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A Demon in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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  1. Introduction
  2. Hamlet's first encounters with the Ghost
  3. Hamlet's friend and fellow scholar Horatio
  4. Hamlet's corruption by the Ghost
  5. Examining Act 1 Scene 4
  6. Conclusion
  7. Work cited

As David Bevington states in his introduction to Hamlet, ?A recurring motif in Hamlet is of a seemingly healthy exterior concealing an interior sickness. Mere pretense of virtue . . . ?will but skin and film the ulcerous place, / Whiles rank corruption, mining all within, / Infects unseen' (3.4.154-156)? (527). Explicitly, Hamlet's statement pertains to his uncle Cladius and mother Gertrude. However, Shakespeare implies that these same attributes apply to the Ghost character, and ironically, Hamlet as well. Ultimately the Ghost, as Hamlet himself comes to suspect, proves to be a corrupt and corrupting demon figure (much like the King), and not a holy, redeeming apparition.

[...] In this scene, the Ghost first appears to him immediately after Hamlet makes a speech to Horatio and Marcellus about Cladius' vices. Hamlet ends the speech remarking: dram of evil / Doth all the noble substance often dout / To his own scandal? ( 1.4 .36-38). Explicitly, Hamlet's words are a critique of Cladius' actions (and those of men like him), whose bad habits will mar his ?noble substance.?[2] However, since Hamlet's words precede the Ghost's entrance, the content of his speech added to the timing of the Ghost's arrival suggests that in this case, the ?dram of evil? is the Ghost itself, or the Ghost's influence; perhaps Horatio's auxiliary comment, my lord, it comes!? ( 1.4 .38) is not simply an announcement of the Ghost's arrival, but implicitly the arrival of such a ?dram of evil.? In the above quotation, there is also a play on the word which suggests an alternate meaning to the lines in which the ?noble substance,? or princely body, doubts dram of evil? in own scandal.? Thus, Hamlet's speech ironically foretells the fact that the Ghost will be his own ?dram of enticing Hamlet to act in a feigned judicious manner (doubting his evil intent), which ultimately results in his death. [...]


[...] Similarly, the Ghost's command to ?Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder? is interesting because he does not refer to himself in the first person ?Revenge my foul and most unnatural murder.? This suggests that the Ghost is a somewhat fragmented version of Hamlet's father. Hamlet's friend and fellow scholar Horatio has a different attitude of the Ghost. Horatio confronts the Ghost and demands that it speak. It will not, despite the fact that Horatio speaks to it first, and, as Bevington's footnote to line 49 reads: was commonly believed that a ghost could not speak until spoken (533). [...]

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