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‘Who are you?’ ‘Demon to some. Angel to Others’

For the various audiences of Shakespeare’s work the existence of the supernatural realm and the elements that operated within it were of genuine concern. Therefore, Shakespeare, as a playwright often chose to grapple with the concept of the supernatural within his plays some different times throughout his career. However, none of his creative works wrestled with supernal elements such as ghosts and demons as profoundly or as head-on as Hamlet. Throughout the history of the production of Hamlet, itself there has been little disagreement regarding the overall importance of the presence of the ghost of Hamlet’s father (who conveniently goes by the same name as the title character) within the play. However, the actual identity, as well as motives for the Ghost's quest, has been brought to question since the narrative was first presented before an audience. While at first glance, both the Ghost’s identity and intentions seem to be performed explicitly before any given audience, it becomes even more apparent upon closer examination that the integrity of the Ghost may not be a clear and likewise the intentions of the said Ghost are far from pure. In fact, When the interactions between Prince Hamlet and the Ghost are looked more deeply it can be seen that the ghost of King Hamlet is demonic; in that the “Ghost” serves as a reflection of Satan himself come to test prince Hamlet and to bring complete destruction to the country of Denmark.

While many readers of Hamlet would argue against the suggestion of the idea that young Hamlet believes that he has seen a demon who has only taken the form of his dead father there is in fact little evidence to suggest anything other than an encounter of this nature. “[In fact], Many scientists of Shakespeare’s day, however, were quite willing to debate whether ghosts were not devils or goblins” (Rea 208).

Hence, the possibility for the representation of a demon or Satan, himself to make an experience on an Elizabethan stage is made extremely relevant. With this information in mind, it is essential to take note of the first appearance of the ghost within the play itself which happens in the opening scene where the spirit itself is described with a lot of ambiguity by those who first encounter its presence. “The Stage direction says ‘enter the Ghost.’ But the apparition is not so concretely described by the immediate onlookers. It is instead referred to as ‘this thing’ (1.1.19), ‘this dreadful sight,’ (23), ‘illusion’ (108),” (Garber 479). That is to say; nobody seems to be able to determine where or what this “thing” is exactly, however, it is made clear that what stands before the Guards and Horatio is not of the human world but rather the spiritual world. Furthermore, the identity of the apparition even puzzles Hamlet at first as he initially perceives Horatio’s description of what he encountered to merely be that of an imposter wearing his father’s armor. However, when Hamlet does come face to face with the “Ghost,” this is not the case. Instead, Hamlet almost immediately recognizes that this is a spiritual being standing before him, but he is unsure if it is a devil trying to deceive him. Therefore, he offers up a prayer: angels and ministers of grace defend us! “Hamlet does fear the "intents," not of his father, but of the devil that may be assuming his form” (Rea 210). In fact, there is no reference made to Hamlet’s late father. Except to call the apportion whatever it pleases in hopes that were referring to the creature by names given to his father (I'll call thee Hamlet, King, father, Royal Dane) that answers for the experience may be offered. However, the way new editors have chosen to structure this dialogue does the statement a disservice as in earlier editions read like this: I'll call thee Hamlet, King, father; royal Dane, O, answer me, (1.4.49).

“This punctuation changes the whole tone of the passage…Hamlet is not thinking of rhetorical climaxes; he is merely blurting out a list of titles as they come to his mind, any one of which he is willing to accept as rightfully belonging to the apparition, provided that it will answer him; all that Hamlet asks is that he should be told why his father's form has been brought out of the quiet of the tomb to walk the earth,” (Rea 210-211). In this way, Hamlet is not made out to be someone whole susceptible to common preconceived notions about the spiritual realm.

Therefore, as the play moves forward, it becomes sincerely clear that the creature itself is a representation of Satan. The presence of the demonic is highly made known in the way that the being it does not ask for help for his soul. Instead, “the Ghost in Hamlet does not grieve over his delay; he does not long for God or sorrow for what separates him from God. He longs for revenge. He grieves over the loss, not of the divine vision but his possession” (Battenhouse 164). Thus, the demon only desires to bring destruction to the country of Denmark. This is seen in the way in which the Ghost which serves as a representation of Satan slowly step by step reduces Hamlet and those around him to little pieces on a chessboard. The appearance of the Ghost sets in motion every action that goes on to occur within the play. Which therefore suggests that it is not Prince Hamlet who is in control of what transpires but preferably it is the work of the demon itself which brings the hellfire.

“The Ghost reveals the moral situation in Denmark and prescribes the remedy to rectify it,” (Joseph 119). The destruction which acts as the arching solution is promptly exemplified throughout the play as Fortinbras is coming to reclaim the land that once belonged to France before it had been conquered by Hamlet’s Father in battle. This is furthered with many significant characters such as Polonius, Ophelia, Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and even Hamlet all come to embrace death by the closing of the production. Furthermore, the cause for identifying the Ghost as demonic is cemented on two separate occasions within the narrative by Hamlet. The first of which takes place during the performance of the Mousetrap and the second time happening during his confirmation with his mother, Gertrude. The very existence of the mousetrap is put in place by Hamlet to test the validity of not only the demonic spirit’s claims but also its overall reality rather than to prove the innocence of Claudius because Hamlet has already deemed his uncle to be guilty of the charges that Hamlet has set before him.

Hamlet's confrontation with Gertrude and the Demon is similar but different in that the scene serves a different purpose. In this stage of the narrative, Hamlet is sure of the shadow of the demon that has been haunting him. The scene itself though proves that the spirit is demonic in that the supernatural entity only ever addresses hamlet which is something that is consistent throughout the entire show. Even though Hamlet is adamant with his mother that there is another presence with them in her bedroom, Gertrude, herself insists she doesn’t see anything at all. And subsequently, the spirit seems to almost torment Hamlet until he is finally driven to stab Polonius in cold blood.

The demonic spirit or Satan seems to be exclusively reserved for the character of Hamlet and no one else, which aims to bring him both physical and emotional pain in some ways that cannot be avoided. “Thus his[eventual] refusal to participate in the world is his haunting of the world,” (Cavell 188). Therefore, Hamlet's eventual refusal Asserts that the ultimate mission of the Satan has been accomplished in full. In that, this spirit has lied-taken on the identity of King Hamlet, Stolen-everything that Prince Hamlet Has ever held dear and destroyed- all of Denmark.


Work Cited

Battenhouse, Roy W. “The Ghost in ‘Hamlet’: A Catholic ‘Linchpin’?” Studies in Philology, vol. 48, no. 2, 1951, pp. 161–192. JSTOR

Cavell, Stanley. “Hamlet's Burden of Proof .” Disowning Knowledge in Seven Plays of Shakespeare, Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Garber, Marjorie B. “Hamlet.” Shakespeare After All, Anchor Books, 2005, pp. 470–488.

Joseph, Miriam. “‘Hamlet," a Christian Tragedy.” Studies in Philology, vol. 59, no. 2, 1962, pp. 119–140. JSTOR

Rea, John D. “Hamlet and the Ghost Again.” The English Journal, vol. 18, no. 3, 1929, pp. 207–213. JSTOR

Shakespeare, William, et al. “Hamlet .” The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets, W.W. Norton & Co., 2016.

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