Is the ghost of King Hamlet benevolent or malevolent?I am developing a thesis for an essay. I have reasons for both,  I just don't know which would be a better thought to respond to -the ghost is...

Is the ghost of King Hamlet benevolent or malevolent?

I am developing a thesis for an essay. I have reasons for both,  I just don't know which would be a better thought to respond to -the ghost is benevolent, or the ghost is malevolent? I'm looking for an educated opinion on which to choose for the topic of my essay and why.

Malevolent (bad):
- Supernatural
- Asks H to get revenge
    -makes H go crazy pg 65 I v 8
- Contributed to H's madness pg 75 I v 170-173
- Sees h is actually going crazy -> H sees ghost but mom doesnt
Pg 179 III iv 139
141 III i 111-119 tells O he doesnt/does love her
- Kills Polonius who he thought was C causing O and L outrage
- pg 247 IV v 178-183

Benevolent (good):
-ECB is restored pg319 V ii 320-324
- Told H to leave gertrude alone, calms him down from yelling pg 69 I, v 87-88
    - 195 III iv 112
- Justice pg 57 I v 39-40
- Don't let this make you go crazy I v 86
- Ghost provides H with an explantion of the rotten state of denmark
 Pg 13 I i 67-69
- Gives Hamlet a purpose providing him with a motive to  continue his life on earth
- Ghost is burning in purgatory and wants hamlet to kiill claudis to put his soul to rest PG 65 I v 11-13

1 Answer | Add Yours

dstuva's profile pic

Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Pretty much any issue concerning Shakespeare's Hamlet is complex and filled with ambiguity, and yours is no exception.  Which angle to take is, of course, up to you, but I'll give you some more information and attempt to clarify for you.

The common and popular reaction to the Ghost is positive, of course.  According to Hamlet, the former king was such a great king and father that one tends to accept the Ghost as it is without question.  Most thought concerning the play follows this line of thinking. 

The undercurrent concerning the Ghost, however, deals with its asking Hamlet to seek revenge for him.  One must ask whether or not this is ethical.  It obviously puts Hamlet in an awkward position.  If you chose to follow this line of thinking in your essay and insist that the Ghost is unethical, you would be taking a minority opinion.  There's certainly nothing wrong with that, though. 

As far as the evidence you've included in your question, the madness angle must be carefully thought out.  Hamlet announces he will be pretending to be mad, and whether or not he actually ever descends into madness is another ambiguous facet of the play.  The common sense answer to that is that he does not.  His killing of Polonius, for instance, follows his finally finding proof, as he sees it, that the Ghost is telling the truth about Hamlet's father's death, and that the Ghost is indeed, that of his father, rather than a demon from hell trying to reek havoc in Denmark (as the witches do in Scotland in Macbeth, for instance).  Since Hamlet thinks he's killing Claudius, he's actually doing what he's supposed to do at a time when Claudius isn't confessing his sins and therefore, is forgiven of them (again, as Hamlet see it).  You might be stretching it if you use this incedent as proof that Hamlet is mad. 

Hamlet's seeking proof that the Ghost is not misleading him is a rational act, not an irrational. 

Also, concerning your evidence, if the Ghost is only imaginary when it appears in Act IV, then its calming Hamlet down and telling him to leave his mother alone is actually coming from Hamlet's mind, rather than from the Ghost.  You can't have it both ways, as you do in the evidence you listed.

The other pieces of evidence you offer could be analyzed in a similar manner, also, but this forum isn't condusive to my going on forever!

In short, if you want to take the minority view that the Ghost is not benevolent, then you'll need to center on the unethical act of asking Hamlet to take care of his revenge for him.  I'm not sure centering on the Ghost leading Hamlet into madness will work.


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