These days I find that my mind gravitates to HSC texts in my down time. Sad, I know. Recently, I've been thinking about the significance of the ghost in Hamlet, and I've come to a few conclusions that I thought I'd share here. Basically, I've come to the conclusion that the ghost may well be the original cause of the 'rottenness' of Denmark. This is only a brief post - if you were to use this argument, I would recommend you find all the relevant quotes to support your argument. If you'd like a more in-depth study guide on this, or an essay scaffold, please keep an eye on our online store or register your interest.
In the play, it becomes clear that Claudius' corruption is destroying the kingdom. This is shown through the motif of disease and the use of language associated with disease and corruption throughout the play. It is also evident in the description of Claudius as a drunkard. The audience is then led to the conclusion that in order for order and balance to be restored to the kingdom, the source of corruption - Claudius - must be removed. This justifies Hamlet's quest for vengeance and supports the idea that his vengeance has divine sanction (which is originally suggested by his interaction with the ghost - more on that later)...
However, if we look at Hamlet's interaction with the ghost and jump forward to the final scene, we could well come to the conclusion that the original source of corruption was Hamlet's father, not Claudius. In the final scene, everyone associated with old Hamlet and the corruption of the kingdom dies, including Hamlet himself. If Claudius' corruption were the dominant cause for Denmark's "rotten" state, one would think that his death alone (and perhaps the death of Gertrude, and Laertes, if they had become corrupted by their interaction with Claudius) would be enough to restore balance and order. (1) What I find most significant here is the entrance of young Fortinbras at the end of the scene. Fortinbras is a foil to Hamlet. Like Hamlet, he has unjustly lost his father and is on a quest for vengeance. He is also a prince who has been deprived of his rightful place on the throne - there is an element of disorder in this deprivation. But unlike Hamlet, Fortinbras is proactive and not hindered by hesitance. When Fortinbras enters the final scene, the pieces begin to come together. It is assumed that Fortinbras will take control of Denmark, and that in this resolution, order has been restored and Denmark has been freed from the corruption that poisoned it. Now it is important to link this to the interaction between Hamlet and the ghost. The ghost reveals that he in fact killed Fortinbras' father, and the circumstances appear unjust. Given the resolution of the play, it could be argued that this initial act - old Hamlet killing old Fortinbras - was the initial act of corruption that sparked the series of events that culminated in the deaths of all the main characters. If we look at the play through this lens, Claudius' corruption can be seen as a symptom, whereas old Hamlet is the original cause.
(1) I realise that Hamlet, too, had become corrupted by his quest for vengeance. I am not ignoring the fact, but I am purposefully avoiding going into detail on this at this point in the argument.
The earlier warnings Hamlet receives from Marcellus and Horatio about the ghost seem to support this idea by foreshadowing the later destruction that results from Hamlet's interaction with the ghost. Marcellus warns Hamlet: "do not go with it" (Act 1, scene 4.62), to which Horatio adds "do not, my lord." Horatio then explains his concerns, and in so doing he foreshadows the destructive consequences of Hamlet's interaction with his father's ghost: "What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord?/ Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff... and there assume some other horrible form,/ Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason/ And draw you into madness?" (Act 1, scene 4.69-74). Horatio's concerns appear to foreshadow the destruction of Hamlet, and connects this explicitly with his interaction with his father's ghost. This is also connected with Marcellus' famous quote "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." This is traditionally used to discuss the corruption of Denmark holistically, but given the context within which it was said, it could equally be argued that the ghost's existence is the source of Denmark's rottenness (or that it is what Marcellus is specifically referring to when he brings up this rottenness). Throughout this interaction, Shakespeare creates a tone of uncertainty that leads the audience to question the motives of the ghost. This ambiguity is maintained throughout the entire play.
The ghost later tells Hamlet that he is in purgatory ("I to sulph'rous and tormenting flames/ Must render up myself) until "the foul crimes done in my days of nature/ Are burnt and purg'd away" (Act 1, scene 5.4 and 5.10). This suggests that the ghost is seeking Hamlet's help to rid himself of guilt at some unspeakable crime in order that he might be able to escape purgatory. I would argue that this crime is his treatment of the King of Norway (old Fortinbras). Another interesting detail lies in Horatio's description of the ghost as wearing "the very armour he had on/ When he the ambitious Norway combated" (Act 1, scene 1.60). Given that the king did not die in battle, his dress suggests that his purgatory is connected with his actions during the battle with Norway. We also learn from Horatio that the king "in an angry parle...smote the sledded Polaks on the ice" (Act 1, scene 1.62-63). This suggests that the old king was ruled by his anger and not reason. The kings angry actions could perhaps be connected with the corruption of Denmark.
Our primary contributor is Elissa, who is a qualified high school teacher and Irlen Screener.