
rowe] (ed. 1709a, 1:vi): “I could never meet with any further Account of him [Shakespeare] in this way [i.e., which roles he played], than that the top of his Performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet.
Gildon (1710, p. 424) claims of the ghost scene in 1.5: “ . . . I have been assur'd he wrote [it] in a Charnel House in the midst of the Night.”
Theobald (1726, p. 52), in one of his few indications of speech related to character (mostly he seems to expect all the characters to speak like Shakespeare) says that the ghost “proceeds to exaggerate the inhumanity and unnaturalness of the Fact, from the Circumstances in which he was surprized.”
Stubbs (1736, pp. 23-4), whose essay as a whole is mostly a response to Theobald’s first ed. (1733), has an altogether different view of the ghost. <p. 23> “We are to observe further that the King spurs on his Son to revenge his foul and unnatural Murder from these two Considerations chiefly, that he was sent into the other World without having had Time to repent of his Sins, and without the necessary Sacraments, (according to the Church of Rome,) as Mr. Theobalds, (See his Note, p. 253 [Commentary Note 762] has well explained it, and that consequently his Soul was </p. 23> <p. 24> to suffer, if not eternal Damnation, at least a long Course of Penance in Purgatory; which aggravates the Circumstances of his Brother’s Barbarity. And Secondly, That Denmark might not be the Scene of Usurpation and Incest, and the Throne thus polluted and profaned. For these Reasons he prompts the young Prince to Revenge; else it would have been more becoming the Character of such a Prince as Hamlet’s Father is represented to have been, and more suitable to his present Condition, to have left his Brother to the Divine Punishment, and to a Possibility of Repentance for his base Crime, which by cutting him off, he must be deprived of.” </p. 24> Ed. note: See also CNs 767-8 and CN 710, where the word revenge first appears.]
Stubbs (1736, pp. 24-5) <p. 24> re the ghost's first appearance: “I shall conclude what I have to say on this Scene, with observing, that I do not know any Tragedy, ancient or modern, in any Nation, where the Whole is made to turn to naturally and so justly upon such a supernatural Appearance as this is; nor do I know of any Piece whatsoever, where a Spectre is introduced with so much Majesty, such an Air of Probability, and where such an Apparition is manag’d with so much Dignity and Art; in short, which so little revolts the Judgment and Belief of the Spectators. Nor have I ever met in all my Reading, with a Scene in any Tragedy, which creates so much Awe, </p. 24> <p. 25>and serious Attention as this does, and which raises such a Multiplicity of the most exalted Sentiments. It is certain, our Author excell’d in this kind of Writing, as has been more than once observed by several Writers, and none ever before or since his Time, could ever bring Inhabitants of another World upon the Stage, without making them ridiculous and too shocking to Men’s Understandings.” </p. 25>
Upton (1746, pp. 58-59n) <n> <p. 58> “Aristotle having observed that the unravelling of the plot, or the solution of the fable, should proceed from the fable itself, and not from any machine, adds, [Greek]. “But a machine may be used out of the action of the drama, either to explain some things that have already happened, (which ’tis impossible otherwise for a man to be acquainted with) or that may happen hereafter, concerning which we want to be informed.” The murder of </p. 58> <p.59> the king is a fact of this sort, which could not be known but by a machine. Machines thus introduced add surprise and majesty to the incidents: nor are they improbable, if according to the received and vulgarly-believed opinions; as the ghost in Hamlet, the witches in Macbeth, &c. . . . Now what is marvellous, and out of the vulgar road, is highly pleasing. . . .” </p. 59> </n> Later, on p. 102, he says, “How does the ghost in Hamlet raise and terrify the imagination of the audience?” This rhetorical question is within a general discussion of Sh.’s excellence.
Fréron (c. 1750? trans. Anon. 1815) is scornful of the ghost as a dramatic device: “What most delights the pit and the galleries in the ghost of old Hamlet, who, armed cap-a-pie, announces to his son the crime of the king and queen, and calls on him to avenge his murder. Whether Shakspeare was really superstitious, or whether it was necessary for him to seem so, to please a people who in his day entertained these silly notions, I cannot say, but several of his pieces are filled with such puerilities, which the nation admire traditionally. The wits think he has marvelously succeeded in making these imaginary beings speak. and it must be acknowledged that the ghost of Hamlet makes a very forcible address, and that the replies of Hamlet are also very energetic.”
Ed. note: This Fréron may be Élie-Catherine Fréron (1718-76), a literary critic who wrote contra Voltaire’s Enlightenment Philosophy and was in turn ridiculed by Voltaire.
T. W. (anon. British Magazine, viii (1767), in Vickers, Heritage, 5:283-285. Using the four appearances of the ghost as examples, the writer shows that Sh. does not lack artistry. Vickers: “In their enthusiastic but vague appreciation, their looseness of argument, and their lack of originality, these essays [by T.W.] are typical of Shakespeare criticism in the magazines of the period” (5: 282-83). T.W. sees the ghost growing in effect with each appearance. He finds artful his 1st appearance at midnight just as Barnardo is describing his previous appearances (star, the bell striking); his 2nd after Horatio’s description of prodigies; his third to lead Hamlet away (with Horatio’s picturesque lines about the flood and cliff), and the unexpected fourth, a surprise, in the queen’s closet. He finds that Hamlet’s outcry in 3.4 expresses stronger astonishment than his cry in 1.4. T.W. does not discuss what the ghost says or the interaction between him and Hamlet. He praises Sh for not bringing the ghost back again for the “last appearance was incapable of receiving any addition” (5:285).
Gentleman (1770, 1:15): “The opening of this tragedy is extremely well devised; the time of night, the place, the characters, and what they speak, all most naturally concur to raise an awful preparatory apprehension for the appearance of that supernatural agent on whom the main action totally depends; and indeed so artfully has Shakespeare wrought upon his great patroness, nature; so powerfully does he engage our passions upon this occasion; that even those who laugh at the idea of ghosts, as old womens’ [sic] tales, cannot avoid lending an eye and ear of serious attention to this of Hamlet’s father.
“Introducing him previously to some of the inferior characters, brings him with double force upon the principal one; and Horatio’s determining to acquaint the prince with so strange and alarming a circumstance is very natural.”
Gentleman (1770, 1:36): “The Ghost is most admirably written; and according to the idea I form of supernatural utterance, adapted to supernatural appearance. Mr. Quin has never been excelled, nor by many degrees equalled; solemnity of expression was his excellence in tragedy, and, if I may be allowed the remark, his fault. Tho’ not directly to my purpose at present, I cannot help observing that Shakespeare’s fame as an actor, was disputed only because he wrote, as plainly appears, for the mode of speaking, Mr. Garrick, by most excellent example, has established; he certainly, as a judge and lover of nature, despised the titum-ti, monotonous sing-song then fashionable and indeed equally admired, till within less than these last thirty years; for this reason, he was judged to be but a middling performer, except in the Ghost; and there, with propriety, no doubt, he assumed pomposity, which, on other occasions, less commendable, would have rendered him a very popular actor,—Want of action in the Ghost throws a damp on the narration; if a spirit can assume corporeal appearance, there can be no reason to suppose imaginary arms motionless, no more than imaginary legs; however, some peculiarity in this point, as well as the tones of expression, should be observed.”
