Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet And Ghost

Theater

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Using all of his seemingly infinite faculties to compose Hamlet, Shakespeare
gives each significant character in the play all the depth and emotion of a
living human being. Because of this, the characters, as well as the plot, become
extremely intricate and difficult to define. Simply assigning a
"label" to each character does not do justice to their complexity
because no one character acts according to any easily discernible guidelines. By
this reasoning, it is difficult to determine for certain whether the ghost of
Hamlet's father is either a "Spirit of Health" or a "Goblin
Damn'd." In order to do this, it is necessary to look, not at the ghost's
intentions, but at the effect of its message on Hamlet's life. If an assessment
of the ghost had to be made, it would probably be considered a "Goblin
Damn'd" rather than a "Spirit of Health," based on the disastrous
effects its words had on the course of Hamlet's life. When the Ghost utters the
fateful words "Revenge his [the Ghost's] foul and most unnatural
murder," Hamlet's life is forever changed for the worse. Not only does
Hamlet's quest for revenge divide his family and friends, but it also divides
Hamlet himself. Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not "seems." In the
exchange that follows this line between the Queen and Hamlet, Hamlet's distaste
over his mother and uncle's brief period of mourning becomes evident. It also
demonstrates some of Hamlet's suspicion concerning the circumstances surrounding
his father's death. This exchange, however, occurs before the Ghost reveals
itself to Hamlet. Before his encounter with the Ghost, Hamlet is only suspicious
of the new king and his mother, but after the Ghost reveals the circumstances of
its death, Hamlet is enraged. At this point, Hamlet is left with two choices: he
must either disgrace his father by taking no action, or, as dictated by custom,
he must avenge his father's murder with the death of Claudius -- the murderer.
Hamlet, being of the nobler sort, chooses the latter of the two, and so begins
his quest for revenge: Remember thee? Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe
away all trivial fond records,... And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmixed with baser matter. This quest
nurtures a bitter hatred in Hamlet not only toward Claudius, but toward his
mother, the Queen, as well. Also, during the course of the play, Hamlet
mistakenly murders Polonius, thus making an enemy of Polonius' son, Laertes, and
driving his daughter, Ophelia, insane. All of these characters are eventually
lost as a direct result of the all consuming nature of vengeance. Claudius,
fearing Hamlet's wrath, constructs a trap in which he hopes to kill Hamlet by
Laertes' hand, thus securing his throne and allowing Laertes to have his
revenge. When this trap is sprung, however, the casualties include Hamlet, as
well as Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet's mother, Gertrude. Previously, Ophelia,
having lost her wits over her father's murder, fell into a river and drowned.
When Hamlet discovers this news while in the graveyard, it causes him great
pain: I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity
of love Make up my sum. Hamlet's continuous pursuit of revenge to satisfy the
demands of the Ghost, eventually leads him to his death and the death of those
around him. The Ghost's demand for revenge also leads to a conflict within
Hamlet himself. This internal conflict is the result of the struggle between
what Hamlet feels is his duty, and his inability to perform that duty.
Throughout the play, Hamlet has to justify his desire for vengeance to others as
well as to himself. However, the justification always seems to be for Hamlet's
benefit; a kind of reassurance or, possibly, a motivator: I do not know Why yet
I live to say, "This thing's to do," Sith I have cause, and will, and
strength, and means To do't. Examples gross as the earth exhort me. ...O, from
this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! This segment of
Hamlet's soliloquy displays the conflict raging inside of him. At first, he is
bewildered because, although he has ample reason to exact his revenge upon
Claudius, he still has not attempted it. Earlier in the soliloquy, Hamlet is
angry with himself because he feels that he is a mere beast, since he takes no
action against Claudius. Hamlet's soliloquy ends with his firm resolve that all
of his thoughts and actions will be directed toward the task of revenge. This is
a pattern found in many of Hamlet's arguments that try to justify his quest for
revenge. The madness that Hamlet feigns early in the play is not due to his
troubles with Ophelia, as many of those who are around him think, but to his
melancholy over the task that lays before him. While Hamlet feigns madness, he
is left alone and he is allowed time to mull over the problems that face him. As
he thinks them over, he becomes depressed and bitter toward those around him:
You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock
but we shall relish of it. I loved you not. Here, Hamlet denies that he had any
feelings for Ophelia, even though he wrote her love letters, and later, when she
is dead, he claims to have loved her deeply. This contradiction may be the
result of Hamlet's melancholy, caused by the struggle that goes on inside of
him. Was the Ghost a "Spirit of Health" or a "Goblin Damn'd?"
Hamlet's encounter with the Ghost was a pivotal point in his life. However, from
that point on his life steadily became filled with grief and strife. Considering
all the casualties and losses in the name of vengeance, a vengeance first
sparked by the words of the Ghost, it must be determined that the Ghost is a
"Goblin Damn'd."
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