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Hamlet - Act 3, scene 4

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Act 3, scene 4.

In Gertrude’s room, Polonius hides behind a tapestry. Hamlet’s entrance so alarms Gertrude that she cries out for help. Polonius echoes her cry, and Hamlet, thinking Polonius to be Claudius, stabs him to death. Hamlet then verbally attacks his mother for marrying Claudius. In the middle of Hamlet’s attack, the Ghost returns to remind Hamlet that his real purpose is to avenge his father’s death. Gertrude cannot see the Ghost and pities Hamlet’s apparent madness. After the Ghost exits, Hamlet urges Gertrude to abandon Claudius’s bed. He then tells her about Claudius’s plan to send him to England and reveals his suspicions that the journey is a plot against him, which he resolves to counter violently. He exits dragging out Polonius’s body.

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Hamlet at the National Theatre

Did Daniel Day-Lewis see his father's ghost as Hamlet? That is the question …

Daniel Day-Lewis has put paid to one of the most infamous stage anecdotes of all time, revealing that he didn't literally see his late father's ghost when playing Hamlet.

The double Oscar winner played the Dane at the National Theatre in 1989 , but quit the production mid-performance and has not returned to the theatre since. He subsequently explained that he had seen his father, the poet Cecil Day-Lewis , who died when his son was 15, standing on the stage staring at him.

However, in an interview published last week , Day-Lewis insisted that he was speaking more metaphorically than literally.

"I may have said a lot of things in the immediate aftermath," he told Time Magazine, "and to some extent I probably saw my father's ghost every night, because of course if you're working in a play like Hamlet you explore everything through your own experience."

He continued: "That correspondence between father and son, or the son and the father who is no longer alive, played a huge part in that experience. So yes, of course, it was communication with my own dead father, but I don't remember seeing any ghosts of my father on that dreadful night!"

Day-Lewis is renowned for the rigour with which he approaches roles, often immersing himself in a character's lifestyle and remaining in role even when the cameras aren't shooting. He famously trained as a butcher before Gangs of New York and caught pneumonia on set because he refused to wear modern thermal clothing.

In preparation for his latest performance as Abraham Lincoln in Stephen Speilberg's biopic, he sent his co-star Sally Field text messages signed "Yours, A."

After leaving the theatre during Hamlet, Day-Lewis collapsed backstage. His understudy Jeremy Northam completed the run and Day-Lewis didn't act at all for several years afterwards.

The actor has often been asked about his experiences; in 2003, he told the Guardian that it was "a very vivid, almost hallunicatory moment in which I was engaged in a dialogue with my father … but that wasn't the reason I had to leave the stage. I had to leave the stage because I was an empty vessel. I had nothing in me, nothing to say, nothing to give."

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Hamlet 1: His Father's Ghost

Hamlet returns home to find his father has died. Zimbabwean actor Tonderai Munyevu explains how Hamlet is about a man who has to figure out what happened while he was away.

My experience of Shakespeare

In Zimbabwe where I had my formative years, so that’s to say I was born there and lived there until I was twelve years old, we always heard Shakespearean lines or Shakespearean words spoken without realising that they were actually Shakespearean words and Shakespearean lines. So ‘All that glitters is not gold’ is something that, you know, we would say. ‘Constant as the Northern Star’ is something that we would say. ‘To be or not to be’ is something that we would say. Because our culture, our Zimbabwean culture is so full of proverbs and words and exciting word play. So we grew up around that. And I have to say that it’s only years later that I realised that a lot of what we were speaking as young children was actually Shakespeare. And then of course Romeo and Juliet is something that we did at school very early on. And I fell in love with the story of these two young people who were just like myself, young and growing up.

The Story of Hamlet

I think it starts off very simply. It starts off with someone returning. So I think as an audience we then think, well, just naturally where has he been and what has happened since he has gone. And then we find out you have a king who has been killed by his brother so that the brother can take o­ver the kingdom. But we find out in many different ways. So there’s a spiritual finding out, the ghost comes, you know, something unexpected, something from the other realm. And then there’s also reason. Hamlet seeing things for himself. And then Hamlet encountering each person who he left behind, because he’s been somewhere else. So, you know, there’s Polonius who has his own motives and his own family. You have his mother who has her own motives and has made certain decisions. You have the uncle who has his own motives and has made certain decisions. You have the threat that perhaps something from outside will happen to the country. Hamlet is shocked that his mother didn’t know that his uncle killed his father. He doesn’t sort of believe it. And when he believes it, when he really begins to understand that his uncle killed his father and married his mother he really takes it to his mother and says, ‘Why do you not see that this person has done this and why are you married to him? And why do you settle for someone who is this person compared to your husband?’ He really finds it shocking that his mother not only marries his uncle but that she doesn’t seem to be useful or helpful in setting things right. And then we get to see Hamlet try to fix what has happened. And then we see how things go wrong. And then finally we are given an opportunity to start again at the end of the play. So that’s how I see the storytelling, and I think it’s beautifully done. I think it tells us things of the present, of the past, of what happens when we die, of what it means to be alive and to fight for the things that you believe in.

We use ' would ' + infinitive to talk about habits and repeated actions in the past. Talking about his childhood in Zimbabwe, Tonderai remembers:

We always heard Shakespearean lines or words spoken without realising that they were Shakespearean. 'All that glitters is not gold' is something that we would say . 'Constant as the northern star' is something that we would say . 'To be or not to be' is something that we would say .

This meaning of ' would ' is similar to ' used to '.

Tonderai says that Hamlet starts as a simple story of someone returning home. What other stories do you know that start this way? What happens in the end? How are they similar to or different from  Hamlet ?

Language level

A few movies I have watched are or more or less have similar storylines although I can't sadly recall their titles and quite a few Greek mythologies share similar plots and forgive me again as I can't recall them either except they might involve the god Zeus and the demi god Odysseus.