Gentleman ([gent1] ed. 1773): “If criticism or common sense can forgive the idea of a Ghost, this of Hamlet’s father lays the foremost claims to pardon and praise; it should be figured above the middle size, and uttered by a round deep mellow voice; the mode of expression rather pompous, to mark a supernatural Being.”
Gentleman ([gent2] ed. 1774): “As far as the idea and appearance of a ghost is allowable in the Drama, this of Hamlet’s father lays the foremost claim to indulgence. The performer should be a person above the middle size, and possessed of a solid, deep, and mellow voice.”
Steevens ([v1773] ed. 1773): CN 637: “It is probable that Shakespeare introduced his ghost in armour, that he might appear more solemn by such discrimination from the other characters; though it was really the custom of the Danish kings to be buried in that manner. Vide Olans Wormius, cap. 7. ‘Struem regi nee vestibus, nec odoeribus cumulant, sua cuique armem, quorundam igni et equus adjicitur. — sed postquam magnanimus ille Danorum rex collem ubi magnitudinis conspicuæ extruxisset (cui post obitum regio diadeinate exornatum, armis inductum, inferendum effet cadaver,' &c. ” [Rather a horrible thought that the armor was meant to seal in the malodor.]
Richardson (1774, rpt. 1812, pp. 97-8) <p. 97> says that the “ghost of Hamlet, even in nations where philosophy flourishes, and in periods the least addicted to superstition, will for ever terrify and appal. The awful horror excited by the foregoing passage[694-708 &c.], is accompanied by simplicity of expression, and by the *uncertainty of the thing described. The description is indirect; and, by exhibiting a picture of the effects which an actual view of the real object would necessarily produce in the spec- </p.97 > <p. 98> tator, it affects us more strongly than by a positive enumeration of the most dreadful circumstances. </p. 98>
<n><p. 97> * Burke on the Sublime and Beautiful. </p. 97> </n>
Griffith (1777, 2: 284-5): <p. 284> “No Eastern sentiment, inspired by the first beams of the Sun, and refined by the sublimest morality of Confucius, ever rose to so high a pitch, as the tenderness expressed in these two passages [2792-5 and 769-73] toward his wife—even after her crimes. Have either the </p. 284> <p. 285>Greek or Latin masters of the Epic afforded us so beautiful an instance of forgiveness, and of love subsisting even beyond the grave? They have both of them presented us with scenes after death; but compare the behaviour of Dido, upon meeting AEneas in the Elysian fields, with this, as being the most parallel passage I can recollect. He had not been any thing near so culpable towards her, as this queen had been to her husband; and yet, the utmost temper that the heathen Poet could bring his Ghost to, upon that occasion, was, merely to be silent, an [sic] not upbraid, in speech; though he makes her sufficiently mark her resentment, by her looks and behaviour. ” </p. 285>
Mackenzie (1780, 236-7): <p. 236> “The incident of the Ghost, which is entirely the poet’s own, and not to be found in the Danish legend, not only produces the happiest stage-effect, but is also of the greatest advantage in unfolding the character which is stamped on the young prince at the opening of the play. In the </p. 236> <p. 237> communications of such a visionary being, there is an uncertain kind of belief, and a dark unlimited horror, which are aptly suited to display the wavering purpose and varied emotions of a mind endowed with a delicacy of feeling that often shakes his fortitude, with sensibility that overpowers its strength.” </p. 237>
Davies (1784, 3:23-33): His main point is that the Ghost in Hamlet far exceeds other ghosts of literature, ancient and modern, from Æschylus to Voltaire, whom he deprecates for his jealous antagonism to Sh. Much of Davies’s discussion attempts to show that Sh is not lacking in decorum—and that classical plays were not all so decorous as some (i.e. Voltaire) insist.
<p.23 > “When the Ghost is first announced by the centinels [51-2], our expectation is mightily raised; his appearance strikes with awe. The pathetic address of Horatio [127-36] fixes attention, and raises the admiration of the spectators. But the vision is judiciously prevented from answering Horatio’s questions; for that would have lessened the curiosity, as well as the terror, arising from the inter- </p.23> <p.24> view between the Ghost and Hamlet [682-776]; which, for boldness of invention, strength of imagery, energy of expression, and glow of passion, exceeds any thing which can be compared with it.
“In the antient Greek drama, the ghost of Darius, in the Persæ of Æschylus, is, I suppose, the only vision of the Greek drama which can be brought in competition with that of Hamlet. Darius comes not as a volunteer from the dead, but is raised to the upper-world by an incantation, four lines of which contain an excellent lesson to monarchs, and should be held in everlasting remembrance by princes who rashly engage in war and bloodshed: ‘He in realms-unpeopling war Wasted not his subjects blood; Godlike in his will to spare, In his councils wise and good.’ Potter.
“Instead of giving information to the invokers of his shade, Darius questions them concerning the reasons why they desired his presence. After being acquainted with </p.24> <p.25> the unhappy circumstances which attended the invasion of Greece by his son, Xerxes, and after some discourse with his queen [and thus Davies goes on with his summary of the narrative *] We are told, by Dr. Potter, that Æschylus is the favourite poet of Mr. Rumney, </p.25> <p.26> whose admirable pencil was employed on the ghost of Darius. Nor can I think that the interview, of Hamlet and his father’s shade, is a subject less interesting, to call forth the attention and exercise the genius of the most eminent painter.
“In the Oedipus of Dryden and Lee, the ghost of Laius is raised from hell by an incantation, part of which is borrowed from Macbeth. The occasion is important; and the composition of the whole, however inferior it is to Shakspeare, is poetical and animated.
“I am at a loss to know whether the French stage would have been decorated with a ghost, had not Voltaire been struck with that of Hamlet. Thence he warned his Semiramis with that fire which he stole from the man, whom he admires, envies, vilifies, and grossly misrepresents.
“As the ghost of Darius made his appearance before the whole Persian court, so does that of Ninus in the full presence of Semiramis and the court of Babylon, </p.26> <p.27> which he strikes with error and amazement. He is ushered in with loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightening. But, although the author prepared the audience for something singularly awful and terrifying, yet, after all, Ninus makes but a small figure. That little which he speaks is wrapped up in oracular obscurity; and the play, though certainly marked with genius, is so fabulous in its plot, so perplexed in its conduct, and so improbable in its catastrophe, that it will require no ghost from the dead to prophecy it will not very long be a favourite drama of the French stage. The author was highly indebted to the action of La Clarion and Le Kin [the actors]: the distraction which the latter expressed, when rising from the tomb of Ninus, after killing his mother, was attended with perpetual shouts of applause... . </p.27 ><p.28 >
“Hamlet’s address to the ghost, in this act, is justly esteemed one of those situations in which the actor of merit may display, to the full, his greatest abilities. . . . ” [for remainder, see TLN 624]
<n*> <p. 25> “In the Eumenides of Æscylus, the Ghost of Clytemnestra urges the Goddesses of Vengeance to punish Orestes; but these terrible ladies are fast asleep, and answer the Ghost by snoring. Can any thing, in modern plays, be more ridiculous? Dryden’s God of Dreams, in his Indian Queen, is not so extravagant!” </p.25> </n*>
Steevens ([v1793] ed. 1793): CN 879: “The skill displayed in Shakspeare's management of his Ghost, is too considerable to be overlooked. He has rivetted our attention to it by a succession of forcible circumstances: —by the previous report of the terrified centinels, —by the solemnity of the hour at which the phantom walks, — by its martial stride and discriminating armour, visible only per incertam lunam, by the glimpses of the moon, —by its long taciturnity,—by its preparation to speak, when interrupted by the morning cock,—by its mysterious reserve throughout its first scene with Hamlet,—by his resolute departure with it, and the subsequent anxiety of his attendants,—by its conducting him to a solitary angle of the platform,—by its voice from beneath the earth,—and by its unexpected burst on us in the closet.
