“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare: Character of the Ghost

The importance of each character in a literary work can be either revealed explicitly by the author or implied by the character’s interactions with other individuals or relations to some events. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is one character that does exist in the same dimension as all the others. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father, who is visible only to some of the main heroes and can speak only to Hamlet, is certainly a character bearing much significance in the play. Most importantly, the Ghost symbolizes revenge, but he also serves as an essential contributor to the understanding of the theme of mortality in the play.

There is a whole collection of features pertaining to the Ghost that makes it impossible not to realize this character’s significance for the play’s understanding. First of all, the Ghost has “the same figure, like the King that’s dead” (Shakespeare 1.1.53). The mentioning of this description at the very beginning of the first act informs the reader about the sad reality that the ruler of the kingdom where the action takes place has recently deceased. However, this is not the only sad piece of news about the late king: as the Ghost reveals later to his son, Hamlet, he did not die of a natural cause but was, in fact, murdered by his own brother. The Ghost does not only tell Hamlet that he has been killed – he makes an emphasis on the ruthlessness of the “murther” that his brother committed (Shakespeare 1.5.763). Sence, the significance of the Ghost in this particular episode becomes evident: he wants his son to revenge for his soul and to punish “the serpent” and “incestuous, that adulterate beast” (Shakespeare 1.5.776; 1.5.780). The Ghost’s language implies the eagerness for his death to be retaliated.

When analyzing the impact of the character on the theme of revenge, it is necessary to discuss the concepts of death and religion and their representation in the play. The Ghost both helps to uncover these topics and makes their evaluation in the given literary piece complicated. Firstly, the Ghost mentions purgatory and describes the tortures a soul must undergo before being sent to heaven. The Ghost mentions that he is “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” (Shakespeare 1.5.746-749). This explanation is close to some Christian doctrines’ definition of purgatory. However, the character’s entreaty for his death to be revenged contradicts the very idea of purgatory. The main purpose of the soul’s clearance is directly objected to by the Ghost’s request for something evil, even though justified.

The next dimension of the character’s significance in the play is his involvement in the revelation of the theme of mortality. Not only is the Ghost the embodiment of one’s state between life and death but also his son, Hamlet, is constantly haunted by sinister suicidal thoughts. The words “this too too solid flesh would melt” are related to the death of his father and the planned revenge murder of his uncle (Shakespeare 1.2.333). However, there is also an indication of Hamlet’s consideration of his own death in the most prominent monologue of the tragedy. By saying, “To be, or not to be – that is the question,” the hero implies his concern over whether it is worth continuing living or if he should put an end to his life (Shakespeare 3.1.1749). It is evident that one of the most troubling waves in the “sea of troubles” that keeps bothering the young man is his late father’s Ghost (Shakespeare 3.1.1752). Even though Hamlet might have had such thoughts earlier, before his father’s death, it is obvious that in the course of communication with the Ghost, these thoughts have become more troubling.

Finally, it is relevant to discuss the role of the Ghost in the evolution of Hamlet’s mental state. This aspect incorporates both the concepts of mortality and revenge. Whereas at the beginning of the play, the guards can see the Ghost, they cannot communicate with him. Meanwhile, Hamlet is the only one to talk to the Ghost and hear his responses. During their first encounter, the Ghost beckons Hamlet “to go away with it” as though it desires to tell something important and secret to Hamlet (Shakespeare 1.4.689-690). Still, one can interpret such events in a twofold way: either the Ghost really wants to speak to Hamlet in private, or Hamlet imagines all of it due to being mentally unstable.

The significance of the character of the Ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet cannot be overestimated. This character helps to identify such crucial themes as mortality and revenge and promotes the reader’s tracing of the evolution of other heroes’ attitude toward these concepts. Most evidently, Hamlet is affected by the Ghost, but other heroes’ and heroines’ fates are also indirectly influenced due to the communication between Hamlet and his late father’s spirit.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. “.” Open Source Shakespeare, n.d., Web.

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