In the media studies class that I teach, I teach students that almost nothing in television and movies happens by accident. Viewers are seeing and hearing things exactly the way that the writer and director intend. What is said, how it is said, where an actor is and moves to,...
In the media studies class that I teach, I teach students that almost nothing in television and movies happens by accident. Viewers are seeing and hearing things exactly the way that the writer and director intend. What is said, how it is said, where an actor is and moves to, and what that actor wears is all carefully crafted to send viewers a specific message. Shakespeare plays are no different. He crafted lines of dialogue intentionally, and stage actions are intentional on his part as well. What each actor wears was also something that Shakespeare would have thought about. Public speaking classes always stress that audiences always remember far more than what was said. They remember how things were said and other non-verbal communication items. Shakespeare wants the ghost in armor because it sends audiences specific messages. Having the ghost in armor sends audiences the message that the ghost is ready for a fight of some kind. Dickens did the same thing with Jacob Marley. He's in chains to show audiences that his living actions wear heavily on him in the afterlife. The second reason that Shakespeare puts the ghost in armor is for quick identification purposes. I'm sure that you know people that always wear something specific, and you can identify them a long way off because of that article of clothing. Shakespeare is doing the same thing. The King's armor is going to be very identifiable because he's the king. He needs to be immediately recognizable so that his orders are never questioned. In Act 1, the armor's uniqueness is even commented on.
MARCELLUS: Is it not like the King?
ORATIO: As thou art to thyself.
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated.
By putting the ghost in that armor, Shakespeare has left no room for doubt about who the ghost is.