List reasons an Elizabethan audience would believe the king's ghost was not heavenly in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator
There are several reasons why an Elizabethan audience would question whether the ghost of Hamlet's father (Old Hamlet) is not an "honest" ghost or "heavenly spirit." First of all, this play was written during a time when society believed that it was a mortal sin to kill a king. It's enough that Claudius has killed Old Hamlet; now Old Hamlet is now asking his son to commit the same mortal sin, killing Claudius to avenge the old King's death. It is also interesting to note that Old Hamlet tells Hamlet to leave Gertrude to Heaven. Might not a noble man have told Hamlet to do the same thing with regard to Old Hamlet even though Gertrude is guilty of incest in the eyes of Elizabethans? Finally, it was a common belief at the time that the powers of darkness would do anything possible to win a human soul to its eternal damnation. Hamlet must be careful not to follow the direction of a spirit that may be demon from hell rather than a heaven-sent ghost. There is also no way to know if this is the ghost of Old Hamlet. It could be another confused ghost that does not have true memories of Old Hamlet's murder. It is quite likely that these reasons are responsible for Hamlet's reticence to avenge his father's murder without more reliable information.