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When I studied B1, I would drink at least three cups of tea and ate cake.... Just to practise 'would'..... Ivan.

Hello Dieudonné,

In more technical terms, this is related to the use of 'will' to express habitual aspect ; among other things, 'would' can be a past form of 'will', and so can be used to talk about past habitual actions.

In terms of learning to use English, though, I'd recommend that you just learn this as one of the uses of the modal verb 'would'. You can read a bit more about the tenses we most commonly use in this respect on our Talking about the past page.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

The LearnEnglish Team

I'm sorry to hear that. Is the video still not working for you? It's working for me right now. If you can't see it, can you see any of our Starting Out videos? What about our Video zone videos?

In any case, I'd suggest trying a different web browser and/or using a different device to see if that solves the issue.

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The Role of The Ghost in “Hamlet” by Shakespeare

Shakespeare never allows the supernatural to take the upper hand in the dramatic action of his tragedies.

Shakespeare’s tragic world is essentially the human world in which man initiates actions and pursues them to their proper end; they suffer for their deed that issues out of their characters.

Nonetheless, Shakespeare thus makes efficient use of the supernatural to add extra significance to the meaning of his plays.

The appearance of the three witches in  Macbeth  and of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in  Hamlet  are two brilliant examples of the use of the supernatural in his plays. 

These supernatural elements add an extra dimension of mystery and fear. The world we live in is not wholly intelligible to us.

The Ghost’s First Appearance Warns about The Shaping of Destiny

Mysterious forces are working and shaping our destiny when the ghost arrives from the other world. He comes bursting the frame of mortal understanding; he comes as a traveler from that country “from whose bourn no traveler returns.”

The knowledge, the secret that the ghost brings with it, not only puts Hamlet into a whirlwind of emotional response, it also denotes that something is rotten behind the happy and prosperous facade of the Danish Court. How to murder has been committed, and a betrayal of the worst kind has taken place.

The ghost is also structurally significant in the play because actual actions start with the ghost’s revelation of the secret to Hamlet. The commandment of the ghost to take revenge against Claudius makes Hamlet put on an ‘antique disposition’ to plan the play within the play and seek an opportunity to execute his task of revenge.

The Ghost Reappears to Remind Hamlet of Revenge

The ghost reappears in the scene with Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet has delayed taking his revenge, and the ghost reappears to remind him of his neglected duty.

The Elizabethan audience had a mixed attitude towards ghosts. They neither disbelieved their existence nor did they take them as a reality. The opening scene of Hamlet is one of the most striking openings in Shakespeare’s dramas.

The whole world is asleep at midnight; only three watchmen are keeping watch in darkness and awaiting the arrival of a ghost with frightened hearts. The sense is a mystery, and ominous overtakes the characters on the stage.

The audience critics are almost unanimous in praising the creation of the atmosphere of uncertainty, suspense, mystery, and fear in the opening scene.

Where Does Hamlet Meet The Ghost at First?

Hamlet first meets the ghost of his dead father in Act-1, scene IV, and scene V. The ghost reveals a terrible secret that his uncle Claudius murdered his father by pouring poison into his ear when the king had died of a serpent’s sting. But the ghost says to Hamlet-

“The serpent that stung thy father’s life now wears his crown” The Ghost, Hamlet, Shakespeare

Although now only a ghost, the ghost retains some of the human feelings and emotions; it talks about the queen’s fickleness and shows his grief over her hasty remarriage. He also speaks in very harsh words of the murderer who has usurped the throne of Denmark and won the queen to his shameful lust.

The ghost lays the duty of revenge on Hamlet:-

“If thou hart nature in thee, Bear it not, Let not the royal bed of Denmark A couch for luxury and damned incest” The Ghost, Hamlet, Shakespeare

But even in his indignation, the ghost shows excellent chivalry towards the erring queen. The ghost forbids Hamlet to do anything against his mother and—

“To leave to happen And to those thorns that in her bosom badge To prick and sting her.” The Ghost, Hamlet, Shakespeare

The ghost is thus an integral part of the structural design of the play. It provides the hero with revenge and thus initiates the tragic action. The ghost is indispensable from the plot’s viewpoint, which hinges on the secret revealed by it to Hamlet.

How The Ghost’s Appearance Impacted Hamlet’s Mind

The impact of the ghost’s appearance on Hamlet’s mind is tremendous. The mysterious world of the dead certainly usurps hamlet’s known world. Hamlet immediately resolves to carry out the ghost’s order. However, as the days pass, we find Hamlet in a despondent mood, as he finds this task of killing a murderer irksome.

The second appearance of the ghost takes place in Act-III, Scene- IV, when Hamlet is talking to his mother in her chamber. This time the ghost is visible only to Hamlet, while Hamlet’s mother feels surprised to see Hamlet gazing at nothing.

The first appearance was visible to Marcellus, Bernardo, Horatio, and Hamlet. So the ghost had an objective existence; it was not just a figment of Hamlet’s imagination.

But in the second appearance, the ghost seems to hallucinate his guilty conscience. His conscience comes in the form of the ghost urging and spurring him to take revenge.

Shakespeare makes the ghost plausible to the audience by humanizing it. Significantly, the ghost does not appear again after the closet scene.

By this time, Hamlet has got complete proof of Claudius’s guilt, this problem of “to be or not to be” is resolved. The ghost as an initiator and supporter of action becomes redundant.

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The Ghost of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Purpose is but the Slave to Memory.”

The past lives on in memories and in that sense, even the dead are alive in us. What are ghosts if not an embodiment of our own memory? The ghost in a literary setting almost always directs attention backwards in time and causes the living characters to reflect on prior events. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is no different. In the first act of the play young Hamlet’s father, the late King Hamlet of Denmark, appears to some guards on the castle walls. While the guards and Hamlet are able to see the ghost, the king’s wife, Gertrude, and her new husband, the king’s brother, Claudius, cannot see the ghost. It is this discrepancy that will be examined.

