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The Problem of the Ghost Hamlet’s dilemma (ACT 1) Ms Juliet Paine 12 English Studies.

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1 The Problem of the Ghost Hamlet’s dilemma (ACT 1) Ms Juliet Paine 12 English Studies

2 The Source of Procrastination “ This is the story of a man who couldn’t make up his mind ” Laurence Olivier states this at the beginning of his film adaption of Hamlet (1948) Source: accessed on 02/08/09 But from where does Hamlet’s dilemma spring?

3 Hamlet’s Dilemma Is whether the ghost (supposedly his father, King Hamlet) is telling the truth? Remember the witches from Macbeth: –Macbeth believed in their prophecies unquestionably, at a huge cost to both himself and the country of Scotland. –It is only at the end of the play that he states that he has “begun to doubt the equivocation of the fiend”. –The witches represent the forces of darkness that disrupt Scotland and create chaos in the natural world.

4 Hamlet meets the ghost Angel and ministers of grace defend us! Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked or charitable, Thou coms’t in such a questionable shape. (1.4.40-5) Antithesis (defn) – “is the opposition of words of phrases against each other” - from the Cambridge Student edition of Hamlet (2005). It is also apparent in Claudius first speech in Act 1 Scene 2, in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy and in many other parts of the play. Examples of antithesis.

5 Shakespeare employs the technique of antithesis in this passage to demonstrate the emotional conflict that Hamlet experiences when he sees his father’s ghost for the first time. The use of antithesis also helps establish the ghost as an ambiguous figure in the mind of the audience. Is this spectre to be trusted? (Remember what happened to Macbeth when he believed in the witches' prophecies) Horatio fears for Hamlet’s safety stating: What if it tempt you toward the flood my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff … And there assumes some other horrible form Which might deprive our sovereignty of reason, And draw you into madness? (1.4.69-74) Hamlet meets the ghost

6 The ghost claims that: I am thy father’s spirit Doomed for a certain time 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… (1.5.9-14) Beliefs about Ghosts

7 Roman Catholics traditionally believed that if a person died without confessing, their soul would be condemned to purgatory until all their sins are burnt away and they are allowed to enter heaven. However, the majority of Shakespeare’s audience at this time would have claimed to be a Protestant (as it was dangerous to be a Catholic, although many practised their faith in secret).

8 Protestants in the audience had two reasons for being suspicious of the ghost: 1. The Protestant Church had abolished purgatory 2. The ghost demands that Hamlet avenge his father’s death, and revenge was considered a sin. Beliefs about Ghosts

9 So, ultimately, Hamlet is uncertain whether to believe the ghost. Is it a “ goblin damned ” or “ spirit of health ”? Can its tale be believed? Hamlet’s dilemma

10 If Hamlet kills Claudius, and the ghost was lying, he is committing the ultimate sin of regicide. The Renaissance philosophy of the Chain of Being (see handout) believed that kings were divinely ordained by God, and if they were murdered then chaos and disorder ensued. –eg. When Macbeth murders Duncan Hamlet’s dilemma

11 So, this is the dilemma confronting Hamlet that determines so much of the action of the play, and makes him a far from conventional revenge tragedy hero.

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