“Hamlet’s late interview with the spectre, must in particular be regarded as a stroke of dramatick artifice. The phantom might have told his story in the presence of the officers and Horatio, and yet have rendered itself as inaudible to them, as afterward to the Queen. But suspense was our poet’s object; and never was it more effectually created, than in the present instance. Six times has the royal semblance appeared, but till now has been withheld from speaking. For this event we have waited with impatient curiosity, unaccompanied by lassitude, or remitted attention.
“The Ghost in this tragedy, is allowed to be the genuine product of Shakspeare’s strong imagination. When he afterwards avails himself of traditional phantoms, as in Julius Cæsar, and King Richard III, they are but inefficacious pageants; nay, the apparition of Banquo is a mute exhibitor. Perhaps our poet despaired to equal the vigour of his early conceptions on the subject of preternatural beings, and therefore allotted them no further eminence in his dramas; or was unwilling to diminish the power of his principal shade, by an injudicious repetition of congenial images. Steevens.
Ed. note: (1) Steevens is writing dramaturgically, not dramatically, that is, about the playwright’s management of the ghost rather than our feelings about its request or its effect on Hamlet. Later, he takes for granted that Hamlet should have killed Claudius as the ghost required. (2) Steevens’s ref. to “mysterious reserve” refers to 1.4, but it could as well refer to 1.5: the ghost does show a mysterious reserve with Hamlet, does show itself to be unconcerned with Hamlet, his son. (3) Steevens mentions the ghost speaking from below but doesn’t discuss the break of decorum in the episode.
Alderson (1805, apud Drake, 1817, 2: 405-6, 408]): <p. 405> “In 1805, Dr. Alderson of Hull read to the Literary Society of that place, and published in 1811, an Essay on Apparitions, the object of which is to prove that the immediate cause of these spectral visita- </p. 405><p. 406> tion ‘lies, not in the perturbed spirits of the departed, but in the diseased organisation of the living.’ For this purpose he relates several cases of this hallucination which fell under his own observation and treatment, and which . . . were completely removed by medical means.” </p. 406>
<p. 408>Alderson, according to Drake, thinks Sh. made a mistake in making ‘his ghosts visible and audible on the stage” because only the person whose mind is deranged should see the ghost, </p. 408> <p. 409>* but Drake disagrees: “had the ghost in Hamlet been invisible and inaudible, we should have lost the noblest scene of grateful terror which genius has ever created.
“Nor was it ignorance on the part of Shakspeare which gave birth to the visibility of this awful spectre, for he has told us, in another place, that ‘Such shadows are the weak brain’s forgeries’ † and, even in the very play under consideration, he calls them ‘the very coinage of the brain,’ and adds,—‘This bodiless creation ecstacy is very cunning in;’ ‡</p. 409> but he well knew, that as a dramatic poet, in a superstitious age, it was requisite, in order to produce a strong and general impression, to adopt the popular creed, the superstition relative to his subject . . . . [he continues by quoting Mrs. Montagu]. </p.409 > See TLN 33.
<n*><p. 409> “* Essay on Apparitions, annexed to the fourth edition of his Essay on the Rhus Toxicodendron, pp. 68, 69.” </n*>
<n†> “† Rape of Lucrece, vide Malone’s Supplement, vol i, p. 500.” </n†>
<n‡> “Reed’s Shakspeare [v1785], vol. xviii, p. 250, 251. </n‡> </p. 409>
Ferriar (1813, apud Drake 1817, 2: 406]): “In 1813, Dr, Ferriar of Manchester published, on a more extended scale, ‘An Essay towards a Theory of Apparitions,’ whose aim and result are precisely similar to the anterior production of Dr. Alderson; but admitting the reality and universality of spectral impressions, and both attributing them to partial affections of the brain, independent of any sensible external agency . . . . ”
Gifford (1816, 2:456-7) in his Ben Jonson edition denies that in The Poetaster Jonson scoffs at Shakespeare about the ghost.
Drake (1817, 2: 399, 402): <p. 399>“That a belief in Spiritual Agency has been universally and strongly impressed on the mind of man from the earliest ages of the world, must be evident to every one who peruses the writings of the Old Testament.” </p. 399> <p. 402>
“. . . but to this mental immortality, which is firmly sanctioned by religion, affection, grief, and superstition have added a vast variety of unauthorized circumstances. The passions and attachments which were incident to the individual in his earthly, are attributed to him in his spiritual state; he is supposed to be still agitated by terrestrial objects and relations, to delight in the scenes which he formerly inhabited, to feel for and to protect the persons with whom he was formerly connected . . . .” </p. 402>
Drake (1817, 2: 413): “Thus the English Lavaterus enjoins the person so visited [by a ghost] to charge the spirit to ‘declare and open what he is—who he is, why he is come, and what he desireth;’ saying,—‘Thou Spirite, we beseech thee by Christ Jesus, tell us what thou art;’ and he then orders him to enquire, ‘What man’s soule he is? for what cause he is come, and what he doth desire? Whether he requires any ayde by prayers and sufffrages? Whether by massing or almes giving he may be released?’ &c. &c.†”
<n†><p. 413> “† ‘Of ghosts and spirites walking by nyght,’ Parte the Seconde, pp. 106, 107, 4to. [Black Letter] 1572. From the chapter entitled, ‘The Papistes doctrine touching the soules of dead men, and the appearing of them.’” <p. 413> </n†>
Symmons ([sing1] ed. 1826, 1: 78): “When we attend the Danish prince to his midnight conference with the shade of his murdered father, and hear the ineffable accents of the dead, willing, but prohibited, ‘to tell the secrets of his prison-house,’ we are appalled, and our faculties are suspended in terror”
Symmons ([sing1] ed. 1826, 1: 81): “In the superstitious age of our Elizabeth and of her Scottish successor, the belief in the existence of ghosts and apparitions was nearly universal; and when Shakspeare produced upon his stage the shade of the Danish sovereign, there was not, perhaps, a heart in the crowded audience, which did not palpitate with fear. But in any age, however little tainted it might be with superstitious credulity, would the ghost of royal Denmark excite an agitating interest, with such awful solemnity is he introduced, so sublimely terrible is his tale of woe, and such are the effects of his appearance on the persons of the drama, who are its immediate witnesses. We catch, indeed, the terrors of Horatio and the young prince; and if the illusion be not so strong as to seize them in the first instance on our own minds, it acts on them in its result from theirs . . . It is certain that no spectre, ever brought upon the stage, can be compared with this phantom, created by the power of Shakspeare.
