“Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.”
Muhammad and Elissa
Ghost of Old King Hamlet. A character whose presence is only temporary yet holds a major impact on the story’s plot, cannot be disregarded as a character without significance. Although the ghost appears briefly where he speaks or acts, the impact it has on Hamlet and the commencing of the plot is substantial. We believe that a character who can influence the main character to such an extent, while only having such a small variety of lines, holds a vast amount of significance. Furthermore, the ghost is certainly one such character whose honor was forcibly stripped in the midst of a glorious life, in turn influencing it to take drastic measures in order to regain it. It is in this struggle that the events of the play are instigated. William Shakespeare, through usage of the Ghost of Old King Hamlet, attempts to prove that even death cannot prevent an individual from striving to restore their lost honor and certainty. However, in death, the living may become required by the dead in order to assist in the restoration of honor, for the death of one may necessitate the living to resolve the unsolved conflicts. In doing so, regardless of whether or not the living and the dead find peace, the living may be negatively affected.
Creative Piece Number One
The night was still as the fog slowly drifted between pillars of stone, settling into the cracks of stained glass in the castle.
Not a sound wandered into the hall but the footsteps of Horatio and Marcellus in the distance.
Consumed by the silence and reminded of all he has lost, Hamlet felt as if it was all suffocating him – the memories, the pain, the heartbreak…
Oh yes, his heart is beating fast. He can hear the beat thrumming in his ears as he wonders why it’s racing so quickly.
Hamlet thinks he remembers.
At the thought his eyes snap up towards a dark figure in the distance, tauntingly slow as it swiftly moves closer. Hamlet’s eyes squint in a move to get a better sight of what is there.
His heart stops.
The ghost stands still, almost as if a statue has been placed and studies Hamlet from afar.
Blinking in astonishment, what appeared to be a dark figure in the night is gone.
Suddenly Hamlet is alone once again.
But no, he isn’t alone. His fates are in line with his father’s, almost identical although the lines part in the middle only to meet again in the end.
It is only further proven as the ghost appears again and follows Hamlet from behind.
Hamlet feels a cold breeze on his shoulder.
He stops, but he can hear his heartbeat return in the silence.
A dark figure drifts past him as Hamlet can only stare; it ceases its movements once directly in front of him.
Hamlet meets the eyes of the ghost, and he can see himself in the reflection of his father’s eyes.
“I am thy father’s spirit;”
The creative piece I chose was writing a vignette which is often a short, descriptive scene capturing a single moment. I chose to write in this form as it mimics the presence of King Hamlet’s Ghost – short and sweet, yet so impactful in driving Hamlet forward in his quest. Before I begin, I would like to offer why I chose to write more about Hamlet than the perspective of the ghost himself. The character of the ghost is straightforward. His purpose, to push Hamlet further into his ideas of restoring honour, is instantly exemplified. Any feelings he possesses are also pushed to the surface in his words. I felt as though the true way to feel empathy towards the ghost, was to first feel a connection to Hamlet’s emotions.
I believe that the character of the ghost and Hamlet are in a way one being. The emotions of the ghost and the emotions of Hamlet both intertwine, and you can find many similarities. Both characters want to restore the King’s honour, in turn also returning the honour of Hamlet’s family name (as marrying your murdered brother’s widow most likely wasn’t looked too fondly upon in the beginning). I feel as though my piece can then be used to enhance the empathy towards the ghost when readers can see his feelings through Hamlet. Not to mention, once you share feelings with Hamlet it is easier to feel the emotions the man feels towards the Ghost of Old King Hamlet.
In my work, Hamlet feels alone due to the death of his father and the lack of substance his new life holds. I believe that this contributes to his need for revenge in the story and that deep down a part of him has been lost. Such an event as your father being murdered would take a toll on anyone. Revenge is a most common result of this particular situation, would you not feel the need for justice? As soon as readers can make this connection with my work, they will feel empathy towards Hamlet and his father.
