Does Hamlet Fabricate The Conversation With The
Ghost? Essay, Research Paper
Question: Does Hamlet fabricate the conversation with the ghost?
Conversations with Oneself
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, madness, along with revenge, is a central theme. Hamlet is driven to destroy his uncle in order to exact vengeance for the murder of his father. However, there is ample evidence that the murder may have never happened, and Hamlet?s sole evidence, the conversation with the ghost, may have been created from one of two sources. Either Hamlet was truly mad, even at the onset of the play, and used his own subconscious as a guide to create a dialogue with the ghost, or the ghost was in fact a demon who used Hamlet?s subconscious buttons to force him to destroy the kingdom. There is ample textual evidence to suggest that Hamlet never spoke to the ghost of his father but instead some type of manifestation from his subconscious.
The first evidence pointing toward Hamlet creating the words of the ghost comes during their first meeting. The behavior exhibited by the ghost is odd. Normally three people are needed to confirm the truth in Elizabethan England, yet the ghost leads Hamlet away from his two friends. That action leaves only Hamlet to hear what the ghost says. When considered with the fact that the ghost is not happy, as familiar spirits are supposed to be, an argument can be made early for demonic work. Possibly, a demon interested in destroying the kingdom manipulates Hamlet by impersonating his father and convincing him to kill his uncle. If it were a demon then there is strong evidence that the demon uses Hamlet?s own thoughts and subconscious to fabricate the ghost?s dialogue. It can be argued that this was done to drive Hamlet to madness as Horatio warned might happen when he said, “what if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord/ ?And there assume some other horrible form/ Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason, and draw you into madness?” (1.3.69-74). In this speech Horatio gives Hamlet the classic horror movie advice of “don?t go outside alone,” “don?t split up,” and “never say ?I?ll be right back.?” Hamlet does all of these. In fact Hamlet could be foreshadowing when he says, “be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn?d,/ Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,/ Be thy intents wicked?/I will speak to thee. I?ll call thee Hamlet/ King, father, royal Dane” (1.3.39-45). Hamlet, in some ways, shows great desperation when seeing this ghost. He is desperate to believe it is his father. Even if the ghost is a demon he will call it Hamlet and ostensibly will believe anything it says. This attitude leaves Hamlet open to great danger.
Another element within the scene where the ghost first appears to Hamlet is that very desperation just spoken of. Hamlet is a melancholy man as evidenced by his behavior when he first took the stage. He was saddened by his father?s death, and angry at his mother and uncle for carrying on what he considers to be an incestual relationship. Upon hearing news of the ghost, and then seeing the ghost Hamlet is excited, afraid and desperate to regain contact with his lost father. According to Lewes Lavater,
Melancholic persons and mad men imagine many
things which in very deed are not. And first it can
not be denied but that some men which, either by
disposition of nature or for that they have
sustained great misery, are now become heavy and
full of melancholy, imagine many times with
themselves, being alone, miraculous and strange
Hamlet, having already established his melancholy, is open to suggestion by demons, if the ghost be such a being, or is open to imagine what the ghost might say or do.
Whether the apparition?s voice is a demon spawned or a figment of Hamlet?s imagination the ghost?s word choice and style of speech are too close to Hamlet?s to ignore. When the evidence is reviewed, it becomes a very real possibility that the ghost?s words are stolen from the depths of Hamlet?s own soul. When comparing the words, of the ghost to Hamlet?s own words one sees many similarities. For instance, in Hamlet?s first soliloquy, he mentions that life is an unweeded garden, “?tis an unweeded garden/ that grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature/ possess it merely” (1.2.135-37). The next person to make reference to weeds is the ghost, “I find the apt,/ And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed/ that roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,/ wouldst thou not stir in this” (1.5.33-5). This seems like a simple word that any character could use, yet it is not until 3.4 when it is used again by Hamlet “And do not spread the compost on the weeds/ to make them ranker” (151-2). Another word shared by the ghost and Hamlet is “adieu;” the ghost says it to Hamlet, Hamlet repeats it shortly after to himself, he uses it in a letter to Ophelia and finally says it to his mother as she dies. It is obviously a simple word that any character could use, but when only the ghost and Hamlet use it exclusively it adds to the pile of evidence.