Neele (1829, pp. 305-7), after writing in general about the excellence of Sh.’s supernatural beings, continues with ghost in Ham.: <p. 305>“The introduction to the entrance of the Ghost in ‘Hamlet,’ shows infinite taste and judgment. Just as our feelings are powerfully excited by the narration of it’s appearance on the foregoing evening, the speaker is interrupted by ‘majesty of buried Denmark’ [61] once more standing before him:—‘The bell then beating One,— But soft, break off! —look where it comes again!” [50-1] then the solemn adjuration to it to speak; the awful silence which it maintains; the impotent attempts to strike it; and the exclamation of Horatio, when it glides away,—‘We do it wrong, being so majestical, To offer it the shew of violence,’ [142-3] present to us that shadowy and indistinct, but at the same time, appalling and fearfully interesting picture, which constitutes one of the highest efforts of the sublime. The interview with Hamlet is a masterpiece. The language of this awful visitant </p. 305 ><p. 306> is admirably characteristic. It is not of this world. It savours of the last long resting-place of mortality: ‘of worms, and graves, and epitaphs.’ It evinces little of human feeling and frailty. Vengeance is the only possible passion which has survived the wreck of the body; and it is this passion which has burst the cerements of the grave, and sent it’s occupant to revisit the ‘glimpses of the moon.’ It’s discourse is of murder, incest, suffering, and revenge; and gives us awful glimpses of that prison-house, the details of which are not permitted to ‘ears of flesh and blood.’ Whether present or absent, we are continually reminded of this perturbed Spirit. When on the stage, “it harrows us with fear and wonder;’ and when absent, we see it in it’s influence on the persons of the Drama, especially Hamlet. The sensations of horror and revenge which at first possess the mind of this Prince; then his tardiness and irresolution, which are chided by the re-appearance of the Spectre; and his fears, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, that it may be an evil Spirit, which,— ‘Out of his weakness and his melancholy Abuses him to damn him,’ form one of the most affecting and interesting </p.306 ><p. 307> pictures in the whole range of Shakspeare’s dramas.” </p. 307>
MacDonell (1843, pp. 40-1), referring to the ghost’s speech 2492-5 and his forgiveness of the queen extols Sh.: <p. 40>“No sentiment ever uttered, exceeds in sublimity [the ghost’s] high moral feeling . . . </p. 40> <p. 41>; a more beautiful instance of forgiveness and affection, subsisting even beyond the grave, was never elicited by any author either of ancient or modern times.” </p. 41>
Hunter (1845, 2: 209-12) <p. 209> “In the minuter circumstances of the apparition we may observe how closely he has adhered to the popular notions on the subject. The ghost of Lord Stourton, as the story was deliverd down in the families of Stourton and Arundell, had not a tale of murder to tell, and only speak of his own terrible sufferings; but in other respects it appears to have a near resemblance to the ghost of King Hamlet. The incident occurred between 1588 and 1594, and is in effect thus related by Father More in his History of the Jesuits’ Mission in England, p. 171:—Lord Stourton, though in his heart adhering to the Catholic Church, conformed to Protestant forms of worship, preferring, as says the narrator, the preservation of his estate before celestial benefits. But, in </p.209><p.210> order that the death might not come upon him unprepared, he kept two priests constantly in his house, giving strict orders that neither by night nor by day should both be absent. It happened, however, that his injunctions were not observed; and the baron was surprised with sudden sickness when both were absent from his house, nor could either of them be found. He called therefore his wife and his steward, and explained to them with many tears with what grief he was affected at the thought that he was now deprived of the great benefit which he expected in enjoying Catholic rites at the last, and confessing his great fault in a simulated profession of religion. Having besought them with humble intreaties that they would ask pardon for him of God, he died. These circumstances were mentioned to a priest named John Cornelius, and the question was proposed to him, whether it were lawful to pray for a person dead in such a state? ‘Undoubtedly,’ said he, ‘it is both lawful and necessary.’ On the following day, as Cornelius was performing sacred offices, in the part which related to the dead suddenly perceived Lord Stourton in the dress he usually wore, standing at the side of the altar called the Gospel, and heard him earnestly beseeching him that he would have pity upon him, for that he was burning in the flames of purgatory; and then, opening his vest, he shewed his scorched side, and beggd that he might be recommended to the prayers of those who were standing by. All this time the ghost was visible to Cornelius only, who stopped in his service, and remained, as the people thought, abstracted, till his attention was recalled to the service in which he was engaged by those about him. More however further says that there was some difference in the way in which the story was told in two points; first, the part of the service at which the apparition made its appearance, which some say was during the commemoration </p.210><p.211> of the living not the dead; also that it was seen by a person in attendance as well as by Cornelius himself; and with this agree the testimony of Mr. Manger, cited in the Memoirs of the Missionary Priests, 8vo. 1741, p. 306, who gives the name of the attendant. * <n> * The Lord Stourton of this story was John Lord Stourton, who, according to the Peerages, died without issue on October 13, 1588. He was the eldest son of Charles Lord Stourton, whose share in the murder of the Hartgills led to his execution at Salisbury in 1557. The wife of Charles Lord Stourton and mother of John was a daughter of Edward Earl of Derby. According to the Memoirs of the Missionary Priests she survived her son, one of whose entreaties, according to authority, was that she should cause masses to be said for his soul. </n> Yet it was not that the people were not exhorted to think otherwise, and led by their Protestant preachers to trace some such stories as this to what is at least a possible origin. For thus speaks Henry Smith, one of the most eloquent of the London pastors in the days of Queen Elizabeth, in his Pilgrim’s Wish:—
‘If any man be not satisfied with this, to believe that the souls of the dead do not walk after their dissolution, let me reason with him thus:—Is it a soul which thou seest? Why, a soul is a spirit, and cannot be seen, no more than a voice or an echo. Didst thou ever see thine own soul, though it hath been ever with thee since thou wast born? Dost thou think it is a body? Why, a body cannot walk without a soul, for the soul is the life which moveth the body. If thou say it is a body and soul too, then why doth Paul call death a dissolution? It is a separation of the soul from the body: if the body and soul be not dissolved, then the man is not dead, but living still. If thou say the soul is come to the body, and the body is risen to the soul for that time, then I can say no more to thee, but believe thine own eyes: if thou thinkest that it is such a man’s body that thou seest, look in the grave and open the ground, and then thou shall see the body where it was laid, even while the vizor walks in thy sight: therefore apparitions are no other than that which apeared to Saul. Thus the devil hath many ways to deceive, and this is one, and a dangerous one, to draw us from God’s word to visions, and dreams, and apparitions, upon which many of the doctrines of the Papists are grounded. They had never heard of Purgatory but for those spritis that walked in the night and told them that they were the souls of such and such, which suffered in fire till their masses, and alms, and </p.211><p.212> pilgrimages did ransom them out; so these night-spirits begat Purgatory, and Purgatory begat Trentals, as one serpent hatcheth another.