Creative Piece Number Two
For my creative piece, I chose an artistic approach as I thought it best captured the idea of reflection in relation to the Ghost of Old King Hamlet. Reflection, not in terms of the consideration of the past, but rather the reflection of beliefs, or parallels in beliefs, between the ghost and Hamlet. The Ghost of Old King Hamlet is tormented by his inability to restore his honour; with one deed, Claudius had taken his wife, his throne as well as his life – as a ghost, however, he is powerless, unable to get his revenge. In Hamlet, though, he sees a chance; when he looks at Hamlet, as he does in the artwork, he sees not only his son, but an extension of himself because of their shared beliefs. The ghost’s encounter with Hamlet not only magnifies and strengthens Hamlet’s suspicion of Claudius and his hatred of Gertrude because of her betrayal, but also reinforces the bond between father and son, shown by the idea of eye contact in the piece. The eye contact is also connected to the idea of a shared burden – when an individual does not want their perceived weaknesses to be seen, they avoid eye contact, especially with their loved ones. In this case, because the ghost was once a proud war king, now angry in his grave since his is unable to move on, he looks directly at Hamlet, entrusting him to avenge the crimes done against him. The piece was done in pencil to convey the uncertainty of the atmosphere – with the ghost trapped between worlds, represented by lighter and darker shades – while also showing how death has warped the meaning of consequences for the ghost. While the restoration of his honour is important to both him and Hamlet, he is beyond any worldly consequences of the deaths of others; Hamlet, however, is not. In death, he has become more willing to do whatever is necessary (even to the point of sacrificing his son, because if anyone in the play is aware of the fact that murders bring revenge killings, it is the ghost) to honour the memory of his life. He has essentially entered the moral “grey zone”; however, don’t we all when we are stripped of our honour?
Based on both the vignette and the art shown as the creative pieces, we have come to belief that Hamlet’s father, in telling Hamlet the truth of his death, entrusts Hamlet to carry on his father’s legacy and values, as well as his burdens; effectively restoring the certainty of his lineage as well as restoring his honor. Both pieces portray that when an individual loses their honor and certainty, they will go to a great extent in an effort of restoration; in King Hamlet’s case, going as far as coming back as a ghost to consign his only son with such a dangerous task, knowing well of the consequences of further murders. In King Hamlet’s eyes, he is only doing what is “right” in order to restore both his own honor as well as order to the country. If he allows someone who is willing to murder his own brother to gain power to remain king, the entire country may be at stake under the wrath of a potential dictator. However, due to the fact that he is “Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,” he is unable to act on his own accord. Hence, he is given no option but to forward this task to Hamlet and, in doing so, transferring his legacy, honor, and burdens onto Hamlet as well.
Hamlet’s father, in his death, was stripped of his honor, by his brother Claudius. In order to gain access to the crown, Claudius needed to murder the current king – his older brother; removing him of his honor and certainty. Although I cannot relate to having my siblings conspire against me (not yet at least), I can most definitely relate to having the certainty of the consequences of my actions being taken away from me, and losing my honor in the process. Being a high schooler and a teenager, I am bound to make mistakes – some of which have caused others to lose respect and trust towards me. Even if this loss of respect and trust is only temporary, my own self esteem decreases due to my own actions, and I frantically search for a way to redeem myself. Similarly to the ghost, when I have lost my honor in the eyes of someone who I am unable to restore it on my own, I look for a vessel. An ambassador for my cause. Someone who will carry my values and assist me in restoring my honor. The ghost had chosen Hamlet, his own son nonetheless, to restore his honor and become the carrier of his values. It can be said that no individual wishes to be seen as inferior to another. King Hamlet was one who, in his lifetime as king, could say that he was superior to others. After his death, after being forgotten as king, he loses his honor. He feels inferior. Hence, at any cost, he attempts to get revenge on those who forced him into inferiority.
I’ll give the example of me and my siblings. With 4 of us in total, it is natural for there to be competition of who can get more attention from our parents. One thing which greatly influences the honor I feel I have in my parents eyes is my report card. In 9th grade, when I got my all-time low grade of 56% in leadership, I could clearly tell that my parents had lost a great deal of respect for me. They loved me the same, but I felt so different when compared to my siblings. As much as I tried to repair the damages the grade had caused, I could not create a direct relationship with my parents to the same extent to which I had before. It seemed as though I was unable to restore the certainty of my actions in their eyes, which in turn led to a lack of honor. At that time, I needed help, so I went to my competitors. My siblings advocated for me, exaggerating the amount of help I was to them and assisting me in ensuring my grades went up. Eventually, I was forgiven by my parents, and I once again was able to feel their respect for me and their trust in my actions.
Thus, through the methods used by the ghost in order to achieve redemption through revenge, it can be shown that individuals will go to any heights in order to restore their honor and certainty.
In the unlikely event in which one may be present before the ghost of another, an individual may become subject to manipulation by said creature. Hamlet is no exception – the spirit of his father causes him to lose his sanity and goodwill towards the current king as well has his mother – people who he believes had taken a part in the murder of his father in order to take a step towards the crown. The ghost had a large role in Hamlet’s transformation, as it was through its influence that the ghost’s motives became Hamlet’s; it became Hamlet’s motivation and acted as his reason and passion for his actions. In showing the ghost at the very beginning to Marcellus, Bernardo, and Horatio, Shakespeare brings in the illusion that the ghost is real. But having it only talk to Hamlet may act as evidence for the ghost only being a figment of their imagination, and it speaking with Hamlet is proof of Hamlet’s pre-existing madness, which is then spurred by his conversation with the ghost and his new-found desire to achieve. Another reason of Hamlet’s madness may have been that his desire was motivated completely externally – through the ghost, which was only attempting to restore its own honor. In Hamlet’s perspective, he is working to restore the honor of his father and the certainty of his lineage, while at the same time restoring his own honor as the son of a king. Hamlet’s father lost his honor and respect in his death, which is proven when his name and stature is no longer mentioned and he is only referred to as the current king’s sibling. Through Hamlet, he finds a way to restore all he had lost, as he is unable to do so on his own. The consequences of using Hamlet as his mechanism of restoration induced a sudden madness into Hamlet, fueled by anger towards those who harmed his father. This brings along the question of the morality of the ghost. The spirit of Hamlet’s father may have lost its sense of morals and ethics, and was only driven by thoughts of vengeance to restore its honor. As the ghost gave Hamlet his “mission,” Hamlet too lost his sense of morality – and being a human, this spurred Hamlet’s madness. However, being a supernatural creature, the ghost remains unaffected. This evidence serves to prove that those who lose their honor and certainty may be willing to sacrifice their own morality along with the morality of others in order to regain their sense of honor, with a lack of consideration as to how the others may be affected.
Though the ghost of Old King Hamlet may seem to be an insignificant character when compared to Hamlet himself, one must remember that it was this man’s struggle to restore his honour after his death which ignited the events of the play, thus making him a pivotal character in the storyline. Through his perspective, Shakespeare has revealed the fears and uncertainty in the minds of the living when it comes to the inevitable reality of death—that death does not wait for unresolved issues to be corrected or allow the people it claims to restore their honour. Rather, it is left up to the living to recognize and react to the conflicts that once held importance, with the hope that a resolution may allow the dead to rest easy. Effectually, the living become a carrier of the burdens of those who have passed, especially when it comes to honour lost in death. Therefore, it may be said that death adds another layer of uncertainty in relation to restoring one’s honour—and ultimately, regardless of whether the responses of the living allow the dead to find peace or not, the dead cannot control the actions of or the repercussions on those they spurred to act. The Ghost of Old King Hamlet is a reminder of how memories and lost honour can intertwine to haunt the living—perhaps even driving them to madness.