THE RELATIONSHIP OF HAMLET AND THE GHOST: SAMPLE ESSAYS

By surrendering Denmark to the son of the man his father murdered on the day of the prince’s birth, a dying Hamlet grants to the Ghost the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded: “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!” (1.5).

In six parts — your free sample essay on the relationship of Prince Hamlet and the Ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. From Hamlet: Model Essays for Students by Brendan Munnelly.

Hamlet and the Ghost: Introduction

“The King’s to blame”

‘Kill your uncle, ignore your mother, avoid losing your sanity, and don’t worry about my suffering in the afterlife’—in simple terms, these are the Ghost’s four instructions in 1.5 to the title character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The Ghost tinges his demands with emotional blackmail: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love …” But offers the prince no practical guidance: “However thou should accomplish this act …”

By the play’s end, Hamlet has broken every one of the directions issued by the “apparition” (1.1) who appears in the “questionable shape” (1.4) like “the King that’s dead” (1.1).

But, after many “purposes mistook” (5.2) and mirroring Laertes’ journey from revenge to forgiveness, the prince finds another way to keep the promise he made to his late father’s memory: “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!” (1.5).

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Like Ophelia’s offering of rosemary (“for remembrance”, 4.5), the Ghost represents the preservation of memory.
  • The Ghost is seen only by those who remember Old King Hamlet, and is invisible to others, like Claudius and Gertrude, who would rather he be forgotten.
  • Two related themes of Hamlet are the duty of remembrance in life and the fear of being forgotten after death.
  • Even before he sees the Ghost, Hamlet is preoccupied with his father’s memory.
  • In his first soliloquy, the prince remembers “so excellent a king” who was “so loving to my mother” (1.2). Later, he reveals to his loyal confidant: “My father—methinks I see my father … In my mind’s eye, Horatio” (1.4).

Key Supporting Quotes

21
quotations from the play to support your statements.

1

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Who or what is the Ghost in Hamlet?

“Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy”

In 1.1, the skeptical “scholar” Horatio dismisses as a “fantasy” claims by the castle guards Marcellus and Barnardo of witnessing “this dreaded sight.” But the evidence of his eyes convinces him “this thing” is real and resembles the “form” of “our last King.”

The Ghost presents himself as a soul returned from a Catholic purgatory, where he is suffering “for a certain term … in fires” until his sins are “purged away” (1.5).

Prince Hamlet leans towards the Protestant view of ghosts: they may be truth-revealing spirits (“airs from heaven”) or manipulative demons (“blasts from hell”, 1.5). He first believes the former (“It is an honest ghost”, 1.5), but later fears what he has seen “may be a devil” who “Abuses me to damn me” (2.2).

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Old King #Hamlet's Ghost: from a Catholic purgatory, a Protestant hell - or his son's imagination?

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Horatio is asked by the guards to confirm the Ghost’s reality (“He may approve our eyes”, 1.1), just as he is later recruited by Hamlet to test the spirit’s truthfulness by observing Claudius’ reaction to The Murder of Gonzago (“Observe mine uncle”, 3.2).
  • That the guards reveal the Ghost’s visitations to Horatio and Hamlet (“As ... fitting our duty”, 1.1) suggests their loyalty is to the prince rather than to Denmark’s new king.
  • Horatio’s question about “extorted treasure in the womb of earth” causes the Ghost to scurry away, “like a guilty thing / Upon a fearful summons” (1.1).
  • Later, Old King Hamlet’s brother will flee from the prince’s truth-revealing The Murder of Gonzago, exclaiming “Give me some light, away!” (3.2).

Key Supporting Quotes

33
quotations from the play to support your statements.

2

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325 pages
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42 sample essays

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Two Hamlet brothers: one living, one undead.

“A brother’s murder”

A single murder, two suffering souls. Old King Hamlet died with his sins unconfessed (“all my imperfections on my head”, 1.5) and must so endure a limited period of punishment in purgatory. An entire eternity of hellfire awaits his brother, Claudius; it is the price he knows he must pay for his stolen crown and queen: “O, heavy burden” (3.1).

In the play’s final scene, a conscience-stricken Laertes declares “The King’s to blame” (5.2). But which king? So many lives would have been spared had “the King that’s dead” (1.1) asked not for revenge but for prayers to end the suffering of two souls: his in the “sulfurous and tormenting flames” (1.5) of purgatory, and his brother’s on Denmark’s throne, “limed” and “struggling to be free” (3.3).

