The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1137 Thursday, 27 May 2004
Date: Wednesday, 26 May 2004 16:26:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Hamlet's Ghost
As a novice member, I am reviewing the postings on Hamlet's Ghost with
interest. I have yet to master the system of responding to threads, so
I apologize in advance for not responding to previous posters directly.
I find the Ghost an interesting and ambiguous figure, as Hamlet,
Shakespeare's audiences, and so many others have before me have done.
In terms of plot development, Hamlet starts at his first meeting with
the Ghost quite notably making all efforts to avoid making an oath to
act based on the Ghost's revelation. The suspicion that the Ghost may
be an evil spirit makes Hamlet cautious in his dealings with him from
the beginning of their exchange and troubles him through the second act.
By the end of the second act, it seems that Hamlet is able to
recognize as a red herring the task of determining whether the Ghost is
actually a shade of his father, or an evil spirit--Hamlet comes to the
conclusion that he is willing to take action to avenge his father's
death, as long as the facts the Ghost has conveyed to him about the
death of his father can be verified.
"The spirit I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T'assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
He is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this.
The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."
I am not aware of a passage that relates an oath by Hamlet to the Ghost,
except Hamlet's "'Adieu, adieu! Remember me!' I have sworn't." at the
close of the first act.
I believe, along with one of the posters here who stated that we can
determine Shakespeare's intention from a thorough reading of the text.
However, I will add that in my opinion, there are two sides to this
coin; both to understand what the author intended, as well as how the
audience responded to his work. I am sure that often, the author writes
to the anticipated response of the audience. Drama is not meant to
occur in a vacuum. The two sides work in concert, like a dialogue; and
to attempt to find out how the audience side of the dialogue may have
responded to the author's work is another worthy task of interest to the
In understanding the audience's reaction to the works of Shakespeare, we
may find ourselves contemplating other writings published prior to the
production of Shakespeare's plays, with interesting results.
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