Discuss the significance of the ghost in Act 1 Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:26:25
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It harrows me with fear and wonder. Horatios expressive words on first encountering the ghost in Hamlet are reflective of the concerns that were preeminent in the minds of the Elizabethans of Shakespeares time with regards the supernatural. The influence of the peoples rampant belief in ghosts, witches and superstitious ideas is evident on the pages of such Shakespearean works as Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Richard III. This idea of ghosts triggered a sense of fear, and instigated thought on matters such as death and the afterlife.

The appearance of King Hamlets ghost is thus not only typical of the era in which the play was supposedly written, as well as typical of other Shakespearean works, but brings to mind issues which are still widely debated today. Act 1 begins with a change of guards at the Elsinore castle, an active scene which has been interpreted by some to set off the tension in the play. The guards on duty, Marcellus and Barnardo, attempt to convince Horatio of an apparition, a dreaded sight which they had twice previously seen. Horatio, however, is filled with disbelief, proclaiming, Tush, tush, twill not appear.

The repetition of the word tush in this alliterative statement draws our attention to his doubts of the ghosts appearance, and thus makes it even more dramatic when the ghost suddenly appears. The setting of the first scene on the castle battlements past midnight, and the manner in which the ghosts previous appearances are described by the guards, employing such adjectives as dreaded and references to heaven and the star¦ where now it burns all come together to create a fearful scene. These all pave the way for the appearance of the ghost, and further dramatic description of it and its actions.

The way the ghost moves and acts, seen in the use of sibilance in See, it stalks away, and in the stage directions, It spreads his arms can be described as frightening and haunting. Horatio says of the ghost, ¦ it started like a guilty thing/ Upon a fearful summons This simile implies that the ghost is still facing judgement, and this introduces the idea of purgatory. It is believed by Catholics that when a person dies, they either go to heaven, hell or are in judgement in purgatory. The ghost further hints this idea to Hamlet when he says, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature/ Are burnt and purged away.

This further connotes the idea that Hamlets father is Catholic whereas Hamlet, a student at Wittenberg, the same university attended by Martin Luther the religious Reformist and founder of Protestantism, is Protestant. This idea of religious differences can be linked to the era in which Shakespeare was writing, in that the Church of England had broken away from the Catholic Church under King Henry in the 16th century and there was thus consciousness of differing denominations among Catholics and Anglicans in England. It is also very dramatic that the ghost does not speak to the guards, and indeed it speaks to no other person but Hamlet.

Although Horatio, the scholar, bids it to speak to him with the continuous repetition of Speak to me, the ghost does not speak till it has met Hamlet and led him away from the others. The delay between when the guards see the ghost in the first scene and when the ghost actually speaks to Hamlet in Scene Four creates suspense and heightens the tension in the play. The appearance and words of the ghost confirms the speculation by the guards and Horatio that Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. This is reminiscent of where Horatio earlier points out, making use of alliteration, that this bodes some strange eruption to our state.

There is a lot of war imagery used in this Act, including ¦ assail your ears/ That are so fortified¦ and martial stalk. The Danes are worried that war will be waged on them by Fortinbras of Norway, and thus the reason for people working to make weapons day and night, and guards watching the palace all night long. The ghost only seems to buffer these thoughts, appearing in warlike form and wearing the same armour which King Hamlet had on when he combated Norway. However, the ghosts calling of Hamlet aside is significant as it proves that he has appeared for a more private reason than those concerning the wars of Denmark.

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