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There is No Ghost in Hamlet

Shakespeare fancies the application of ghosts in his plays, Hamlet is no exception. Scholars argue that the ghost in Hamlet is only a figment of Hamlet’s imagination, but how does that explain others witnessing the apparition. Hamlet’s mental state is declining throughout the play, but what is the true cause? From an external view Hamlet appears insane, whether or not he is insane is left ambiguous. If he is insane, is the traumatic loss of his father causing Hamlet to see a ghost or is the ghost real indeed?

The ghost first appears to three soldiers on guard: Bernado, Francisco, and Marcellus, along with Horatio, a friend of Hamlet and visitor to Denmark. Bernado and Marcellus desire to reveal the ghost they have witnessed for the past two nights to Horatio. Just as the nights before, the ghost appears and frightens the men. Startled by the ghost wearing a full coat of armor, the men draw their swords. Soon after examining the ghost, Horatio confirms that the ghost resembles Hamlet’s deceased father, the former king. The ghost quickly vanishes but reappears a shortly. Desperate to determine the intent of the phantom, Horatio strives to converse with the apparition. Remaining silent, the ghost causally wanders around the platform. As the rooster crows, the ghost evaporates and leaves the men baffled. While with the men, the ghost never communicates, but to Horatio and the others, the ghost is clearly Hamlet’s father.

Horatio, knowing that the ghost is Hamlet’s father, request that Hamlet stays on guard with the men to attempt to determine the ghost’s intent. This appearance of the ghost is much different from the first appearance. Although all the men can see the ghost, Hamlet is the only one who can communicate with it. He…

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… mentions,

“I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d 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. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison-house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!

If thou didst ever thy dear father love—.”

Cleary the ghost states that he is in Purgatory, but Protestants have no belief of Purgatory. Either Shakespeare makes a mistake, or he purposely added this as evidence that the ghost does not exist.

Hamlet’s Soliloquy

When analyzing Shakespeare’s Hamlet through the deconstructionist lens various elements of the play come into sharper focus. Hamlet’s beliefs about himself and his crisis over indecision are expounded upon by the binary oppositions created in his soliloquies.

Hamlet’s first soliloquy comes in act one scene two, as Hamlet reflects on the current state of events. The chief focus of this soliloquy is essentially the rottenness of the king, queen and the world in general. In this passage the reader is introduced to Hamlet pseudo-obsession with death and suicide, which later will become a chief point of indecision. In this particular speech, however, Hamlet is fairly confident. He wishes that his “too too sullied flesh would melt” (Shakespeare 1.2.129), and laments that God has “fixed / his canon against self slaughter” (1.2.131-2). These two lines set up the fundamental dichotomy of indecision in Hamlet, which is mostly action or inaction, but can be expressed in terms of suicide or continuing life. It is important to note that there is little indecision in this particular passage, and though this makes it somewhat more difficult to deconstruct, it provides a point of comparison for Hamlets eventual madness. Here he clearly categorically rejects the idea of suicide as against god’s law, and is thereby free from the indecision seen later in the play. The rest of the passage is essentially a platform for Hamlet to air his grievances, and thus the deconstructionist lens for this soliloquy can be best applied to Hamlet’s beliefs about other characters rather than his own internal conflicts. Hamlet sets up a number of the oppositions directly by comparing his father to his uncle. He first uses the comparison of “Hyperion to a Satyr” (1.2…

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…t concern of how to catch Claudius, and how to get revenge for his father.

By recognizing the fear of the unknown and the power of doubt to derail his enterprises Hamlet resolves his indecisiveness and is able to move forward in the play. When viewed through the deconstructionist lens, Hamlet’s own personal demons and his oppositions to the king, queen, and his own inner self, are put into sharper focus and give the reader an understanding of the inner workings of the meandering path Hamlet takes to find his eventual solution.

Works Cited

Coleridge, Samuel T. “On Hamlet.” The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989.

Elliot, T S. “Hamlet and His Problems.” The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.

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