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Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Discussion, Part II (Hamlet and the Ghost)

The ghost of the dead King Hamlet: is he of heaven or hell? Is he leading young Hamlet to good or evil? This problem will hover over the whole play. The ghost is tempting Hamlet to revenge King Hamlet’s murder by Claudius. This is the pattern in Shakespeare’s other tragedies: Brutus is tempted by Cassius to kill Caesar, he kills Caesar and Brutus falls. Othello is tempted by Iago to kill his wife Desdemona, he smothers her, and he falls. Macbeth is tempted by Lady Macbeth and the witches to kill Duncan, he kills him, and he falls too. The only tragedy that does not follow this pattern is King Lear. In Hamlet, the ghost is the tempter. However, that the issues are not clear says something about the problems that underline the play. The ghost further casts doubt on Hamlet’s high praise for his father by admitting dastardly deeds when alive. And finally, he shakes Hamlet’s esteem for his mother. Hamlet has nothing left to trust. The solution: kill Claudius. Hamlet has sworn to remember the ghost, to root the evil out of Denmark. His family is destroyed, the kingdom destroyed. “Why do I have to clean all this up?”

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