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Hamlet tries to decide whether his father’s ghost is from Heaven or Hell. “O all you host o heaven! O earth! What else? And shall I couple hell? ” (1. 5. 91-92). Fig. 1. Thompkins, Hamlet, The Shakespeare Art Museum, Toledo, OH. Hamlet seems very perplexed by the nature of his father’s ghost. His decision on the nature of the ghost’s intention is prolonged further by his melancholy. To help himself come to a conclusion Hamlet seems to turn to Lavater’s Of Ghosts and Spirits Walking by Night in which Lavater provides explanations on how to verify the intentions of a spirit.
Whether the ghost’s purpose for visiting the realm of the living is evil or good is determined by a great number of things. “Good spirits do appear under the shape of a dove, a man, a lamb, or in the [light] of the sun” (Lavater 115). King Hamlet appears in the shape of a man, but does exhibit traits of an evil ghost by “teach[ing lessons] that doth vary from the doctrine of the apostles, and other doctors approved by the church’s censure” (Lavater 115). Because of this ambiguity, Hamlet further delays his proceedings by validating the story King Hamlet’s ghost told him about Claudius’s vile crime.
He does this by putting on a play in which “one scene of it comes near the circumstances of… [his] father’s death” (3. 2. 67-68). Based on Claudius’s reaction Hamlet believes the ghost was truthful in his story, but still Hamlet delays due to his melancholy. Hamlet, due to the fact that the ghost was telling the truth and he was ordered to kill a villain, Hamlet eventually comes to the conclusion that Hamlet’s spirit is one of good nature shown by his reaction to King Hamlet’s appearance in his mother’s chambers, “Save me and hover o’er me with your wings, you heavenly guards” (3. . 105-106). In the Wood Cut Hamlet (Fig. 1), Hamlet displays his greatest act of melancholy. “Hamlet’s visage is grim. He clutches a sword with three impaled bodies” (Thompkins) but demonstrates an expression of indecision. “The idea of murder was alien to [Hamlet’s] disposition” (Thompkins), but now even after he has killed Claudius, Polonius, and indirectly, Ophelia, he still is unsure of his course of action.
And standing ominous over Hamlet’s shoulder is King Hamlet, the catalyst of this tragedy. His visit to Hamlet caused this carnage. Hamlet struggles throughout the play to obey his father’s words and “taint not the mind” (1. 5. 85). Although Hamlet may believe his is doing as directed he destroys any relationships he had with his mother and Ophelia and he destroys the lives of Laerates and Polonius. In the wake of Hamlet’s dark and simmering rage he does not only taint his mind but also his very soul.