Caught in the middle between two brothers at war, Prince Hamlet laments: “O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” (1.5).

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • The Ghost’s unchristian demand for revenge, and Hamlet’s description of him as the “fellow in the cellarege” (1.5), suggest he is indeed a “goblin damned” (1.4).
  • The Ghost’s account of Old King Hamlet’s poisoning is told from a spectator’s perspective. How could a “sleeping within my orchard” (1.5) victim know by whom and how he has murdered?
  • Hamlet does not promise to avenge the Ghost, only never to forget him: “Now to my word. / It is ’Adieu, adieu. Remember me.’ / I have sworn’t” (1.5).
  • “What would you undertake / To show yourself in deed your father’s son / More than in words?” (4.7). Claudius’ later questioning of a grieving Laertes mirrors Old King Hamlet’s manipulation of his son: “duller shouldst thou be … Wouldst thou not stir in this” (1.5).

Key Supporting Quotes

21
quotations from the play to support your statements.

3

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

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Hamlet, the Ghost and Gertrude

“Leave her to heaven”

To the Ghost in 1.5, Gertrude is both a “radiant angel” and a “seeming-virtuous queen.” For what he sees as her sins (“those thorns”), he wishes her to be punished in the next life (“Leave her to heaven”) after being tormented by them in this one (“To prick and sting her”).

Despite the Ghost’s command, Hamlet cannot ignore his mother. To the Ghost’s revenge mission, the prince adds a second, more poignant quest of his own: to reunite in the afterlife his fractured-by-Claudius family of mother and father. Hence Hamlet’s desire to first rescue his mother’s soul (“Repent what’s past. Avoid what is to come”, 3.4) before he condemns his uncle’s (“as damned and black / As hell, whereto it goes”, 3.3).

That the Ghost in Gertrude’s closet is visible to the prince but unseen by his mother (“To whom do you speak this?”, 3.4) reveals the gulf between the haunted-by-the-past Hamlet and the live-in-the-moment queen.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • In the Player’s Hecuba speech of 2.2, Hamlet sees the heartbreak his mother would experience should he make her a widow a second time by killing Claudius.
  • Hamlet intends The Murder of Gonzago to remind his mother of the “thorns that in her bosom lodge” (1.5) in the hope that the theatrical shaming of her in front of the court will “prick and sting her” (1.5) to repentance.
  • The Ghost’s first appearance prompted Hamlet to pretend to be insane; his second, in Gertrude’s closet, convinces Gertrude her son actually is (“Alas, he’s mad”, 3.4).
  • That the Ghost is invisible to Gertrude (“To whom do you speak this?”, 3.4) undermines her son’s credibility and his efforts to persuade her to shun Claudius (“Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed”, 3.4).

Key Supporting Quotes

29
quotations from the play to support your statements.

4

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
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42 sample essays

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The Ghost’s anger and Hamlet’s madness

“Taint not thy mind”

After being instructed by the Ghost to “Taint not thy mind” (1.5), the prince immediately and without explanation decides to feign madness. Hamlet appears to be setting in place a defense of temporary insanity should he kill Claudius and face a trial for the crime of regicide.

But the prince’s exploitation of “fair Ophelia” (3.1) to spread word of his “antic disposition” leads him to the edge of insanity (“It hath made me mad”, 3.1) and sends her to actual madness and “self-slaughter” (1.2).

Ophelia and Hamlet each leave behind a “wounded name” (5.2): she, a “document in madness” (4.5) who was “incapable of her own distress” (4.7); the prince, “he that is mad” after “losing his wits” (5.1).

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"How came he mad?" - #Hamlet asks about himself to the grave-digger.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • Trapped between feelings of inadequacy in this world (“Am I a coward”, 2.2) and fear of damnation in the next, the tormented Hamlet is “from himself be ta’en away” (5.2).
  • Horatio questions Hamlet’s rashness: firstly, his desire to speak with the Ghost, and later to enter the fencing duel. But his trusted friend never doubts the prince’s sanity.
  • Hamlet’s antic behavior never impairs his ability to see through the falsity in others. All attempts to “board” (2.2) the prince are quickly and scornfully repelled.
  • In 5.2, Hamlet is “indifferent honest” (3.1) with Laertes when he uses his earlier “madness” to excuse his murder of Polonius.