Brian Blessed as the ghost of Hamlet in Hamlet (1996)

Upon the walls of Hamlet’s castle, a spectre appears before three guards and Hamlet. Consider their reactions to the appearance of Old Hamlet’s spirit: “This bodes some strange eruption to our state,” says Horatio (1.1.69). “My father’s spirit in arms? All is not well,” states Hamlet (1.2.255). It is interesting how the characters, upon seeing a figure from their memories, immediately begin speculating about the present or the future. While the ghost portends an ominous future by its very nature, we must also consider why he shows up in the first place. While many may argue that Old Hamlet appears simply to have his death revenged, there are deeper reasons which can only be found when we analyze the psychological state of Hamlet and fellow cast of characters. We must consider who of them can and cannot see the ghost in order to understand that the ghost is an embodiment of memory. Those that can see remember, those that cannot have forgotten.

Upon the first glimpse into the dichotomy between Hamlet and his uncle and stepfather, Claudius, the poles of memory are defined. Hamlet, having lost a father two months prior and helplessly witnessing the hasty marriage of his mother and uncle, is in mourning. The memory of his father’s death is physically lodged in his mind and so he is forced to remember and continue to mourn. On the other hand, Claudius, the late king’s brother and murderer finds himself with a new bride and a crown upon his head. He is, essentially, living the dream, or at least attempting to. In an effort to bring Hamlet out of mourning and into the present he states, “’Tis unmanly grief./ It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,/A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,/ An understanding simple and unschooled” (1.2.94-97). While being a rather insensitive means of cheering a nephew up, this statement also reveals the character of Claudius in regards to his view of the past. After having murdered his own brother, Claudius undoubtedly attempts to forget what has been and only focus on what is or what will be.

While Hamlet and Claudius struggle to cope with their memories, Gertrude, Claudius’ new Queen and old Hamlet’s widow, appears to be oddly passive, even apathetic about her husband’s death. Consider the way she discusses the notion of death with Hamlet: “Thou know’s ‘tis common; all that lives must die,/ Passing through nature to eternity” (1.2.72-73). She has a rather realistic view on death, accepting it as a simple fact of life. Her acceptance of death and the great influence Claudius has on her will causes her to forget her former husband rapidly.

Gertrude’s ambivalence causes her will to be weak, and we often see her easily swayed. In the middle of Act 2, the queen, in a conversation about Hamlet’s prolonged depression, states, “I doubt it no other but the main/ His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage”. However, immediately after Polonius, the king’s aide, offers his hypothesis that Hamlet is heartbroken, Gertrude states “It may be, very like” (2.2.153). Her opinions always seem to parallel those of the people around her, namely Claudius. Furthermore, before the theater performance in act 3, Hamlet remarks to Ophelia, “”For look you how cheerfully/ my mother looks, and my father died within’s two/ hours” (3.2.128-131). While Hamlet may be exaggerating about his mother’s “cheerful” demeanor, he certainly touches on the notion that she does not appear to be thinking much about her late husband.

William Shakespeare

A third group that must be considered is the trio of guards from the first scene: Horatio, Barnardo, and Marcellus. Each of these characters recalls and openly discuss the late King Hamlet. Horatio, inhis recount of the king’s slaying of Norway calls King Hamlet “our valiant Hamlet” and further mentions, “(For so this side of our known world esteemed him)” (1.1.84-85). Horatio and the two soldiers with him represent a more objective view of the past and present because they hold no familial relation to the king. Unlike Hamlet who is being pressed to forget the past by the new king, the three men are able to freely remember the king as they knew him.

When the three men see the ghost upon the wall, they immediately begin to question it. They ask the ghost why he has appeared before them. Horatio berates the ghost, begging him to speak his purpose. He implores, “If there be any good thing to be done…/ Speak to me./ If thou art privy to thy country’s fate…/ O’ Speak!” (1.1.130-135). Instead of simply standing in awe at the appearance of a spirit, the men assume that he has appeared for a purpose. After the ghost leaves, the three men begin to discuss the current state of the kingdom, specifically the present conflict with Norway. Barnardo, upon reflecting on the current affairs of Denmark, concludes, “Well may it sort that this portentious figure/ Comes armed through our watch so like the king/ That was and is the question of these wars (1.1.109-111). Barnardo, though a small character in the larger story, is the first to bring up the idea that the king has appeared to them for a specific reason. The impending war has them all wondering what will happen next and so, without a competent king ruling, their minds naturally drift to their former, “valiant” king.

Hamlet’s encounter with the ghost adds to the notion that it has appeared due to the memory of the living. Hamlet, more steeped in grief and mourning for his father, remembers King Hamlet better than anyone around him and it is this memory that brings Hamlet to confront the ghost. This meeting sparks the entire driving force of the play in which Hamlet seeks to fulfill his dead father’s orders of avenging his death. King Hamlet tells young Hamlet, “If thou didst ever thy dear father love-/ Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.23-25). King Hamlet words his request more as a challenge in which Hamlet’s love for his late father can only be proven by carrying out his wishes. Furthermore, King Hamlet’s final words to Hamlet are “Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me” (1.5.91). Hamlet responds to his father by stating, “I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,/ …And thy commandment all alone shall live” (1.5.99-102). In other words, the memory of Hamlet’s father, embodied in the form of a ghost, gives Hamlet his sole purpose for the remainder of the story.

Not long after Hamlet receives his mission from King Hamlet, he begins to doubt the noble nature of his father’s ghost. During the meeting he calls the ghost “honest” and addresses him as “truepenny”; however, in Act 3 Hamlet has second thoughts and states, “The spirit that I have seen/ May be a devil…” (2.2.610-611). It is at this point that Hamlet decides to find out the truth about his father using his own methods.

