A mysterious apparition appears during the opening scene of Hamlet, paradoxically seeking revenge and eternal peace. The Ghost of King Hamlet, unlike the supernatural spirits in most of Shakespeare's plays, is one of the most significant characters in Hamlet because he is the catalyst that sets the play in motion. Without him, Hamlet would never have known the truth about his father's death and would never have embarked upon the mission to kill Claudius. Because the Ghost's role is so pivotal to the plot, it was essential that the Elizabethan audience believed that the Ghost was real in order for the play to be successful. However, due to the cultural and religious beliefs at the time, this was no easy feat for Shakespeare to accomplish. England was in the midst of the Religious Reformation, swinging back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism - two religions with two very different beliefs about ghosts. Remnants of both religions are present in Hamlet, and as a result, a lengthy debate over the Ghost's true religious affiliation has ensued over the centuries since the play was written. However, I believe that the Ghost of King Hamlet cannot be defined as wholly Catholic or Protestant, but rather serves as a symbol for the religious ambivalence present in England during the time it was written.
English Language and Literature
O'Connor '06, Bridget, ""Spirit of Health" and "Goblin Damned": The Ghost of King Hamlet as a Symbol for the Religious Ambialence in England during the Religious Reformation" (2006). Honors Projects. Paper 5.