Key Supporting Quotes

26
quotations from the play to support your statements.

5

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Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

Hamlet and the Ghost: Conclusion

“Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!”

In the final 5.2 scene, Hamlet’s killing of Claudius is not long-delayed revenge. It is his immediate and spontaneous response to Claudius’ guilt for the death of Gertrude, Laertes and the prince himself: “In thee there is not half an hour of life.”

The Ghost who appears at the beginning and in the middle of the play goes unmentioned at the end. But Hamlet has not forgotten his vow, made in 1.5: “‘Remember me.’ I have sworn’t.”

In his one act as king, a dying Hamlet surrenders Denmark to the son of his father’s old rival. In so doing he grants his “dear father” (2.2) something more than vengeance: atonement for his land-grabbing, “Extorted treasure in the womb of earth” (1.1) sins committed “in his days of nature” (1.5)—and with it escape from his afterlife torment in the “prison house … fires” (1.5). “Alas, poor Ghost” (1.5), indeed.

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#Hamlet grants his father not the revenge he demanded but the atonement his suffering soul needed more.

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SOME KEY ESSAY TOPICS

  • The offered exchange of forgiveness from Laertes (“Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, / Nor thine on me”, 5.2) finally ends the cycle of vengeful violence that began with Claudius’ “a brother’s murder” (3.3) and continued with the Ghost’s “dread command” (3.4).
  • Prince Hamlet ends the play as Old King Hamlet began it: as a ghost, neither dead nor alive, fearing his life will be forgotten and story untold: “Remember me” (1.5), asked the father; “Report me and my cause aright” (5.2), says the son.
  • The passage of Denmark’s crown to the son of Norway’s King Fortinbras is the play’s final irony. For the revenge sought by the Ghost of Old King Hamlet on his brother in act one becomes in act five the revenge of Old King Fortinbras on Old King Hamlet.

Key Supporting Quotes

35
quotations from the play to support your statements.

6

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - small side pic

Hamlet: Model
Essays for Students

325 pages
90,000 words
42 sample essays

$19.99 Paperback
$9.99 Ebook

The most helpful book ever for students and teachers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

42 x 1,500-word model essays

Hamlet: Model Essays for Students Get it from Amazon  >

 

Chapter-by-chapter guide to Hamlet Model Essays

Inside you will find three 1,500-word essays on each of the following 14 characters, relationships and themes.

#1: The Character of Hamlet

Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as the title character of a play he did not want to be in.

#2: The Character of Claudius

His “ambition” for Denmark’s throne leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.

#4: The Character of Ophelia

As she struggles to respond to the self-serving purposes of others, Ophelia’s sanity collapses in Elsinore’s “unweeded garden” of falsity and betrayal. Her “self-slaughter” is her revenge for her silencing and humiliation.

#5: Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost

By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father murdered” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.

#6: Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

Uncle and nephew are two men at war with each other—and themselves. Claudius is haunted by the murder he has committed (“O heavy burden!”); Hamlet by the one he hasn’t yet (“Am I a coward?”).

#7: Relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.

#8: Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she, to the water; he, to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.

#9: Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

“Those friends thou hast … Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.” Horatio is Hamlet’s trusted confidant in life and vows to remain the keeper of his memory after the prince’s death.

#10: Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude

A marriage of mutual self-interest. Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the status of queen) she wanted to hold onto.

#11: Main Themes of Hamlet

A king murdered, an inheritance stolen, a family divided: Elsinore’s older generation destroys its younger when two brothers—one living, one undead—battle in a “cursed spite” over a crown and a queen.

#12: The Theme of Revenge

Two young men journey from revenge, through obsession and anger, to forgiveness. And the revenge sought by the Ghost on King Claudius becomes the revenge of old King Fortinbras on old King Hamlet.

#13: Deception and Appearance versus Reality

“Who’s there?” The characters struggle to distinguish between truth and falsehood in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to behave deceitfully, and to perform in theater.

#14: The Theme of Madness

“Your noble son is mad”, Polonius tells Denmark’s king and queen. But is Hamlet ever really insane? If not, why is he pretending to be? And is the prince’s behavior the cause of Ophelia’s traumatic breakdown?