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Devoys, Lingat, Lo and Sharma 1

Ryan Devoys, Ronald Lingat, Joshua Lo and Rameshwar Sharma


Mrs. Mann
AP Literature and CompositionBlock 1
26 February 2016
Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted
Ghosts, in both society and literature, reveal representations of unfinished business and
past events. Usually, they take the form of frightening creatures or apparitions that strike fear
into the characters. The ghosts role exists as a catalyst to advance certain characters towards
completing some task or more specifically, a sense of vengeance. In his play Hamlet,
Shakespeare tells the story of how Hamlet was inspired to avenge his Fathers death by the Ghost
of his Father. As the play moves along, so does Hamlets plot to kill Claudius, with the Ghost
guiding Hamlet along his path. The Ghost desires for Hamlet to finish the business started when
Claudius murdered King Hamlet and avenge his death. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare contends
that searching for more complete information, especially through subterfuge, may have the
opposite of its intended effect. Instead of concocting a better informed course of action, it causes
paralysis, ultimately culminating in self-destruction through the proliferation of the quantity of
new information that must be ascertained.
Shakespeare first introduces us to the play of Hamlet with supporting characters such as
Barnardo, Horatio, Francisco, and Marcellus. They, along with the rest of the kingdom of
Denmark, feel tension as young Fortinbras wishes to avenge his fathers death and conquer the
realm. The supporting characters first encounter the ghost of King Hamlet and immediately
notify Prince Hamlet of their sighting. Hamlet follows his fathers phantom and learns that his
own uncle, Claudius, is responsible for poisoning King Hamlet, and is then ordered to deliver

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retribution to Claudius. Filled with raging emotion, Hamlets first response is to inflict death
upon Claudius. However, Hamlet changes his course of action and attempts to go about it
rationally, seeking certainty for his endeavor. When Hamlet was written (Elizabethan Era), there
was a debate regarding the nature of ghosts. According to Thomas Alfred Spalding in his book
Elizabethan Demonology, there were two schools of thought being disputed: Conservatives and
Reforming. The Conservative view stuck to the old doctrine of ghosts which held that they were
actual spirits of the dead or living. The Reform view refuted the possibility of ghosts and
instead believed in the spirit of devils. It is apparent that Hamlet is wedged somewhere between
the ideologies of these two views. In Act 1, Scene 2 of the play, Horatio informs Hamlet of the
sighting of his fathers ghost and Hamlet responds bewilderedly by saying, Tis very strange
(Shakespeare 1.2.432). Due to the controversy created by the nature of ghosts during
Shakespeares time, he forces Hamlet to cogitate with the notion himself. At first, he
contemplates that the ghost Horatio explained was indeed the spirit of his father, which indicated
that he held the Conservative view. But after speaking with the apparition and controlling his
emotions, he decides to test the legitimacy of the ghost and see if it is not a demon spirit playing
tricks on him. This sudden revelation of thought shows his quick change to the Reform view that
there are only spirits of devils. Because of this epiphany, Hamlet doubts his first course of action
to murder Claudius and prolongs his quest. Although it may make sense for Hamlet to desire
certainty in his actions, it backfires by allowing Claudius to gain more time to plan his course of
actions and act accordingly.
Individuals may argue that Polonius' and Claudius' actions in Hamlet run counter to the
assertion that action is better than inaction, because Claudius' schemes backfire and Polonius
ends up dead. Claudius' decision to send Hamlet to England can be seen as definitive action.