There is more to the same purpose. The purpose of the visit of the ghost was conformable with popular belief. There seem to have been three chief businesses for which the buried re-appeared in the world; 1. The righting wronged orphans; 2. The discovery of treasure that had been concealed in the earth; 3. The revealing acts of murder, and bringing the criminals to justice. It is remarkable how these purposes, which even to the present day usually make part of the superstition, have come down from the earlier times. Thus Virgil, on the ghost of Sichæus:—
But in a dream, unburied yet, her husband came to appear, With visage pale and wondrous hewes, full deadly was his chear; And told her all, and wide his wound disclosing, shewed his breast, How he before the altar was, for what intent, oppressed; And bade her flee the wicked soil, e’er worse might her befall, And treasure underground he shewed to help her therewithall; Both gold and silver plenty great unknown till then, and so This Dido did, and made her friends, and ordain’d forth to go. Æneid I. Phaer.
But there is much in all the popular superstitions of England which may be traced to classical ages.” </p. 212>
Roffe (1851, 31-pg. pamphlet) maintains that the Ghost must be “real” if we are to respect Sh.’s art. He attempts to dispute the views of sceptics, several of whom deplore Sh’s reliance on ghosts. Roffe thinks it would be an enormous flaw in Sh.’s art if he were to dramatize what is not true to nature. If supernatural visitations “were merely the servile copies of false imaginations, they would justly offend every cultivated mind, but we have daily experience that they do not do so” (p. 17). His inference from this fact is not that something fictional is going on that does not offend skeptics or believers but that skeptics as well as believers really do at some level believe. He repeats these ideas in his conclusion, pp. 30-1. Hamlet tells us “1st. That Ghosts do appear objectively. 2nd. That several persons at once may see a Ghost. 3rd. That one person may, and another may not, as with Hamlet and the Queen. 4th. That the ends for which Ghosts may appear may be good, bad, or indifferent, may succeed or may fail . . .” (p. 5). While he admits that some works can include allegorical images, he will not deal with those, unfortunately (p. 5n). He says, “Altho’ it has been assumed above, that no opinion exprest by one of the Poet’s Characters is to be quoted as his opinion also, yet any piece of wisdom, or of thought, as distinguished from an opinion, may be called his wisdom or his thought” (p. 6). He quotes Lessing (pp. 17-18) from Drake. Roffe treats the subject of the ghost’s armor: “If the Internal World and its inhabitants be Realities, the marvel would be the want of Clothing . . . ”(p. 21). He alludes throughout to other plays to try to show that Sh believes in a spirit world.
Hudson ([hud1] ed. 1856): “The paper of Blackwood, quoted in our Introduction, has the following excellent remarks on the Ghost: ‘The effect at first produced by the apparition is ever afterwards wonderfully sustained. I do not merely allude to the touches of realization which, in the poetry of the scenes, pass away from no memory; —such as, “The star,” —“Where now it burns,’—“The sepulchre,”—“The complete steel,”—“The glimpses of the moon,”—“Making night hideous,” —“Look, how pale he glares,”—and other wild expressions, that are like fastenings by which the mind clings to its terror. I rather allude to the whole conduct of the Ghost. We ever behold in it a troubled spirit leaving the place of suffering to revisit the life it had left, to direct and command a retribution that must be accomplished. He speaks of the pain to which he is gone, but that fades away in the purpose of the mission. “Pity me not:” He bids Hamlet revenge, though there is not the passion of revenge in his discourse. The penal fires have purified the grosser man. The spectre utters but a moral declaration of guilt, and swears its living son to the fulfillment of a righteous vengeance. H.”
Lloyd (1858, p. [11]): “Certainly there is a marked contrast in respect to sympathy with the sex between the musing and reflective prince and his warlike father, whose affection for his consort erred during his life rather in over fondness—as well appears from Hamlet’s description of his tenderness and assiduity, and who, even when he reappears as a ghost in intervals of torment to claim revenge for murder upon her paramour, cannot bear that she should be even distressed by reproaches, much less actually punished. Both on the platform of the castle and in the chamber of the palace he qualifies his urgency of appeal for vengeance by restraints in her favour, and by injunctions to soothe and comfort her when her conscience seems to be touched with difficulty and at last.”
Clarke & Clarke ([c&mc] ed. 1868): “This [Adieu, adieu, Hamlet] is the Folio reading; but the Quartos give ‘Adieu, adieu, adieu! remember me:’ which confirms our view of the triple iteration with which the ghost’s diction was marked in the author’s conception of it, although he may have seen fit to modify it on revisal. See [n. 765].”
Gervinus (1875, rpt. 1883, pp. 551-2): <p. 551>“An heroic king of Denmark—a man without his like of noble form and majesty—was murdered by his brother. . . . </p. 551> <p.552> The dead father is held by all in the liveliest and deepest remembrance; ‘every fool can tell’ according to the grave-digger the year and date on which he overcame old Norway . . . .”
Santayana (ed. c. 1900, p. xxx): “This ghost is not like the deities that often appear in Greek tragedy, a deus ex machina coming to solve, in the light of serene thought and eternal interests, the tangled problems of the single life. On the contrary, this ghost is a party to the conflict, an instigator of sinister thoughts, a thing hatched in a nest of sorrows. Its scope is so exclusively personal that it may well seem the very coinage of the brain; yet it is ostensibly miraculous, noble, pathetic, veracious. It is at once a spectre and a suspicion, a physical marvel and an inward and authoritative voice.”
Bradley (1905, p. 142) points out that ghosts work for Macbeth and Hamlet but would not for Lear or Othello.He speculates: “why does Shakespeare make his Ghost so majestical a phantom, giving it that measured and solemn utterance, and that air of impersonal abstraction which, forbids, for example, all expression of affection for Hamlet and checks in Hamlet the outburst of pity for his father? Whatever the intention may have been, the result is that the Ghost affects imagination not simply as the apparition of a dead king who desires the accomplishment of his purposes, but also as the representation of that hidden ultimate power, the messenger of divine justice set upon the expiation of offences which it appeared impossible for a man to discover and avenge, a reminder or a symbol of the connection of the limited world of ordinary experience with the vaster life of which it is but a partial appearance.”
Trench (1913, p. 70): “Orthodoxy was naturally disposed to suspect apparitions to be supernatural beings coming more probably with 'wicked' than 'charitable intent.' . . . ”
Trench (1913, p. 295) makes the interesting point that the ghost has the unhappy habit of turning from what, in Trench's view, should be his main concern, revenge, to other concerns that Hamlet can seize upon and with which he is more comfortable. Thus, the ghost voices his desire for revenge in 690 and 710, but his last words to Hamlet are “remember me” [776], words that give Hamlet license to do what he wants to do: think rather than act. Similarly in the closet scene, the ghost begins promisingly enough with the reminder to Hamlet that he has forgotten his primary purpose [2491] but immediately diverts to the queen, urging Hamlet to do what he had been doing—to talk, again a much more congenial activity for Hamlet than action.