Hamlet utilizes the theater company as a way to force Claudius into remembering the murder of his brother and hopefully externally show his guilt. In a way the appearance of the ghost was a performance put on for Hamlet in order to solidify King Hamlet in his memory. The theater company acts as a reminder to Claudius just as the ghost is a reminder to Hamlet. By seeing with his own eyes a clear picture of the past reflected on a stage, Claudius is forced into confronting his memory head on and as we see in Act 3, he demands the play end and leaves abruptly, thus solidifying Hamlet’s suspicions. Claudius’ reaction to the performance renews Hamlet’s faith in his father’s ghost. He states, “I’ll take the ghost’s word for/ a thousand pound” and continues on with his mission under the impression that it is his duty to his father. Claudius never sees King Hamlet’s ghost, but through young Hamlet’s mission, Claudius is reminded of his brother anyway.

The scene in which Gertrude and Hamlet quarrel in the queen’s chamber solidifies the notion that only those who truly remember the king can see him. Gertrude opens the argument by stating, “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended” (3.4.10). The “father” she is referring to is Claudius, not King Hamlet. This distinction shows us that Gertrude has moved so far beyond King Hamlet’s memory that she already sees Claudius as Hamlet’s father. Hamlet begins berating Gertrude with insults. He speaks of her heart thus: “If damned custom have not brazed it so/ That it be proof and bulwark against sense” (3.4.38-39). Hamlet believes the infidelity seen in Gertrude’s actions shows that her emotion and sense is veiled, causing her to forget her past and the husband she once loved. Even as Hamlet tells Gertrude of all her faults and openly reminds her of her dead husband, she will not listen and constantly tells Hamlet to “speak no more”. Because Gertrude will not listen to Hamlet, she is unable to see the Ghost when it appears. When Hamlet asks if Gertrude can see anything, she replies, “Nothing at all; yet all that is I see” (3.4.133). This response insights the notion that Gertrude believes only in what is in front of her. She can’t see the king because she doesn’t truly remember him.

Gertrude played by Glenn Close in Franco Zeffinelli's 1990 version of Hamlet

Memory is a powerful tool in determining the way we perceive the present and future. The player king in The Murder of Ganzago encapsulates the entire notion of this play perfectly. He states, “Purpose is but the slave to memory” (3.2.194). Hamlet’s memory of his father is so powerful and so encapsulating that it drives him to commit multiple murders culminating in his own death. Hamlet understands the power of memory and in his final moments of life he speaks to Horatio: “Horatio,” he says, “ I am dead;/ Thou livest; report me and my cause aright/ To the unsatisfied” (5.2.339-341). Hamlet knows that people will remember his deeds without knowing why he did them. He knows that memories will misconstrue the truth and so he calls upon Horatio, just as Hamlet was called upon by his father, to remember him and promise “To tell [his] story” (5.2.349).

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Signet Classic Shakespeare. New York: New American Library of World Literature, 1963. Print.

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The Storytelling Layers of Literary Merit

41 Comments

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Nice analyses. I can understand why many claim Hamlet as Shakespeare’s magnum opus. It is a monumental work, both in size and erudition.

Greg Beamish

It’s certainly an interesting representation of the trials of depression or perhaps psychosis in the older adolescent. Shakespeare did an amazing job of covering so many identifiable forms of the human experience. *anyone have reference from Hamlet that specifies his age?

I loved how several quotes from the play, such as “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” are still used nowadays.

Me too. It would be interesting to see a compiled list of present day references from Shakespeare. Also, what is it about these particular phrases that made them stand out from the vast language of Shakespeare’s writing?

The ghost is a real spirit and a significant role-player in the play.

I agree. You use the word “spirit” and I find that interesting. It’s dual meaning of spirit as in spectre and spirit as in metaphysical force that drives us forward can be used to define King Hamlet’s ghost. It seems that only those that still have the “spirit” of King Hamlet can see him.

One might be able to make an argument that Hamlet is seeing things in act three, but one can’t really make the argument in act one.

I’m curious as to what you’re referring to in act three. The ghost in front of Ophelia or his speculation based on Claudius’ reaction to the play?

The Ghost is his demand for revenge.

I wonder how much of Hamlet’s wish for the death of Claudius is driven by vengeance for his father and how much is revenge for his own loss.

I believe the ghost in Hamlet was trying to get revenge on his brother through his son. By his line wishing Hamlet not to taint his mind, it appears he really cares for his son, and from this show of emotions it proves he is not the devil but the father in a spiritual picture.

The ghost only appears to whom it wants to appear to.

I think the ghost only appears for those that want him to appear. Both Hamlet and the guards are the only ones that verbally express a wish for the return of King Hamlet.

I was with Hamlet until he was an idiot. Conflicted… check. In pain… check. His father just died, his uncle married his mother and he found out that his uncle actually murdered his father… check.

For a smart man who can soliloquize like nobody’s business – oh the stunning language that drips from this guys’ tongue – the fact that he can’t stick to his plan when he realizes that Ophelia’s dead, makes me lose it. All he had to do was keep his head down and wait for backup. No one knew that he was in Denmark. He could have taken the throne, but instead his conscience gets the better of him and he jumps into the grave, practically on top of Laertes? If he’d waited another 12 hours it all would have been his.

His intellectualization of his pain – with little to no emotional response is what turns me off – Hamlet as sociopath perhaps? Hamlet on the Aspergers’ Spectrum? For my money Othello packs the tragic punch.

I like the point you bring up about the eloquence of Hamlet’s words. His angst is exaggerated in verse and in actions. He’s mopey and eventually somewhat psychotic. I’d go so far as to say Hamlet displays signs of a manic depressed individual. Isn’t there some statistic out there about high levels of depression in creative writers? Perhaps Hamlet’s psychosis isn’t necessarily a reflection on his ability to speak eloquently in verse.