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However, he is merely ordering someone else to take action for him. Instead of acting in his
official capacity as King of Denmark, Claudius always attempts to maintain plausible deniability
by having others carry out his will. Instead of directly ordering Hamlet to be killed, he orders
someone else to perform the act and turns to deceitful poison as a contingency. While Claudius
does attempt to take action, he is hesitant and tentative instead of being decisive, allowing
Hamlet the opportunities he need to act. Claudius admits to killing King Hamlet when he says "A
brother's murder!" (Shakespeare 3.3.2316) and thus knows that his brothers ghost will be in
Purgatory. Proverbially, this means that he is doomed to wander the earth, as King Hamlet did
not have time to confess his sins when Claudius killed him. Claudius has knowledge of this
possibility, which makes him more cautious. Its presence is all it takes for the Ghost to make
Claudius hesitate. Hesitation proves to be his downfall, as Hamlet lives and eventually returns
from England to finally exact his revenge. Claudius and Hamlet both know about the ghost, but
neither know its true intentions with any certainty, which causes a type of mental paralysis. This
is what causes the heavy collateral damage in Hamlet, as both Prince Hamlet and Claudius prefer
to use subterfuge. Claudius has Polonius spy on Hamlet and Hamlet uses the play in an attempt
to unsettle Claudius as well as tampering with Rosencrantz and Guildensterns orders.
The very nature of the ghost also introduces a point of uncertainty for both the audience
and Hamlet. While most modern audiences might assume that the ghost is honest, Shakespeares
contemporaries did not necessarily feel the same way. Eleanor Prosser notes that [Hamlet]
charges the Ghost in the name of Heaven to identify itself, and it took no pious scholar to know
that only demons would be chased by the invocation of God. Also, in A Midsummer Nights
Dream, Shakespeare himself says that And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger,/ At whose
approach,/ghosts, wandering here and there, / Troop home to churchyards: damned spirits all.

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Here, dawn drives off evil spirits which is the same as what happens in Hamlet when the ghost
disappears when the cock crows.(Shakespeare) This gives us a different perspective to Hamlets
interactions withof the ghost. If the ghost is truthfully a demon, Hamlet is faced with the very
image of evil itself. Instead of forcefully ignoring it, he is lured by the prospect of his fathers
possible murder. This crucial action at the beginning of the play will contribute to all of the later
deaths; according to Father Noel Taillepied, This evil Spirit goeth about seeking whom he may
devour, and should he chance to find a man, already of a melancholic and Saturnian humour ...
the demon here has a fine field to his hand, and he will tempt the poor wretch to depths of misery
and depression. (Taillepied) In addition to Hamlets madness, his inaction has dire unforeseen
consequences; the deaths of Ophelia as well as Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We
witness that his inaction is the catalyst for many of the plays tragic deaths. The actions of the
ghost directly cause the characters to act in a way that reduces their agency while also causing
the maximum amount of collateral damage. These seemingly small actions during the plays
beginning force the characters hands later on.
Through the varying facets of Shakespeares Hamlet, readers are given a unique
opportunity to experience one of classic literatures most intricate works. The play explores the
many sides of human naturefrom our inclination to chase power to even our tendency to ask
too many questions. Hamlet illustrates the depth of consequences our inactions have on the
world around us. Prince Hamlets quest for truth and knowledge is a justified goal that holds
righteous moral value. However, this same journey pressures him to walk a dangerously narrow
path that eventually leads to the destruction of himself as well as the others around him. Hamlets
inquisitive path for justice and truth is justified, yet he unknowingly acts as the spark that ignites
the social downfall of Denmark and causes an explosion of death and political destruction for

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that ransacks the government. His course of action illustrates the often unexpected effects that we
can have on the world around us. There are occasional moments in life where positive acts have
unforeseen negative impacts that can do more harm than good; sometimes it proves exceedingly
more beneficial to let sleeping dogs lie.

Works Cited
Possor, Eleanor. Hamlet and Revenge. 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1971. Google
Books. Google. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Scofield, Martin. The Ghosts of Hamlet. Location: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Google Book Search. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet (Folger Shakespeare Library). Eds. Barbara A. Mowat and
Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009. Print.
---. A Midsummer Night's Dream. N.p.: Project Gutenberg, 1998. A Midsummer Night's

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Dream by William Shakespeare - Free Ebook. Project Gutenberg. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Spalding, Thomas Alfred. Elizabethan Demonology. London: Chatto & Windus, 1880.
Google Books. Chatto and Windus, 1880. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Taillepied, Noel. A Treatise of Ghosts. Trans. Montague Summers. London: Fortune
Press, 1933. Google Books. Google. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.