Greg (1917, 393-405) begins by saying that no one has written about Sh's attitude towards ghosts and therefore he surveys the ground himself. He denies the solidity of the ghosts in <i>R3, Mac.</i> and <i> JC,<i> concluding that Sh. was not a believer in ghosts. Greg admits that there is almost universal belief in the ghost of Hamlet's father, but flatters his audience [or himself] by saying that only the most sophisticated will realize that it is not real. He shows that what the ghost supposedly tells Hamlet is not true, first summarizing the story line as it is usually understood. He then brings up what few critics have noticed: the dumb show. Why didn't the king react to this? The only possible reason is that the dumb show does not reveal how the king was murdered. In succeeding pages Greg talks about dumb shows in the history of drama, and in no case is there a duplication of a narrative portion. The excuse offered by Caldecott and Halliwell apud v1877 that the king and queen are engaged in conversation during the dumb show is lame. The dumb show is designed precisely to show that the ghost is not telling the truth and therefore is a figment of Hamlet's imagination. Greg refers to an earlier critic who expressed this view: Heinrich von Struve, trans. in v1877 2:391. But Struve does not prove that the ghost's words are ventriloquism, hallucination; nor does he deal with the play-within. He says that the ghost tells Hamlet nothing he could not have gleaned for himself from court gossip. Greg continues with the play-within and his conclusions. He believes that we are at liberty to consider the ghost "a freak of collective suggestion, and explain it away as we would any other spook." [But even if the ghost's narrative is not true--if that is what the king's lack of reaction shows--that does not mean that the specter is unreal.] Wilson, in MLR 1918 and in WHH, argues against Greg's view.
Wilson (1918, p. 136): “It was essential to the whole purpose of the play that the audience should be in no doubt about this [the reality of the ghost], for the problem of Hamlet is: why did not the Prince sweep to his revenge? It is a problem of character, not of circumstance. Once allow that Hamlet had valid excuse for his later suggestions that the Ghost ‘may be the devil' or a ‘damned ghost,' and the whole character interest is weakened and confused, while the level of the play is lowered; what had been a spiritual problem becomes a spiritualistic one.” Ed. note: Wilson thus assumes that IF the ghost is real it is Hamlet's father, and there is no moral or ethical reason for delay.
Farjeon (1925, rpt. 1949, p. 147) praises the actor (Mr. Courtenay Thorpe) who played the Ghost, “whose elocution is not only immaculate and opulent in the variety of its harmonies, but who gives one the rare impression of a soul in torment.” </ p. 147> Thorpe played the ghost for years. Farjeon (p. 150) recommends G. B. Shaw’s criticism of his acting 30 years before.
Adams (ed. 1929, p. 182): “The dead King Hamlet seems to have been 'verging on eld.' His hair was 'sable silvered' [441]; and in 'The Mouse-trap' his son represents him as saying to his wife 'Faith, I must leave thee, love, and shortly too; My operant powers their functions leave to do' [2040-1].” Ed. note: Adams considers Hamlet to have written the whole play-within.
Knight (1930, p. 5): “ the Ghost [is the] symbol of the Death-theme in Hamlet.
Knight (1930, p. 43): “ 'The spirit that I have seen May be the devil . . . ' It was. It was the devil of the knowledge of death, which possesses Hamlet and drives him from misery and pain to increasing bitterness, cynicism, murder, and madness.”
Knight (1930, p. 46), referring to TLN 625: “The Ghost may or may not have been a 'goblin damned'; it certainly was no 'spirit of health'.”
Anon. (TLS 1930: 24) The reviewer of the Dover Wilson and May Yardly ed. of Lavater, 1572, does not agree with Wilson that Sh. would have required Lavater to conjure up his image of the ghost in Hamlet. Ideas denying and affirming the surfacing of ghosts among the living abounded in the culture of the time.
Farjeon (1931, rpt. 1949, p. 155) liked the Ghost played by Mr. Baliol Holloway (with Herbert Tearle), but objected to its remaining invisible until it speaks (1.5) “because, paradoxically, modern producers, being no longer superstitious, are afraid of ghosts. But to represent an unholy ghost by a shaft of light (which is usually reserved for the Divine) when he is off the stage, and then to wrap him in complete gloom when he comes on, seems rather contradictory. But contradictions are, of course, bound to follow as soon as Shakespeare’s own stage directions are ignored.”
Farjeon (1935, rpt. 1949, p. 156) deplores the darkness on the set, as in 3.4 (in a production with Michael Macliammoir), where the Ghost did come on for once: “so often in modern productions he is here reduced to a voice off-stage, thus making Hamlet seem really loony.” The ghost was lit but the other characters were not.
Rylands ([cln2] ed. 1947): “In earlier plays the traditional Ghost wore a sheet or a leather jacket. Hamlet’s father appears ‘in arms’ [60], which makes his son suspect foul play [457]. In [2518] he appears in the Queen’s bedchamber ‘in his habit as he lived,’ according to Q1 his night-gown or dressing gown.” [Ed. note: “Bedchamber” is problematic.]
Clark (1951, rpt. 1999, pp. 100-1, 103, 105): <p. 100> Sh. endowed the ghost “with the dignity and convincingness which distinguished all his supernatural characters, ” fulfilling the expectations of both the ignorant and the learned.
</p. 100> <p. 101> Clark accepts at face value Hamlet's later doubt of the ghost, which earlier he had said was “honest.” </p. 101> <p. 103> “In Hamlet the Supernatural reveals the past and is corroborated; in Macbeth it reveals the future, and its prophecies are fulfilled. . . . In the Scottish tragedy the Weird Sisters succeed in persuading Macbeth to carry out their designs: in Hamlet the Ghost really fails in his mission, for the Prince hesitates, doubts, and delays, and finally is moved to kill the murderer by other causes altogether.” In Macbeth the Sisters need not return to urge Macbeth on; the ghost returns to try to “whet his son's 'almost blunted purpose.' [2491].” Clark concludes that supernatural powers are limited: “they cannot command, nor compel . . . . ” The ghost may be considered objective, that is real because it can be seen by others. Thus, when it appears only to Hamlet in his mother's closet, it is possible to consider it subjective, a coinage of his brain [2520]. </p. 103> <p. 105> “The Hamlet Ghost, like the Weird Sisters of Macbeth and the spirit of Julius Caesar, dominates the whole action, and controls the fortunes and characters of all who come beneath its influence. Hamlet is a changed man after his eerie experience, and his own violent death, as well as the tragedies of Polonius, Ophelia, Gertrude, Laertes, and Claudius, is to be directly attributed to the spectre's intervention. ” </p. 105>
Joseph (1953, p. 105): “From the first scene Shakespeare has reminded us that the Ghost may be false. . . . When Hamlet first encounters the spirit, this possibility is kept in mind [quotes 625-7: 'Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd . . . wicked or charitable'].” The doubts about the ghost's nature, allayed during their interview but surfacing later, keep Hamlet from rushing to revenge.
