Friday, 16 August 2013

Supernatural Elements in 'Hamlet'


Belief in the supernatural and wonder at the inexplicable mysteries of death was largely shared by people during the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare makes effective use of these popular superstitions and beliefs of his time. In Hamlet, the supernatural appears in the form of the Ghost.

Three-Fold Dramatic Significance

The Ghost in Hamlet has at least three-fold dramatic significance. It contributes to the tragic atmosphere of the play, motivates the entire action of the play and finally it shows up the characters and derives home a certain moral effect.

The First Appearance

The Ghost has been seen twice by two officers of the guard, Marcellus and Bernardo, before they decide to inform Horatio in the very first scene. Horatio is a scholar and he is skeptical about the existence of the ghosts. He says ‘tis but our fantasy. Bernardo then begins to describe his experience of having seen the Ghost but is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of the Ghost. It is the Ghost of the late king of Denmark but it comes clad in armor. Horatio agrees that the Ghost resembles the late king in every respect and says ‘it harrows me with fear and wonder’. He explains his experience as

In what particular thought to work I know not;
But, in the grass and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

          To support his views, he refers to the supernatural things that occurred before the death of Julius Caesar. Horatio suggests that Hamlet should be informed of it. Hamlet, too, believes in some calamity or evil about to befall

My father’s spirit in arms! All is not well
I doubt some foul play

The Supernatural Atmosphere

The first thing that a dramatist should do when introducing the supernatural is to create the necessary atmosphere, which makes it possible and plausible. Such an atmosphere is provided in the early part of the opening scene. It is a cold and dark night and there is no doubt about that the Ghost creates an atmosphere of tension and fear, and that the actual appearance of the Ghost on the stage would ‘harrow’ the audience too ‘with fear and wonder’.

The Second Appearance

          Ghost makes its second appearance in the closet-scene when Hamlet is talking to his mother. But this time the Ghost is visible only to Hamlet. The queen does not see it and finding Hamlet speaking to vacancy, thinks that Hamlet is mad. It is possible to argue that Ghost here represents only Hamlet’s own conscience urging and spurring him to revenge and scolding him for his inaction.

The Importance Of The Ghost

          The main theme of the play is revenge. The motive for this theme is provided by the Ghost. The Ghost informs Hamlet that Claudius had murdered his father by pouring poison into his ear and then usurped the kingdom and seduced his mother. It further imposes upon Hamlet the duty of avenging his father’s death and advises him

                   Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
                        A couch for luxury and damned incest.

Without the prophetic greetings of the Witches, there is no Macbeth; without the initial revelation of the Ghost there is no Hamlet.

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