I would argue you that the very reason you dislike Hamlet, Yang, is the core of it’s tragic value. As seen by his ability to string words and thoughts together, as well as his bravery in fighting pirates after being sent away from his Kingdom, one cannot easily say that Hamlet lacks the abilities to carry out his revenge. What Hamlet does lack, though, is reason. The people of his kingdom do nothing to make him King even though he is the rightful heir. His father was out fighting a war on the day he was born. His mother, as Greg points out in his analysis, is complacent with the new order. Furthermore, the ghost does not ask for revenge for Hamlet’s sake, to put him on the throne in other words, but for the ghost’s sake alone. Hamlet is always playing second to his late father, thereby instilling in him a sense of unworthiness. This, I think, is one of the key tragic elements of Hamlet’s character.

“This above all: to thine own self be true”

When I first read “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, I found it to be really boring because it seemed difficult to comprehend. Additionally, I never liked reading about kings and princes and queens but that was not even the point of the story behind this play. After re-reading it for the second time, I really tried to understand why William Shakespeare is so well known because of his work. I liked how he inflicted the familial relationships.

I sort of laughed at the fact that Prince Hamlet was able to see the ghost of his father, I still think William Shakespeare did a fantastic job trying to show relationships and themes of sacrifice.

What a depressing depressing read hamlet was.

I completely agree, though despite it’s melancholy nature, I appreciate the structure and language of the play, not to mention some of the comic relief subtly hidden in some of the language. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? What a dark joke to have them die in the end. Do you think there’s something deeper in their death or was it simply Shakespeare trying to tie up loose ends in the narrative?

Amanda Dominguez-Chio

Hamlet is by far my favorite Shakespearean play. I learned a lot about your analysis and gave me much to reflect on. Good job!

I’m a big fan of it too. Glad my article gave you more things to think about. Thanks for the comment.

Candice Evenson

Isn’t memory an interesting thing? I really like how you supported your points with the play within a play scene. Forcing memory upon someone is to open an old wound….but for Hamlet the wound never closed. It is a great analysis of how as long as one person remembers, the past will continue to knock on the door until there is resolution.

Liz Kellam

Hamlet’s ghosts are similar to those in other Shakespeare works, such as Macbeth. Are they real or delusions? I like that it is still discussed today, and like many great literary works, there is more than one interpretation.

To me, the role of the ghost is to spur Hamlet into his dilemma. Without the ghost, it is hard to know how Hamlet would find out about what Claudius had done.

I just presented a presentation on Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship and the chamber scene in my Shakespeare class today!! 🙂

The aspect that was most interesting to me was indeed Gertrude’s memory and attitude towards the king’s passing, to which she decided, though no evidence states, to forget about her late husband. Hamlet on the other hand was disgusted by the fact that his mother not only married his uncle but also lays in his bed, thus becoming a scandal in Denmark for having an incestious relationship.

The chamber scene spoke truth to how Gertrude knew yet tried so hard to deny that what she had done was wrong. Although Hamlet was at the brink of madness he had enough sense to confront her to speak the truth (until the turning point of killing Polonius accured). He didn’t want there to be harm done upon her but more so that he wanted her to see the ungly truth that he could not bare to see any longer. Thus he states, “Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge. You go not till I see you up a glass” (3.4.1132). Glass meaning a mirror, for Gertrude to look upon her reflection and come face to face with her sins. As the act continues on she does admit to or at least feels guilty for her actions, but this only lasts but for a moment, for she then decides that her son is truly mad and not in his right mind.

The question I always wondered was if Hamlet was able to truly forgive his mother for what she had done, or for her ‘sins’. Yet I know that unaswered questions are what make the tragedy so profound and great in nature.

Source: Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays and The Sonnets. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print.

Great analysis. I especially like the quote you drew out. I think Hamlet is another aspect of “the future” that Gertrude is trying to focus on. Looking at herself in the mirror briefly brings back a memory, but when she quickly returns focus to her sons impending madness, she is quickly brought back to the present and making plans for the future. She speculates about what will come while Hamlet speculates about what has already been.

Excellent piece. Have you considered the role that imagination and manipulation of imagination plays in the text? That might be an interesting angle to explore further.

I have read nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays now (I read Hamlet for a class in high school), and I have to say Hamlet is still one of my favorites. Nice analysis of the ghost’s significance and the various interactions among the characters. This just proves how powerful and intricate the play truly is.

The claim of being able to see ghosts because you still remember the person is really well defined. Obviously Gertrude has completely forgotten her husband because she immediately marries her brother in-law. I really enjoyed reading this. You really seem to know your Shakespeare, which is good because I love Shakespeare more than anything.

Thanks, I really appreciate that. My interest in Shakespeare is in the depth of analysis you can apply to it. There are so many layers to peel away from every piece that even after reading the whole collection a hundred times you might still make a new connection.

Siothrún

I find your analysis to be in-depth and fitting to Hamlet. I think that memory, as you say, is powerful enough to drive people to certain decisions. My professor who taught Shakespeare even speculated whether or not the ghost was a physical entity. It could be possible that it’s the memories of Old Hamlet’s murder that initiates Hamlet’s actions and the sight of Old Hamlet’s ghost and his request fuels Hamlet to do the things he does, as you speculate. I find your analysis to be believable and well-supported. There is a lot to dissect with Hamlet, and I now have a new view of one of Shakespeare’s plays.

As for Hamlet’s age, I believe somewhere in Act One, it mentions that Hamlet has returned from a school (I forget the name) in Germany, so logically, Hamlet would be whatever age scholars/scholarly students were back in Shakespeare’s day. That being said, I remember my professor speculating that Hamlet was around 32.

ElizabethWhite

Very well written. I see that you took your critique from a psychological point of view. Thus, my comment shall take a slightly similar approach.

Hamlet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare during the age of the Elizabethan Era in England, coinciding heavily with the many other historical events, both past and during that time.

In the past, the Renaissance brought forth much knowledge that had been used during the time of the Roman Empire [Pre-Christian]. I refer to this because the knowledge of Greek theater influenced the types of works Shakespeare wrote as plays.