Alexander (1955, pp. 26-30) <p. 26> discusses the necessity for presenting the ghost as more than a fleeting phantom: “he is almost the principal person in the First Act , [. . . ].” </ p. 26> <p. 27> Alexander calls him a “revenant,” as Ibsen called his Ghosts. The text indicates how he looks to those who see him. </p. 27> <p. 28> At Sh.’s theater, the actor had to walk on stage in full daylight. </p. 28>
<p. 29> “The Ghost, like every other character in the play, may be looked at from one or other of two points of view; it is from one side a piece of mechanism fitted into a complete machine, to be judged by the efficiency with which it takes up or transmits the power that is generated by the plant as a whole; from the other it is an end in itself . [. . . ] As a piece of mechanism in the plot the Ghost is indispensable. Shakespeare requires a murder [. . . ] that only the murderer or the murdered could reveal to him. The Ghost is the mechanism of communication. [. . . ] </p. 29> <p. 30> The Ghost, however, is much more than a cog in the mechanism of the plot. He is a moral agent in the drama, an individual in his own artistic right.” </p. 30>
Prosser (1967, p. 244), who thinks that Sh. does not mean for the ghost to be obeyed, asserts that to achieve the Post-Reformation dignified ghost and blemish-free protagonist the text had to be thoroughly expurgated.
Robson (1975, pp. 316-18): <p. 316> In 1876 [cited in v1877] von Struve theorized that the ghost was an illusion, and thus the method of murder was in Hamlet's head. Struve lists all the gestures and hints (not recorded in the play), which could give rise to the illusion that a ghost had told him about adultery and murder. Robson agrees that this sort of extrapolation is not in fashion, but he also disagrees with the “"a priori dismissal, on </p. 316> <p. 317> pseudo-logical grounds,” of inferring the non-staged past of the characters. Using the play, it is possible to draw inferences about the characters' pasts. By seeing the ghost scene as a figment of Hamlet's imagination, Struve has not gone beyond the pale. “Greg [MLR 1917] sees Hamlet as suffering a mental shock when he sees the Ghost but notes that he is at first cautious and critical. 'I'll call thee Hamlet, King, father, royal Dane.� But, as so often happens, he is excited by his own ardour and eloquence. 'He waxes desperate with imagination.' ”</p. 317> <p. 318> But Robson is skeptical of some of Greg's arguments, e.g. the unlikelihood of the players happening to have with them a play so like the murder recounted by the ghost. Robson's answer: “such things are allowed to happen in fiction.” Dover Wilson, with reference to Horatio's solid presence, demolished Greg's argument about scene one, which Greg laid all to superstition. He argues that Horatio could not have seen King Hamlet more than once as a small boy (because he is a fellow student of Hamlet's). The same answer will do: “such things are allowed to happen in fiction.”
“It is a great pity that the Ghost is so poorly treated in modern productions.” Also his part is cut. The ghost in Hamlet is in a class by itself when compared to revenants in other early modern plays, or in Shakespeare. Emily Prosser </p. 318> <p. 319> tries to illuminate the ghost with reference to topical beliefs building on Dover Wilson's similar attempts to bring in contemporary ideas. She lists contemporary beliefs, but the most telling point is that the ghost asks for revenge, and Shakespeare shows us the result of that wickedness in 3.3. Robson cannot ascribe Hamlet's murderous thoughts to the ghost alone. </p. 319> <p. 320> “I believe we should see in the Ghost a 'portentous thing' which Hamlet 'construed after his fashion,' and that if we do so we are following the play's repeated hints that what happens in is the result of incompatible, yet complementary ways of apprehending reality.” </p. 320>
Coronado (Hamlet film 1976) has identical twin actors, Anthony Meyer and David Meyer, playing Hamlet as well as the ghost.
Beckerman (1977, p. 316): In discussing a key dramatic element, <i> resistance, </i> Beckerman considers the resistance that impedes the Ghost--the necessity to leave before dawn. "An analogous, but more central resistance is the cosmic prohibition against revealing the details of his torment. Both are concrete resistances that accentuate the Ghost's need to gain Hamlet's aid." This and other resistances within the play help us to understand "the split concern of Hamlet and the difficulty he has in obeying the double-edged charge of the Ghost."
Everett (ShSur 30 [1977], p. 118): “The Ghost is first a royal presence coming to the waiting sentries; and then he is the great shadow of a loved father burdening the son with dread; and then a devil in the cellarage, friendly and bad; and finally a man in a dressing-gown whose wife cannot even see him. In the closet scene the Ghost stays just long enough to make us realise that we had almost forgotten him. After it, Hamlet Senior is neither present nor missed, and there is no word of him at the end of the play.”
Spencer ([pen2] ed. 1980) believes that the cellarage scene shows that the ghost “would almost certainly” have entered and exited through the trap-door. He cites the truncheon’s length [395]. He lists a number of implicit SDs in 1.2 and 1.4 that attest to its appearance 60, 76, 391, 430, 432, 439, 637; demeanor 78, 428; and gait: 64, 82, 392-3,
Kroll, Jack (Newsweek, 2 June 1980, apud Mike Neuman, shaksper): "In a daring innovation, Hamlet's dead father appears not as a specter but as a kind of Danish dybbuk muscling his way out of Hamlet's very bowels. This scene is an astonishing spectacle: Hamlet becomes a giant, unwilling ventriloquist's dummy as his father's voice is wrenched from his mouth in hair-raising sepulchral tones while Pryce's body lashes, heaves, and snaps in a fit of ectoplasmic epilepsy. This is a true ghost, the anguished retroactive voice of an unfulfilled relationship.”
Ed. note: The American Shakespeare Repertory Co. (NY) repeated this ploy with Douglas Overtoom as Hamlet, directed by Janet Farrow, in the 1980's, soon after Pryce's achievement.
Edwards (ShSur 36 [1983]: p. 50): “The literary criticism of the past fifty years, with its challenge to the conduct of the Ghost, has unintentionally moved the play right into that point of terrible balance described by Kierkegaard [balance between ‘divine and demonic’].”
Zitner (1983, p. 205): " 'Is it an Honest Ghost?' Neither scholarship nor criticism produces an answer because the Ghost is terminally ambiguous."
Edwards ([cam4] ed. 1985, p. 41): “ [. . . ]we can sense the apprehension of the watch for what may be the consequence for Denmark of the loss of their hero-king.”
Bate ( (1985, pp. 56-7, 97) says that James Gilray's caricature of Boydell's Gallery (plate 12) shows that Fuselli's ghost (plate 20) looks like the devil with horns as halo and with tail as trailing cape.“ Here the image of the ghost was used in a political satire that does not reflect on Shakespeare's meaning in the play but is “ made into a weapon which could be put into the hands of the trampled people.”
Petcher (ShSur 39 [1987], p. 147) considers the ghost a frustrating aspect of the play: “Hamlet’s father is lost. Whatever he was--Hyperion; the doer of foul crimes while in his days of nature; a man, take him for all in all--he is now no more.”
