In Shakespeare's Hamlet, was the ghost a figment of Hamlet's imagination or did his father's ghost really appear to speak to Hamlet?

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Shakespeare goes to a great deal of trouble in the opening scenes to establish that it was indeed Hamlet's father's ghost the men saw on the battlements. In his day Shakespeare did not have any means of making the actor look "ghost-like," such as with luminous paint, so he has him dressed in armor to make him at least look somewhat strange and unique. It was essential to establish that this actor in armor is truly a ghost and truly Hamlet's father's spirit before Hamlet ever sees him. Shakespeare did not want to waste time when Hamlet encounters his father in having the father explain that he is really dead, etc. As Charles Dickens writes in A Christmas Carol:

If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts , than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul's...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 1315 words.)

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