In the culture of England during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, tradition was severely important. England itself was a maverick politically and religiously [female ruler who refused to marry; a Protestant Church headed by the ruler of the Church of England {which her father had done and she had grown up in}]. Thus, it should not be surprising that there are cultural messages that the late King Hamlet’s ghost the audience thought about.

They could have identified King Hamlet’s ghost as the father of Queen Elizabeth I, King Harry VIII. Ironically, Queen Elizabeth I would have looked a great deal like her father, with her red hair and fair features.

Their ruler’s father had not been a good ruler . . . and Elizabeth’s half-siblings who’d ruled before her [aka- King Edward IV and Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary)] had varied from a puppet ruler to a religious dictator that demanded England revert to Catholicism after there had been various generations of people who had not believed in the Catholic faith.

Thus, Prince Hamlet may have caused the audience to remember Edward IV: a king that was too childish to rule after his father died and eventually passed due to being physically ill.

The biggest difference between Prince Hamlet and the late King Edward IV is the cause of their deaths: the prince had committed suicide due to severe depression derived from him not having time to properly grieve the loss of his father whereas King Edward IV died naturally due to having been a child of weak constitution.

Whether this was his intention is unclear. Either way, Shakespeare skillfully wove a tale that had enough similarities to the politics of his day; without making it obvious; that his audience could relate to and would want to see over and over again. This is why Shakespeare was, and still is, studied in English literature today.

sammmtastic

An interesting analysis. Very well written! However, I think it is important to consider the Hamlet/Gertrude bedroom scene a bit closer. The Ghost reprimands Hamlet and tells him to be kinder to his mother (“O, step between her and her fighting soul”). This implies that Gertrude may be grieving silently and putting on a brave face for the kingdom: Denmark is on the brink of war with Norway, and has just lost its beloved general-king. This is not a time period or a culture where women could rule successfully. Gertrude therefore may have married Claudius in order to protect the scholarly prince Hamlet from the responsibility of ruling a country in wartime. It’s also possible that Gertrude does see the Ghost, but refuses to acknowledge him because it is too painful.

Hamlet is one of my favorite plays, for many reasons. I really appreciated this article!

Helen Parshall

This is a great piece; Hamlet has been one of my favorites for a long time. Thanks for sharing!

Rachel Watson

Wow! I’m always pleasantly surprised by that fact that, even having read and seen Hamlet more times than I care to mention, I can still stumble upon new perspectives on the play. I’ve often thought about the discrepancy between who can see the ghost and who cannot in terms of awareness with the spiritual world and with their own (im)morality, but I’ve never considered the influence of memory. As you say, “Those that can see remember, those that cannot have forgotten.” Thank you for this article!

Well done. Some other thoughts. Claudius obviously harbored ambitions to be king for quite some time. Furthermore, Claudius successfully beguiled Gertrude, Polonius (and with him the House of Polonius) and the entire Court. Claudius’ inaugural speech made before those he beguiled was as much a reaffirmation of the promised New World Order as it was insurance to help cement and legitimize his position as king. Hamlet, while away at Wittenberg University was passed over in absentia (courtesy of Claudius) in so far as nominations and elections were concerned. Hamlet alone could not overturn the concensus; namely, Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and the entire Court: he had no one to appeal to as son of a dead king (how helpless he must have felt). Only those who are not subject to the masterful exploits of Claudius could see the ghost of Hamlet; namely Horatio, Maecellus and Bernardo. Their memories were untainted by Claudius’ intrigues (rewriting history), and they provided Hamlet a certain level of moral support, but without the name of action. [“this bodes some strange eruption to our state” and ” something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, discernible sentiments that were not lost on Hamlet, but to no avail.] Hamlet could not openly confess his designs to them as a means to capture the throne: he “lacked advancement”. So in Hamlet’s thinking his world was an “unweeded garden”, “a prison” and “a sterile promontory”. in effect, Hamlet was alone. “Now I am alone…” Hamlet is helpless from escaping the vississitudes of riding the full spectrum of human emotion, which he experiences “so piteously as if to shatter all his bulk” and moreover expresses so eloquently: but his eloquence and intellect are not enough to save him. The best he could achieve was a zero-sum game: the intriguers all passed on to eternity in quick succession. In Hamlet’s dying words the thought closest to him was that of Kingship, “the election lights on Fortinbras”; and Hamlet wishes to be remembered and that is his purpose – because kingship offers a kind of immortality, free from being a ‘slave to death’ . So if you’re going to “sweat under a weary life”, you might as well be king. This was a story of competing ambitions: an all-or-none high-stakes play for the crown.

Well done. Some other thoughts. Claudius obviously harbored ambitions to be king for quite some time. Furthermore, Claudius successfully beguiled Gertrude, Polonius (and with him the House of Polonius) and the entire Court. Claudius’ inaugural speech made before those he beguiled was as much a reaffirmation of the promised New World Order as it was insurance to help cement and legitimize his position as king. Hamlet, while away at Wittenberg University was passed over in absentia (courtesy of Claudius) in so far as nominations and elections were concerned. Hamlet alone could not overturn the consensus; namely, Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and the entire Court: he had no one to appeal to as son of a dead king (how helpless he must have felt). Only those who are not subject to the masterful exploits of Claudius could see the ghost of Hamlet; namely Horatio, Marcellus and Bernardo. Their memories were untainted by Claudius’ intrigues (rewriting history), and they provided Hamlet a certain level of moral support, but without the name of action. [“this bodes some strange eruption to our state” and ” something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, discernible sentiments that were not lost on Hamlet, but to no avail.] Hamlet could not openly confess his designs to them as a means to capture the throne: he “lacked advancement”. So in Hamlet’s thinking his world was an “unweeded garden”, “a prison” and “a sterile promontory”. in effect, Hamlet was alone. “Now I am alone…” Hamlet is helpless from escaping the vicissitudes of riding the full spectrum of human emotion, which he experiences “so piteously as if to shatter all his bulk” and moreover expresses so eloquently: but his eloquence and intellect are not enough to save him. The best he could achieve was a zero-sum game: the intriguers all passed on to eternity in quick succession. In Hamlet’s dying words the thought closest to him was that of Kingship, “the election lights on Fortinbras”; and Hamlet wishes to be remembered and that is his purpose – because kingship offers a kind of immortality, free from being a ‘slave to death’ . So if you’re going to “sweat under a weary life”, you might as well be king. This was a story of competing ambitions: an all-or-none high-stakes play for the crown.

