In Act I Scene 5 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, how does old King Hamlet's ghost describe his death?



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rrteacher's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #1)

The ghost of King Hamlet says that when he was napping in his orchard, Claudius, his brother, poured a "leperous distillment," or a poison, into his ear. The poison curdled his blood and caused his skin to develop horrible sores. So he died in his garden, hideously disfigured, a victim of his brother's treachery. This contradicts the story that spread after the king's death blaiming his death on a snake bite. Even more disturbing, he died without a chance to receive forgiveness for his sins, so his spirit is condemned to walk the earth at night and spend the day in purgatory until his sins are finally purged. 

michael-niagara's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #2)

Old King Hamlet's ghost describes his death in Act I, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's “Hamlet” by relating what really happened to him. This ghost reveals to Hamlet in Elsinore Castle that he is the ghost of Hamlet’s father, or his spirit. He says that what he will tell Hamlet will cause Hamlet to seek revenge.

Hamlet’s father’s ghost says that Hamlet must, Revenge his foul and most unnatural murther.” (Murder.) He says that it was a “…Murther most foul.”

These words awaken Hamlet to seek revenge. He wants to know the true story of his father’s death and then speedily exact the revenge his father’s ghost desires. The original story was that a serpent stung his father when he was sleeping in an orchard and this caused him to die. Therefore, the story was that he died a tragic death due to misfortune, not murder.

However, the truth is that his brother Claudius (Hamlet’s uncle), who now sits on the throne, was responsible for his death. Claudius came upon Hamlet’s father during the father’s customary sleep time in the orchard. Claudius used “juice of cursed hebona in a vial” and poured it into the ears of Hamlet’s father. This is what caused his death, contrary to what everyone was told in the kingdom.

This concoction curdled the healthy blood of King Hamlet and he died. So, King Hamlet’s ghost tells Hamlet that he died by his brother’s hand, which is treachery at its boldest. He deprived the King of his life, his queen, his crown, his kingdom, and his chance to repent of his sins and turn to a more righteous way of life before he died a physical death.

King Hamlet’s ghost says that he died with his sins still a part of him and unforgiven, with “No reckoning made….” This haunts him greatly and Claudius’ murderous actions are responsible for this, as he cut the King’s life short when he still had missions to accomplish and things to resolve in his life.

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