Two other words are prominent in the ghost?s dialogue as well as Hamlet?s, “damned” and “incestuous.” The ghost first uses the word damn?d when telling Hamlet to avenge him and not let the “royal bed of Denmark be/ A couch for luxury and damned incest” (1.5.82-3). Hamlet uses it directly after that saying, “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain.” He uses it next when speaking to the player king, and then he uses it again when referring to the ghost during a dialogue with Horatio. Oddly enough, he damn?s the ghost and calls attention to his own vivid and industrious imagination. Finally, Hamlet uses the word when he damns the king after killing him. Not only does Hamlet use the word damned often but he uses the concept often as well. He takes great pleasure in sending people to hell before they can repent their sins.
Incestuous is another concept and word used solely by Hamlet and the ghost. No one else in the kingdom seems to think the marriage of Hamlet?s uncle and mother is incest. Hamlet decries it as incest during his first soliloquy, “O, most wicked speed, to post/ With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” The ghost is the next to say, “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast” and again in line 83 of his speech to Hamlet. Then Hamlet again speaks the word while he is trying to justify killing Claudius in the confessional. Finally, Hamlet uses the word as he damns the king after killing him. As with the other words, only Hamlet and the ghost use these. Use of similar language provides evidence that the ghost and Hamlet are the same entity.
Both the ghost and Hamlet also use the same speech patterns. The ghost often says things repeatedly as in “O horrible, horrible, most horrible!” (1.5.80) and “Adieu, adieu, adieu!” (1.5.91). He also uses repetitive combinations of adjectives and insults as in “foul, strange, and unnatural” (1.5.27) and “incestuous, that adulterous beast” (1.5.42). Hamlet echoes these patterns during his first soliloquy with lines such as “O God, God,” “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable.” While speaking with the ghost, Hamlet?s voice mirrors the spirit when he says, “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain? one may smile and smile, and be a villain.” As Hamlet kills the king he says, “thou incestuous, murd?rous, damned Dane,” which also is similar to the ghost?s pattern of speech.
An even more powerful piece of evidence than the similar discourse is the fact that no other character of the play either converses or acknowledges hearing the ghost speak. This evidence is strongly supported by the text and would imply auditory hallucinations by Hamlet. As mentioned earlier Hamlet is drawn away from his companions when the ghost arrives and no speaking takes place between Hamlet and the ghost until the two are well away from Horatio and Marcellus.
Hamlet behaves strangely after leaving the ghost and rejoining his friends. He orders them to swear they will not “make known what they have seen tonight.” Horatio is understandably confused by Hamlet?s demand and says, “These are but wild and whirling words” (1.5.131). Upon close examination of the dialogue it is not exactly clear what the men have seen that might be different than anything they have seen before. After all, they (as well as other guards) have already seen the ghost. It seems as though Hamlet is assuming they have witnessed the entire interaction with the ghost. The most powerful yet subtle evidence can be found in the text when Hamlet again demands they swear an oath and the ghost responds, “Swear.” In most productions the ghosts voice is somber, resonant and more than a little frightening when considering these are supposed to be medieval, superstitious people that hear it. Yet, they do not respond. In fact, no single man in the group, save Hamlet, responds to the ghost.
Neither do any of the men save Hamlet seem affected in any way by the ghost. Hamlet, following the first “swear,” says, “come on, you hear this fellow in the cellarage,/ Consent to swear” (1.5.150). Horatio does not respond with any common sense line such as “oh my God a voice just sounded from the depths of Hell itself.” Horatio does not even say, “who said that.” Instead he simply says, “Propose the oath, my lord.” The ghost says “swear again and Hamlet responds “hear and everywhere,” then demands they swear an oath. None of the men respond. The ghost, for a third time, says swear and Hamlet alone (again) responds, “Well said, old mole, canst work i? the? earth so fast”(162). Horatio then says, “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!” At last it seems Horatio acknowledges the ghost. Yet, in truth there is no real evidence he is in fact acknowledging the ghost. Horatio already established that Hamlet is acting strangely when he described his speech as “wild and whirling.” The most commonsensical way to interpret Horatio?s statement is to see it as a response to Hamlet?s strange behavior. Hamlet just mentioned some fellow underground whom they should listen to. If Horatio did not hear the ghost he would consider Hamlet?s dialogue strange indeed. This interpretation makes sense considering it is not until Hamlet responds to the ghost three times that Horatio responds to Hamlet. By the time Horatio responds to Hamlet, Horatio can no longer assume he misunderstood Hamlet or that Hamlet was speaking of some other person in passing. Horatio must acknowledge that Hamlet seems to be hearing other voices.
It is possible to attribute Hamlet?s dialogue with the ghost to auditory hallucinations. Having already established his melancholic disposition this scenario is not unlikely. According to researcher P. Slade,
Commonly people who have auditory hallucinations
hear voices ?sometimes the person may recognize
the voice as one of a family member or deceased
friend. Sometimes auditory hallucinations may
take on the form of imperative statements asking
the patient to kill someone or themselves (23).