I’m so glad i found you. I love your website. After reading the book Hamlet ( which is great) and also watched some theater plays, i start searching to see what others think about it. It was no surprise to see that most of us love it. Everything it’s so well written. I recommend everyone to read it at least the book. Anyway your website it’s now one of my favorites so i added to my browser toolbar. Now with just one click i can return and visit you . <3

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Charlotte Turner Smith: Empowering Women with a Sonnet

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How is Hamlet unreliable?

geographic-faq

Hamlet is considered an unreliable narrator because it’s never quite clear how much, if anything, of what happens in the play is the product of his paranoid delusion. His perception of reality is questionable, and this uncertainty creates doubt about the accuracy of his observations and interpretations.

Why is Hamlet unreliable?

Hamlet might be an unreliable narrator because we see examples of behavior from him that might suggest he has actually grown mad. Therefore, we can’t trust what he says and must look at what he does.

Who is the unreliable narrator in Shakespeare?

Hamlet is introduced as an unreliable narrator in the very first act of the play; only he sees his father’s ghost and hears the message that Claudius is a murderer and that Hamlet should kill him in revenge. Shakespeare continues to present Hamlet as an unreliable narrator throughout the rest of the play.

What are the main problems of Hamlet?

One of his main struggles is dealing with the death of his father, King Hamlet, and the subsequent marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to his uncle, King Claudius.

What are the negative characteristics of Hamlet?

I have come to the conclusion that Hamlet is an anti-hero because he is weak, cowardly, hesitant, selfish, indifferent, sadistic, and hypocritical, all of which are opposing characteristics to what a hero is supposed to be. Some may consider Hamlet a hero. But the audience can see Hamlet for who he really is.

Hamlet – Video Summary

What are the three flaws of hamlet.

Hamlet, the protagonist of Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” exhibits several tragic flaws. One of his main flaws is his indecisiveness, which leads to hesitancy in taking action. He also struggles with a lack of self-confidence and a tendency to overthink situations, leading to a state of paralysis and inaction.

How is Hamlet a flawed protagonist?

The tragedy hinged on the main character having a tragic flaw, sometimes called a fatal flaw. This was some element of the character’s personality that did not have to be either good or bad, but something which led the character to make decisions that ended in ruin. Hamlet’s tragic flaw was his hesitancy to act.

What is the controversy with Hamlet?

Perhaps the most commonly debated aspect of the play is Hamlet’s supposed ‘madness.’ Whether Hamlet is putting on a performance to fool those around him, or if he is genuinely losing control of his mind, has been hotly debated for centuries.

What is Hamlet Hamartia?

In the play, Hamlet learns that his uncle murdered his father, married his mother, and took over the throne. However, Hamlet’s hamartia is cowardice and passivity. He learns the truth, but instead of confronting his uncle, he decides to pretend to be turning mad and puts on a fake play to make his uncle feel guilty.

Why is Hamlet a problem play?

According to F.S. Boas, the man who first coined the term ‘problem play,’ Hamlet is a link between Shakespeare’s tragedies and problem plays because, although it is primarily a tragedy, it still has some wider applications to social situations, such as the greater ramifications of power struggles and how they affect individuals.

What makes the narrator unreliable?

An unreliable narrator can be defined as any narrator who misleads readers, either deliberately or unwittingly. Many are unreliable through circumstances, character flaws, or psychological difficulties. In some cases, a narrator withholds key information from readers, or they may deliberately lie or misdirect.

What are the 2 types of unreliable narrator?

Unreliable narrators can fall into four categories based on those qualities:

  • Picaro. The picaro is a character who has a knack for exaggerating.
  • Madman. The madman is unreliable because they are mentally detached from reality.
  • Naif. The naif’s narrative abilities are impacted by inexperience or age.

What is the most unreliable narrator?

10 of Literature’s Most Unreliable Narrators:

  • Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
  • Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby.
  • Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.
  • The many narrators of House of Leaves.
  • Huckleberry Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters.
  • Nelly and Lockwood in Wuthering Heights.

What did Hamlet do wrong?

Many scholars and readers believe that Hamlet’s delay in seeking revenge for his father’s murder is his worst decision. He made lots of mistakes, but the worst was getting on such a high after the play scene that he killed Polonius in mistake for Claudius.

What does Hamlet fail to do?

Hamlet’s failure to kill Claudius can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, Hamlet’s procrastination and indecision played a significant role. He struggled with conflicting emotions and moral dilemmas, which led to hesitation and missed opportunities.

How is Hamlet morally corrupted?

As Hamlet gets closer to avenging his father, he begins to lose the qualities that separate him from the man he hunts. Although Hamlet takes his morality and conscience seriously, his thirst for revenge consumes him,

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David Brooks

How Art Creates Us

a photograph of a marble bust in a museum with a man standing behind it using his hands to explain something

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

Recently, while browsing in the Museum of Modern Art store in New York, I came across a tote bag with the inscription, “You are no longer the same after experiencing art.” It’s a nice sentiment, I thought, but is it true? Or to be more specific: Does consuming art, music, literature and the rest of what we call culture make you a better person?