Mercer(1987, p. 26): Though the ghost of Hamlet's father is far from the horrible, moldering corpse, crying out for revenge, “the awful implications of his demand remain . . . the same. Revenge will be as fatal to the humanity of his son as it is to Antonio [Marston, Antonio's Revenge]. Or so Hamlet has every reason to suppose” Ed. note: Some Hamlets have expressed this idea; Beale did in his stage performance, for example.
Rick Jones (shaksper 17 Nov. 1993): “I believe the official Anglican church position was that all apparitions are *by definition* creations of the devil. Church dogma would therefore have us believe that Hamlet the younger ought to be more than merely cautious of anyone/anything purporting to be the ghost of Hamlet the elder: he ought in fact to shy away from the ghost's advice no matter how persuasive it may be. If the ghost is really the Devil, he certainly has a jolly old time at the expense of the mere mortals throughout the course of the play—similar, perhaps, to the 'true facts' of the Trojan War as presented in Euripides' Helen. The relevant question for this interpretation, of course, is whether the flock (i.e. Shakespeare's audience) paid any attention to the bishopric, and indeed whether what the church wrote and what it practiced were necessarily the same: certainly our own age provides innumerable examples of common practice at odds with official proclamation. Ed. note: For other shaksper views, consult the shaksper archives.
Tarkovsky (1993, p. 381), who had expected to stage Hamlet, in his diary outlined his plan to humanize the ghost. He "walks out perfectly normally, factually, he doesn't vanish in a theatrical way. Altogether the Ghost ought to be the most real, concrete character in the play . . . . All the pain is now concentrated in him, all the suffering of the world. He could even have a handkerchief in his hand, and put it to his ear, as if he could still feel the poison there, as if it were still seeping” (p. 381). Almereyda, in his film (2000), had his ghost, Sam Shepherd, use this very gesture. As a revenant, who carries with him the baggage of his humanity, he is not the grand presence whom Hamlet must obey unquestioningly. </div>
Battenhouse, Roy (1913-1995) (written before 1995, published Kliman, 2002, p. 114): “Signals of a lack of charity are many. Entering armed and frowning, the Ghost arouses dread as it 'usurps't' the night. Horatio is reminded of the ghosts that appeared to portend disasters to the Roman state in the times of Julius Caesar. Is it not ominous that when Horatio charges this ghost to speak 'By Heaven' and 'If there be any good thing to be done,' it shifts away? Later, very significantly, it vanishes at the crowing of the cock, a bird that has Christian associations with the light of God, wholesome nights, and 'our Savior's birth.' . . . Such signals indicate a framework of traditional lore against which Shakespeare is placing the defective morality of the Ghost.”
Barnet ([sig] ed. 1998, p. lxx) points out that all the other ghosts in Sh. “are what they seem to be.”
Belsey (1999, rpt. 2001, pp. 158-61, quoted by Griffiths, p. 156): “The play registers Hamlet's ambivalence in the imagery of the period, the effect of centuries of Christian iconography. What it withholds—both from the hero and from the audience—is the place of origin which would specify the moral identity of the Ghost. At its first appearance to Hamlet, he approaches it in the explicit recognition of this uncertainty: [quotes 625-9]. What is a 'questionable shape' [628]? a shape, perhaps, which prompts a question, a signifier whose significance is unknown? Does the term 'shape' imply the possibility of alternatives, of other shapes? Has a shape no shape of its own, no proper shape? Or might this figure change its shape at will, on the basis that there is behind the appearance a substantial, if immaterial identity, whether angel or demon.” [Hamlet in the heat of the moment accepts] “the spectral father's injunction as unquestionable. But his first anxiety recurs throughout the play as the hero repeatedly reopens the 'question' of an injunction from the Ghost of a loving father who, apparently, commands an action which might incur his son's damnation.”
Almereyda (film 2000): Because the filmmaker, influenced by Tarkofsky, humanizes the ghost, his Hamlet has to make the moral choices without supernatural solicitings. Shepherd’s compassionate ghost, with deeply pitying eyes, is a model only and as limited as any human mentor might be. Hamlet glances at him resentfully when he turns up again near the end of the play (during the early portion of 5.1 when Hamlet is discussing his plans or lack thereof with Horatio).
Caird (stage productions 2000-1): Hamlet’s disrespect for his father’s spirit in the “Old Mole” sequence has been variously explained away; Caird and his Hamlet, Simon Russell Beale, suggest it derives from anger at the ghost’s (Sylvester Morand’s) ranting revelations. The ghost’s demand is likely to result in Hamlet’s death—as Beale’s Hamlet realizes even if the ghost does not.
Grenblatt (2001) believes that Sh. made theatrical use of the concept of purgatory without necessarily following through on it as a religious idea. He believes that since the ghost has asked Hamlet to commit a murder, it is a Senecan ghost. And yet it is pitiable and asks to be remembered, like a good Catholic ghost. Further it does not speak like the avenging spirits. And it does not hang around to see its will accomplished. These contradictory elements contribute to Hamlet’s richness.
Foakes (ShSur 58 [2005], pp. 34-5, p. 47): <p. 34> “It is worth pursuing further the question not considered by Greenblatt and touched on but not adequately considered by Jones and Stallybrass: why is this ghost, uniquely among the more than sixty stage ghosts in drama of the period, clad in armour?” </p. 34>. . . . <p. 35> “Horatio [391] says he is armed ‘at point’, or properly in every detail, ‘cap-a-pie’. This term, commonly glossed in editions as equivalent to ‘from head to foot’, was properly used to describe a kind of heavy armour that encased the whole body, and was intended for use on horseback.” </p. 35>
Foakes concludes: <p. 47> “The ghost is thus a very complex figure, who marks the distance between ancient and modern in his armour and in his heroic classical associations, and marks the distance between Catholic and Protestant in his association with Purgatory and last rites. Yet he almost closes that gap when he speaks as a murdered father, and shows a puritanical obsession with sex and lust, an obsession Hamlet also reveals in the closet scene with his mother.”</p. 47>
Kliman (2007): Sh. might have had the ghost appear while Hamlet was observing the king at prayer and say, “No, don’t hesitate; do it now,” but he does not appear. Yet he appears moments later when Hamlet is harassing his mother. See Campbell Scott film (2000), which does have the ghost appear, or at least his arm appears in the frame, restraining Hamlet's.
Wilson (2007, pp. 232-3) <p. 232> “If this 'portentous figure' [124+2] is 'so majestical,' why does the dramatist </p. 232> <p. 233> make it 'start like a guilty thing Upon a fearful summons' [147]” Why would Shakespeare have it shrink ' in hast away' when the cock crew [[1.2.124-30; Sonnet 74]]? Some infer he did this because 'No Elizabethan [[censor]] would accept a play with a 'good' ghost' from a Catholic Purgatory. [Arthur McGee. The Elizabethan Hamlet. New Haven: Yale UP, 1987. p. 28.] But Hamlet voices that 'It is an honest ghost' [831]." That being so, the ghost "is made guilty by its unrelenting cries for vengeance: and if the logic of its Catholic origin is followed, what Hamlet thereby registers is Shakespeare's own resistance, in the red dawn of a new age, to apocalyptic calls for revenge." [Ed. note: It may be Hamlet's resistance rather than Shakespeare's.]
Bernice W. Kliman