F. Pasquini, another researcher, states that “auditory hallucinations have been found to happen with a wide range of different physiological and emotional states. Sleep deprivation can also contribute to having auditory hallucinations” (11). Hamlet is evidently under emotional stress. In a couple instances he implies that he has trouble sleeping as well.
When speaking to Horatio after the play he says, “For some must watch, while some must sleep” (3.2.273). This is important when considering Hamlet stresses that watching the kings reaction during the play is the key to the murder. Hamlet must therefore be on watch and will by default not be some who “must sleep.” Later, while again speaking to Horatio, Hamlet says, “Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
That would not let me sleep” (5.2.4-5). This is evidence of the turmoil Hamlet was going through and again implies he maintained, at least some form, of insomnia.
Further, and equally powerful evidence, is found in the scene where Hamlet confronts his mother in her bedroom. This scene reeks of evidence that Hamlet is not thinking straight. First, the ghost appears to only him. He asks his mother if she sees the ghost and she replies, “to whom do you speak??Nothing at all, yet all that is I see?no nothing but ourselves” (131-133). Not only does Gertrude not see the ghost but again she does not hear it speak. This is strange when considering there is evidence that Gertrude, though possibly guilty of infidelity, knew of, or was responsible for the murder of old Hamlet. With that in mind, one must consider that the dead king was her husband who she spent a number of years with and must have been at least somewhat close to, even closer than Hamlet. Therefore she might at least be able to see the ghost of the man she was so familiar with but does not.
Also, the ghost appears in a nightgown as opposed to a suit of armor implying that it has been revenged. However, only Polonious has died in the interim and the ghost specifically said that Claudius was responsible for his death. So, even if Polonious was a factor in the death it seems that the king would not be revenged until Claudius is killed. In fact, the ghost tells Hamlet his purpose has become “blunted,” or in other words he is to get back to the business of avenging. At this point the ghost?s and Hamlet?s dialogue starts to break down common sense, and this is evidence that the ghost?s words are being drawn from a troubled source such as an emotionally and/or psychologically disturbed Hamlet.
By the end of the play it seems as though Hamlet has actually become the ghost, or rather the part of him that created the ghost surfaces completely. As he dies his words are almost identical to the ghost?s. He tells Horatio to remember him just as the ghost told Hamlet to remember him. He tells Horatio he is dead but continues to speak long after he should have been dead just as the ghost continued to speak long after he should have been forced back into hell by the breaking dawn. Additionally, the revenge Hamlet was to take for the kings death seems satisfied as Hamlet?s breath expires. Yet, he gives us the impression it is he, Hamlet, who is avenged. He never once mentions his father in relation to the revenge he has exacted. Yet, the entire play seems to be about revenging his father. This gives evidence to the possibility that the ghost and Hamlet are the same person or entity.
The text of Hamlet is often confusing and filled with twists. It would be very easy to read through it, or watch a version of the play and say the surface plot that is shown is what is true. In other words, Hamlet sees the ghost of his father who tells of a murder that Hamlet must avenge. Other possibilities not only exist but also are strongly supported by the text of the play, in this case, the possibility that Hamlet did not in fact speak to the ghost of his father but spoke to himself either through his own imagination or the projection of his own thoughts through the mouth of a demon. Hamlet thus convinced himself of his uncle?s guilt and gave himself reason to kill his uncle. There was ample motivation for his hatred of his uncle well before the ghost made an appearance as established in his first speech with his uncle and his first soliloquy. Whether or not Hamlet is completely nuts cannot be ascertained by the little information Shakespeare provides us. What is known is that Shakespeare was known to be mourning a drowned son as well as his own father just prior to writing this play. It is quite possible his own depression surfaced in the character of Hamlet. This would make a lot of sense out of some of the more confusing aspects of the play. Hamlet, whether mad or not, is definitely under extreme emotional and psychological stress and is therefore a candidate for auditory hallucinations as well as temporary psychosis, which might cause him to obsess about killing Claudius.
Lavater, Lewes, 1572. Of Ghosts and Spirits. Website: , 1997-99.
Pasquini, F. and Cole, M. (1997): Idiopathic musical hallucinations
in the elderly. Journal of geriatric psychiatry and
neurology. Vol. 10; January, pp11-13. as quoted in the Website:
Slade, P. and Bentall, R. (1988) Sensory deception: A scientific
analysis of hallucination., Johns Hopkins University Press,
pg 23. as quoted in the Website: