Is the Ghost real?

The Ghost is one of the great mysteries of Hamlet. The play begins by showing us the Ghost appearing in front of several witnesses, who see it and discuss it among themselves, so we know from the outset that the Ghost is not simply a figment of Hamlet’s imagination. We also learn later in the play that the Ghost is telling the truth about being murdered by Claudius, because Claudius admits to the murder when he’s talking alone in Act 3, scene 3. However, the basic nature and intention of the Ghost remain mysterious. The Ghost claims that it is the spirit of Hamlet’s father, and that it currently spends most of its time in purgatory being purified before it can enter heaven, and that it has been released for a short time to deliver its message to Hamlet. This explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense, because the Ghost is a very dark and frightening creature, and it urges Hamlet toward vengeance, sending him down a path that leads to murder and his own destruction. Vengeance is not a heavenly virtue or Christian value, and heavenly beings don’t normally appear to tempt characters toward violent and tragic paths. (The Ghost is in purgatory not heaven, but presumably only a heavenly being would have the authority to release it. The Ghost may be unique in literature in claiming to be returning specifically from purgatory.)

Hamlet himself raises the possibility that the Ghost is actually a demon impersonating his father, which certainly seems possible, though we never see any further evidence to support this idea. In Act 3, scene 4, when the Ghost appears to Hamlet (and the audience) but not to Gertrude, Gertrude sees the Ghost as a sign of Hamlet’s madness. Because we’ve already seen that the Ghost can appear to other people and that it was right about Claudius, on a first viewing we would probably conclude that the Ghost simply chose to appear only to Hamlet and that Gertrude is mistaken about his being mad (even more so since Hamlet announced his intention to appear mad). However, in the context of Hamlet’s increasingly distraught emotional state, the Ghost’s appearance only to Hamlet seems more ambiguous. It may be a demon trying to make Hamlet insane, or a manifestation of Hamlet’s inner demons.

Did Hamlet and Ophelia have sex?

It would have been risky for Shakespeare directly to portray pre-marital sex between aristocratic characters, but Hamlet gives us reasons to suspect that at some point before the beginning of the play, Hamlet and Ophelia have had sex. Laertes and Polonius both warn Ophelia against having sex with Hamlet, which suggests that Ophelia’s father and brother, at least, are concerned about the possibility. Later in the play Hamlet also teases Ophelia with explicitly sexual puns, further suggesting that they may have shared intimacy. For instance, just before the play scene, he asks: “Shall I lie in your lap, my lady?" . . . Do you think I meant country matters?” (III.ii.).

However, the best evidence that Hamlet and Ophelia have had sex comes from Ophelia. When Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father, she goes mad. In her madness, she sings songs that seem to dwell on the causes of her grief. Some of her songs are about old men or fathers dying. The rest are about pre-marital sex: “Quoth she, ‘Before you tumbled me / You promised me to wed’” (IV.v.). Although none of this evidence offers definitive proof, Shakespeare strongly suggests that Hamlet and Ophelia have at least considered consummating their desire.

Did Gertrude have an affair with Claudius before he killed Hamlet’s father?

We can’t know for sure if Gertrude was sleeping with Claudius while still married to Hamlet’s father, though Hamlet and the Ghost imply that she was. Both Hamlet and the Ghost call Claudius “adulterate,” which means “corrupted by adultery.” The Ghost also calls Gertrude “seeming-virtuous” (I.iv.), which suggests he believes he was wrong to trust her when he was alive. However, when Claudius confesses to the murder of his brother, he counts Gertrude among the “effects for which I did the murder” (III.iii.), suggesting he did not “possess” her before his brother’s death—although in this context “possess” might refer to marriage rather than to sexual intimacy. Furthermore, when Hamlet accuses Gertrude of “an act / That blurs the grace and blush of modesty” (III.iv.), Gertrude at first seems to have no idea what he’s talking about: “what act / That roars so loud[?]” (III.iv.). Later, however, she confesses that Hamlet’s words have made her see “black and grieved spots” (III.iv.) on her soul, which indicates that she feels guilty about something, although she doesn’t specify the source of her guilt. Once again, Shakespeare leaves the matter of sex ambiguous.

Who is Fortinbras?

Fortinbras is the nephew of the King of Norway. Although we hear his name mentioned in the play’s first and second acts, Fortinbras doesn’t appear onstage until the final moments of the play. Early on we learn that Fortinbras’s father, the previous King of Norway, was killed by King Hamlet in battle some years before the events of the play. But instead of inheriting the throne, the kingdom went to Fortinbras’s uncle.

Thus, Fortinbras and Hamlet are in similar situations—that is, both are sons of murdered kings, whose thrones have been usurped by their uncles. However, Fortinbras’s response to his situation is very different from Hamlet’s. In order to avenge his father’s death, Fortinbras invades Denmark and ends up taking the Danish crown for himself, thereby living up to his name, which means “strong-armed.” Fortinbras demonstrates how the son of a murdered king is supposed to behave. Whereas Hamlet finds his situation unbearable and resorts to ineffectual and melancholy contemplation, Fortinbras is a man of action who effectively takes advantage of his situation. In this regard Fortinbras resembles Laertes, another worthy son who takes action on his murdered father’s behalf.

Why doesn’t Hamlet kill Claudius right away?

Hamlet’s delay in killing Claudius represents another of Hamlet’s great mysteries. Hamlet himself offers several reasons throughout the play. At first, he doesn’t want to kill Claudius because he doesn’t feel as angry or determined to act as he thinks he should, referring to himself as “unpregnant of my cause” (II.ii). Later Hamlet wonders whether he can trust the Ghost: “The spirit that I have seen / May be a devil” (III.i.). If the Ghost is a devil rather than the spirit of his father, then the possibility exists that the Ghost aims to manipulate him into committing a sin. Hence he wonders whether the Ghost “abuses me to damn me” (III.i.). In another moment of hesitation in Act Three, Hamlet aborts the killing of Claudius because the man’s praying, and Hamlet worries that his uncle will go to Heaven if he dies while praying. Finally, at the end of the play, Hamlet remains unable to decide whether killing Claudius is morally justifiable, asking himself: “Is ’t not perfect conscience?” (V.ii.). Hamlet consistently reasons his way out of committing violence, suggesting that he is conditioned to be a thinker rather than a man of action.

Why does Marcellus say, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.94)?

Marcellus is speaking figuratively. He means that something—as yet unknown—is wrong in the country. He believes this to be true because the ghost of Hamlet’s father, armed from head to foot, has appeared several times around midnight, and the ghost has now summoned Hamlet to come with it alone to speak privately.

Was Hamlet really in love with Ophelia?

It is likely that Hamlet really was in love with Ophelia. Readers know Hamlet wrote love letters to Ophelia because she shows them to Polonius. In addition, Hamlet tells Ophelia, “I did love you once” (3.1.117). He professes his love for Ophelia again to Laertes, Gertrude, and Claudius after Ophelia has died, saying, “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers / Could not with all their quantity of love / Make up my sum” (5.1.247–249).

Why does Hamlet encourage the actor to recite the speech about Pyrrhus and Priam?

Hamlet wants everyone to hear the speech about Pyrrhus and Priam because it involves a son viciously avenging his father’s death. The tale parallels what Hamlet would like to do himself and feels he should do—kill Claudius for murdering his father. Hamlet dwells on this idea throughout the play, though he keeps hesitating and can’t bring himself to commit the act until the end.

Does Hamlet consider suicide?

When Hamlet asks “To be or not to be?”, he is asking himself whether it is better to be alive—and suffer what life offers—or to be dead by one’s own hand and end the suffering. His father’s murder and his mother’s marriage to his villainous uncle have caused Hamlet to contemplate the merits of suicide. Throughout the rest of his soliloquy, he wonders why people choose life’s suffering over death and concludes that it is their fear of the unknown—of not knowing what death will bring.

Why is Hamlet so cruel to Ophelia?

Hamlet is cruel to Ophelia because he has transferred his anger at Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius onto Ophelia. In fact, Hamlet’s words suggest that he transfers his rage and disgust for his mother onto all women. He says to Ophelia, “God has given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig and amble, and you lisp, you nickname God’s creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on ’t” (3.1.143–146). Hamlet may also know that Ophelia is helping Claudius and Polonius spy on him and talks to her with this betrayal in mind.

Why does Laertes break into Claudius’s chamber?

Laertes breaks into Claudius’s chamber because he is angry that his father is dead and demands to know how he was killed, where his body is, and why Polonius was not afforded the burial ceremony he deserved. In fact, Laertes seems to think that Claudius himself is responsible for his father’s murder. Laertes is shown to be a hot-headed, vengeful young man, which helps explain why he later conspires with Claudius to kill Hamlet.

Why does Ophelia go mad?

Ophelia goes mad because her father, Polonius, whom she deeply loved, has been killed by Hamlet. In addition, Hamlet, whom she also loved, has cruelly rejected her. The fact that this grief drives Ophelia to madness reveals her overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, and the power that the men in Ophelia’s life wield over her.

Does Ophelia actually kill herself?

One may view Ophelia’s death as an accident because she drowns after the tree branch she is sitting on breaks, causing her to fall into the brook. However, one may also view her death as a suicide because she makes no attempt to save herself. This lack of effort can be interpreted as her desire to die or the inability to recognize the mortal danger she is in. Committing suicide was considered a mortal sin in Shakespeare’s day; he leaves the answer uncertain.

What is the significance of the gravediggers?

The graveyard is a setting of death, which foreshadows events to come. At first the gravediggers add to the somber atmosphere, arguing over whether Ophelia deserves a Christian burial since her death may have been a suicide. But then their behavior becomes inane as they tell bad jokes about death and grave-digging, sing irreverent songs, and act like buffoons. The scene creates some comic relief before the tragic end of the play.

How does Hamlet’s view of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern change?

In the beginning of the play, Hamlet greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as old friends. But on the ship journey to England, he discovers that they are working with Claudius and that they carry a request from Claudius for the king of England to behead Hamlet. Hamlet replaces the request with his own order, asking that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be executed. He has his “old friends” murdered because he believes they deserve to die for betraying him: “Their defeat / Does by their own insinuation grow.” (5.2.62–63)