Comment on the use of the supernatural elements in Hamlet
Shakespeare, in Hamlet, makes effective use of the popular superstitions and beliefs in the supernatural and wonders at the inexplicable mysteries of death, prevalent in his time. But unlike his contemporaries, his use of supernatural agencies was neither crude nor gross, nor was it a mere object of horror brought in to create sensation Unlike the witches of Macbeth, the supernatural appears in Hamlet in the form of the ghost which has at least a three-fold dramatic significance. It contributes to the general tragic atmosphere of the play, motivates the entire action of the play, and finally, shows up the characters and drives home a certain moral effect.
Early in the opening scene of Hamlet, Shakespeare creates the necessary atmosphere to make the supernatural machinery possible and plausible. It is a cold and dark night and Francisco is “sick at heart”. The Ghost had appeared, to them two nights in succession. It was a dreaded sight. In fact, the real appearance of the Ghost on the stage fills the audience with fear and wonder about the purpose of the Ghost. It also creates an atmosphere of mysterious forebodings. Horatio, the skeptic who disbelieved in the existence of the Ghost, after witnessing its appearance believes in its forebodings. He explains his fearful experience as:
“In what particular thought to work I know not;
But, in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.”
Hamlet too believes in some calamity or evil about to befall.
“My father’s spirit in arms! all is not well;
I don’t some foul play”.
When Hamlet sees the Ghost of his father, his Suspicion of some foul play proves to be true. The Ghost makes a shocking revelation. It reveals its identity as Hamlet’s father and tells that Claudius was his murderer who then usurped the kingdom and seduced his mother, It further imposes upon Hamlet the duty of avenging his father’s death and advises him:
“Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A Couch for luxury and damned incest”
Thus, the Ghost is made the starting point that motivates the entire action of the play. The main theme of the play is revenge. The motive of this revenge theme is provided by the Ghost by its revelation which forms the source of tragedy and the spring of the action. Hamlet is charged by the spirit of his dead father to avenge his father’s death. To confirm the truth of its words and to carry out the entrusted task he at first instance puts on “an antic disposition”, and then he gets enacted the Mousetrap play to “catch the conscience of the king”. In fact, like the supernatural soliciting of the witches in Macbeth, there is no Macbeth. Similarly, without the initial revelation of the Ghost, there is no Hamlet.
However, due to his irresolution and procrastination Hamlet delays in avenging his father’s death. Hence the Ghost makes its second appearance in the closet scene, when Hamlet is talking with his mother, to “whet his almost blunted purpose.’ But the Ghost is invisible to the Queen and hence she interprets Hamlet’s action :
“This is the very coinage of your brain.
This bodiless creation ecstasy
Is very cunning in “
Thus the second appearance of the ghost not only emphasizes Hamlet’s delay in executing its order but also Gertrude’s conviction about Hamlet’s madness. Therefore the question arises that if the Ghost is real, while others can see it why can Gertrude not see it? On the other hand, if it is a product of Hamlet’s fancy other people like Horatio, Marcellous and Barnardo could not have seen or heard it simultaneously. Therefore, unlike the subjective ghost of Macbeth and Julius Caesar, the entity of the ghost is not clearly maintained in Hamlet. Some critics aver that the Ghost not being seen by the Queen has its moral, suggesting that the woman has strayed so far from the path of honor that she is unable to receive the spiritual vision. Further, it indicates that there is a close and intimate relationship between father and son and also the lack of any such close affinity between Hamlet and his mother.
Thus the ghost also has great symbolic Significance. “The Ghost indeed reminds us that even the greatest earthly strength is still subject to the controlling influence of a spiritual power beyond the laws of man” Through the introduction of the Ghost of the dead king, Shakespeare creates a suitable atmosphere for unnatural deeds about to happen. In fact, Shakespeare certainly makes effective dramatic use of the supernatural in Hamlet and gave his audience more than what they expected.