HAMLET- Act 1, Scene 5

Summarise the events of the scene. When Hamlet and the Ghost are alone, the Ghost speaks. It claims to be the spirit of Old Hamlet, murdered by Claudius. Though the official story is that Old Hamlet was napping in his garden and was stung by a serpent, in reality Claudius poured poison into the sleeping man’s ear, murdering him and sending him to Purgatory because he was not given a chance to confess his sins before he died. The Ghost commands Hamlet to seek revenge against Claudius for murder and for corrupting Gertrude. Yet the Ghost also warns Hamlet not to harm his mother. Dawn breaks. The Ghost disappears.Hamlet promises to do nothing but seek revenge. He curses first Gertrude, “O most pernicious woman!” (1.5.105), then Claudius, “That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain!” (1.5.108). Horatio and Marcellus rush in. Hamlet refuses to tell them what happened, saying they’ll reveal it. But he does say he may pretend to be insane, and makes them swear to silence on his sword. The Ghost’s voice echoes: Swear! They swear.Hamlet despairs at the burden the Ghost has given him: “The time is out of joint. / O cursed spite! That ever I was born to set it right!” (1.5.189-190).
What does the ghost represent in this scene? Reality and the process of realisation (and justification) for Hamlet. Through the Ghost’s testimony, Hamlet can escape from his current reality of the “prison”, Elsinore.
How is Old Hamlet’s method by which he was murdered significant? The act of Claudius pouring poison into his ear is a euphamism for Claudius’s character in general, the manipulation that Claudius employs. This poison is evident therefore not just in his murder of Old Hamlet but also his seduction of Gertrude and his persuasion of Laertes- things which are central to Hamlet’s downfall. Appearance vs. Reality/ Religion, honour and revenge/ Poison, corruption and death.
How does the Ghost develop the father/ son motif? The Ghost’s command to Hamlet to avenge his murder is accepted, just as the other parental commands have been so far accepted. Hamlet’s doubt about this claim however is unique and symptomatic of the real distance between the dead and living worlds. “mark me”- suggests desire and need for remembrance, strength of father son bond. Women (subservience)/ Religion, honour and revenge/ Poison, corruption and death.
What does Hamlet’s reaction to the Ghost demonstrate about his character? Hamlet promises to act, yet he curses his mother before Claudius, which is possibly a symbol of where he feels most betrayed (because this betrayal is certain?) A “smiling villain” is an example of appearance vs. reality. Appearance vs. Reality/ Action and inaction/ Women and sexuality/ Religion, honour and revenge.
What could the staging of the Ghost suggest? The ghost is hidden from view but can be heard. This may represent uncertainty or possibly a representation of Hamlet’s conscience which keeps his motivation. (Act 3 scene 4- Is the ghost really there?)
What does Hamlet’s final consideration demonstrate about his character? Hamlet is left cursing his fate only a few moments after promising to act. This demonstrates his internal conflict and possibly his own corruption which will eventually be his downfall. Action and Inaction/ Religion, honour and revenge/ Poison, corruption and death.
What does the Ghost’s statement of “The serpent that did sting thy father’s lifeNow wears his crown.” suggest? The connotations of “serpent” are of evil and deception. The ‘serpent’ image also carries Biblical references of damnation- responsible for the first deception of God- which emphasises the “foul and most unnatural” nature of the murder.
How does Old Hamlet continue his religious allusion during his description of Gertrude? Describes Claudius as “seducing” Gertrude who was “seeming- virtuous”, or possibly naive, in a similar way to Eve in the story of the Fall. This maintains the imagery of the serpent. “O Hamlet, what a falling off was there…” another allusion to the fall.
How does Old Hamlet allude to Gertrude’s possible morality or the effects of debauchery and corruption? “…leave her to heavenAnd to those thorns that in her bosom lodge.” “Thorns” suggests a conscience and thus morality. “lodge” suggests permanence and therefore an allusion to the religious idea of a lasting marriage or love. Thorns could also be a reference to a the image of a Rose and thus to the effects of lust- pleasing partly, in a physical sense (supported by “bosom”) yet eventually painful and difficult to bear.