Day#2 Teaching Hamlet -Questions about the Ghost

There is something comforting in completing Act I in Hamlet. 

Students get the joke about “baked meats” coldly serving the marriage table. They have met the major characters, and they sense something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Then, the Ghost arrives.

I love the Ghost. I love the juxtaposition of images with “angels and ministers of grace” and the “spirit of health” contrasted with the “goblin damned.”
I particularly love the analysis in Hamlet in Purgatory, by Stephen Greenblatt (Chapter One). I loved that book so much, I created a 72 slide Powerpoint to share with my students!

I love the questions that swirl around this phantasm:

  • Is the Ghost from Heaven?
  • Is the Ghost from Hell?
  • Is the Ghost from Purgatory? (But, Greenblatt points out, Purgatory has been eliminated with the removal of Catholicism some 60-70 years earlier.)
  • Why doesn’t the Ghost add “his son” to the list of things (“of life, of queen, of queen”)  he lost?
  • Why does the Ghost say “incest”? Has the Ghost heard Hamlet’s first soliloquy?
  • Why does the Ghost only speak to Hamlet? And on that idea, isn’t telling Hamlet about his “murder most foul” poisoning Hamlet?

To show different perspectives, I used Branagh’s Hamlet (Hell, definitely Hell) and Zefferell’s Hamlet (could be Heaven). More tomorrow!


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