Why is there such an emphasis on secrecy with regards to the Ghost in Act 1 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet?  In Act 1, Sc 2 Hamlet says "And whatsoever else shall hap tonight,/ Give it an...

Why is there such an emphasis on secrecy with regards to the Ghost in Act 1 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet? 

In Act 1, Sc 2 Hamlet says "And whatsoever else shall hap tonight,/ Give it an understanding, but no tongue". In Act 1, Sc 5 Hamlet is reluctant to tell the guardsmen what the ghost has told him. 

Horatio: What news, my lord?

Hamlet: Oh, wonderful!

Horatio: Good my lord, tell it.

Hamlet: No. You'll reveal it.

Does it not seem like Hamlet is teasing them slightly? and if so, why? He knows the guardsmen are interested to find out more about the ghost and it seems perverse to try to deny them the opportunity of knowing more since they were the ones that informed Hamlet about the ghost in the first place.

It is as if Hamlet is revealing information gradually. But why?

First he says there is an "arrant knave" in Denmark and than to Horatio he says "touching this vision here,/ It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you". 

Isn't he already saying too much if he's meant to be keeping this from them? It as if he knows something and he is bursting to tell them. 

Again, he asks "never make known what you have seen tonight". The guardsmen actually have to swear upon Hamlet's sword.

Hamlet: Indeed, upon my swod, indeed.

Ghost: (cries under stage) Swear!

Hamlet:...Consent to swear.

So my question is why the secrecy...is it to do with how society would have perceived them if they made these claims saying they had seen a ghost, i.e like a madmen..but then again were they not very superstitious (?)

Asked on by isabel17

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It certainly will not be good for the stability of the state if the court and the Danish people know that their king has been assassinated. For, often such knowlege leads to great civil unrest [e.g.Julius Caesar's death in another play]. Certainly, Hamlet realizes this as well as the fact that it is better that his enemies are not aware of his knowledge of anything suspicious.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It certainly will not be good for the stability of the state if the court and the Danish people know that their king has been assassinated. For, often such knowlege leads to great civil unrest [e.g.Julius Caesar's death in another play].  Certainly, Hamlet realizes this as well as the fact that it is better that his enemies are not aware of his knowledge of anything suspicious.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that it's all about politics and Hamlet's safety.  In those times, it would not have been all that healthy for a king to know that you had information that could discredit him and endanger his rule.  Sure, Hamlet and Claudius are related, but that did not typically stop people when it came to holding on to power.  Therefore, Hamlet is not going to want Claudius to find out that he knows what Claudius has done.  He's afraid Claudius might kill him too.

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I believe that it was important to Shakespeare to establish that there was no possibility of Claudius's finding out that Hamlet had had a long conversation with the Ghost or even of Claudius's learning that the castle was being visited by a ghost that resembled Hamlet's father, the man he had murdered. However, Shakespeare wanted to use the Ghost at the opening of the play in order to capture the attention of his audience. This meant that several guards would see the Ghost and would have to be sworn to secrecy later on after Hamlet meets with the Ghost himself. This seems the only explanation for making such a long, drawn-out business of swearing Horatio and Marcellus to secrecy. Presumably Hamlet will also swear Bernardo to secrecy.

Shakespeare wanted Hamlet to know all about Claudius's guilt without Claudius being aware that his stepson had this secret knowledge. The audience also knows what Claudius did, how he did it, and that Hamlet knows. This is one of the aspects of the play that makes it so intriguing. Claudius is always wondering what is going on in Hamlet's mind. Hamlet must realize that he has the power to worry Claudius, to torment him, without killing him. Hamlet knows that Claudius is putting on a big act, and that his continuous smiling, which he hates so much, is only a cover-up for his guilt and fear, as is his heavy drinking.

 

thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are several reasons that Hamlet is uncomfortable with the knowledge of the ghost becoming public. First, ghosts were considered supernatural, and possibly instruments of evil or the devil. People seeing them could have been considered insane or possibly demonic. More important, the ghost was that of Hamlet's Father inciting Hamlet to murder Claudius. If Claudius know that Hamlet was consorting with his father's ghost, Claudius would become even more suspicious about Hamlet's intentions to overthrow or murder Claudius. Thus Hamlet wants to keep knowledge of the ghost and his own plots for revenge secret.

missplum's profile pic

missplum | College Teacher | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted on

To put it succinctly: knowledge is power. You don't share it with your enemy.

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