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Hamlet – Ghost’s Speech – Act 1 Essay

In the beginning of the play, the reader is introduced to the disorder in Denmark, a prevalent motif. The mysterious death of the king spurred the disorder, and the prospect of revenge was magnified by the supposed appearance of the late King Hamlet’s ghost. The ghost’s appearance and subsequent speech intensify the disorder by validating the reader’s suspicion of Claudius as a murderer and an incestuous, adulterous serpent.

Hamlet is torn by this revelation, and responds with justified drama. Thus far Hamlet had a few reasons to hate Claudius; the ghost’s message emboldened everything he had suspected and even added to it. Previously in Act One, Hamlet had criticized Claudius for a few major grievances: for being opportunist upon the death of his father by marrying his newly widowed mother in order to seize the throne instead of Hamlet, for not properly mourning the king by waiting just a month to take his wife, and for acting like an animal by behaving in an incestuous and lustful manner. By playing on many of the same metaphors as Hamlet and bringing forth new claims too, the ghost- whose word the reader takes as truth- bolsters Hamlet’s claims.

In the ghost’s rhetoric, Claudius is an unnatural, murderous “serpent”.(sc. 5 ln. 43) As a “fat weed,” his parasitic nature is apparent and matches Hamlet’s assessment of the situation as an “unweeded garden.” (sc. 5 ln. 39) (sc. 2 ln. 139) Later, the ghost goes on to describe “lewdness” courting “virtue” in Claudius’ despicable new relationship.(sc. 5 ln. 60-1) To Hamlet and the ghost, the new union is an embodiment of evil though it holds an honorable, royal position. The royal bed is now a couch for luxury and incest. (sc 5. ln.89-90) The queen has been corrupted by “wicked wit and gifts” and succumbed by what almost sounds like magic. (sc. 5 ln. 51) This too plays on the motif of unnatural existence in “Hamlet” as exemplified by the ghost.

The ghost refers to public opinion as “the ear of Denmark.” (sc.5 ln.43) By misleading this one representative ear, the entire country has been misled. The ghost then furthers the ear imagery by describing how he was personally poisoned through his ear. This deception perpetrated by the current king adds to the sense of unrest. The late Hamlet was “sleeping within (his) orchard,” an emphatically innocent action, as the juice was poured into his ear and coursed through his body like quicksilver. (sc. 5 ln. 66)

The poison “tetter(ed)…about…with vile and loathsome crust.” (sc. 5 ln.78-79) This vivid and gory description adds to the sense of decay and discord. As Marcellus put it, “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” (sc.4 ln. 100) Then the ghost talks about how that napping time was his “secure hour.” (sc.5 ln. 68) This describes the feeling of routine that once existed in the kingdom. Now time is cursed and nothing is happens in a proper time because of Claudius’ unnatural murder.

The senses of touch and sight are very important in this speech. The ghost carefully describes how things looked and felt to actualize his feelings to Hamlet and the reader. When describing the queen, he uses a prickly set of descriptive words. She isn’t just part of a cursed union, she has “thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her,” by some heavenly will. (sc, 5 ln. 94-5) Additionally, the description of the poisoning is graphic to make it personal and real for Hamlet.


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