Ages ago, Aristotle thought it did, but these days a lot of people seem to doubt it. Surveys show that Americans are abandoning cultural institutions. Since the early 2000s, fewer and fewer people say that they visit art museums and galleries, go to see plays or attend classical music concerts, opera or ballet. College students are fleeing the humanities for the computer sciences, having apparently decided that a professional leg up is more important than the state of their souls. Many professors seem to have lost faith too. They’ve become race, class and gender political activists. The ensuing curriculum is less “How does George Eliot portray marriage?” and more “Workers of the world, unite!”

And yet I don’t buy it. I confess I still cling to the old faith that culture is vastly more important than politics or some pre-professional training in algorithms and software systems. I’m convinced that consuming culture furnishes your mind with emotional knowledge and wisdom; it helps you take a richer and more meaningful view of your own experiences; it helps you understand, at least a bit, the depths of what’s going on in the people right around you.

The novelist Alice Walker lamented that she lacked models. She wasn’t aware of enough Black female writers who could serve as exemplars and inspirations as she tried to perceive her world and tell her stories. Then she found the novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, who, decades before, had pointed the way, shown her how to see and express, enabled her to write about her mother’s life, about voodoo, the structures of authentic Black folklore. Thanks to Hurston she had a new way to see, a deeper way to connect to her own heritage.

I’d argue that we have become so sad, lonely, angry and mean as a society in part because so many people have not been taught or don’t bother practicing to enter sympathetically into the minds of their fellow human beings. We’re overpoliticized while growing increasingly undermoralized, underspiritualized, undercultured.

The alternative is to rediscover the humanist code. It is based on the idea that unless you immerse yourself in the humanities, you may never confront the most important question: How should I live my life?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, argued that we consume culture to enlarge our hearts and minds. We start with the tiny circle of our own experience, but gradually we acquire more expansive ways of seeing the world. Peer pressure and convention may try to hem us in, but the humanistic mind expands outward to wider and wider circles of awareness.

I went to college at a time and in a place where many people believed that the great books, poems, paintings and pieces of music really did hold the keys to the kingdom. If you studied them carefully and thought about them deeply, they would improve your taste, your judgments, your conduct.

Our professors at the University of Chicago had sharpened their minds and renovated their hearts by learning from and arguing against books. They burned with intensity as they tried to convey what past authors and artists were trying to say.

The teachers welcomed us into a great conversation, traditions of dispute stretching back to Aeschylus, Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Clifford Odets. They held up visions of excellence, people who had seen farther and deeper such as Augustine, Sylvia Plath and Richard Wright. They introduced us to the range of moral ecologies that have been built over the centuries and come down as sets of values by which we can choose to live — stoicism, Buddhism, romanticism, rationalism, Marxism, liberalism, feminism.

The message was that all of us could improve our taste and judgment by becoming familiar with what was best — the greatest art, philosophy, literature and history. And this journey toward wisdom was a lifelong affair.

The hard sciences help us understand the natural world. The social sciences help us measure behavior patterns across populations. But culture and the liberal arts help us enter the subjective experience of particular people: how this unique individual felt; how this other one longed and suffered. We have the chance to move with them, experience the world, a bit, the way they experience it.

We know from studies by the psychologists Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley that reading literature is associated with heightened empathy skills. Deep reading, immersing yourself in novels with complex characters, engaging with stories that explore the complexity of this character’s motivations or that character’s wounds, is a training ground for understanding human variety. It empowers us to see the real people in our lives more accurately and more generously, to better understand their intentions, fears and needs, the hidden kingdom of their unconscious drives. The resulting knowledge is not factual knowledge but emotional knowledge.

The novelist Frederick Buechner once observed that not all the faces Rembrandt painted were remarkable. Some are just average-looking old people. But even the plainest face “is so remarkably seen that it forces you to see it remarkably.” We are jolted into not taking other people for granted but to sense and respect the immense depth of each human soul.

When I come across a Rembrandt in a museum, I try to train myself to see with even half of Rembrandt’s humanity. Once in St. Petersburg, I had the chance to stand face to face with one of his greatest paintings, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” He painted this one at the end of his life, when popular taste had left him behind, his finances were in ruins, his wife and four of his five children were in their graves. I have seen other renderings of that parable, but not one in which the rebel son is so broken, fragile, pathetic, almost hairless and cast down. The father envelops the young man with a love that is patient, selfless and forbearing. Close observers note the old man’s hands. One is masculine, and protective. The other is feminine, and tender.

Though this painting is about a parable, it’s not here to teach us some didactic lesson. We are simply witnessing an emotional moment, which is about fracture and redemption, an aging artist painting a scene in which he imagines all his losses are restored. It is a painting about what it is like to finally realize your deepest yearnings — for forgiveness, safety, reconciliation, home. Meanwhile, the son’s older brother is off to the side, his face tensely rippling with a mixture of complex thoughts, which I read as rigid scorn trying to repress semiconscious shoots of fraternal tenderness.

Experiences like this help us understand ourselves in light of others — the way we are like them and the way we are different. As Toni Morrison put it: “Like Frederick Douglass talking about his grandmother, and James Baldwin talking about his father, and Simone de Beauvoir talking about her mother, these people are my access to me; they are my entrance into my own interior life.”

Experiences with great artworks deepen us in ways that are hard to describe. To have visited Chartres Cathedral or finished “The Brothers Karamazov” is not about acquiring new facts but to feel somehow elevated, enlarged, altered. In Rainer Maria Rilke’s novel “The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge,” the protagonist notices that as he ages, he’s able to perceive life on a deeper level: “I am learning to see. I don’t know why it is, but everything penetrates more deeply into me and does not stop at the place where until now it always used to finish.”

Mark Edmundson teaches literature at the University of Virginia and is one of those who still lives by the humanist code. In his book “Why Read?” he describes the potential charge embedded in a great work of art: “Literature is, I believe, our best goad toward new beginnings, our best chance for what we might call secular rebirth. However much society at large despises imaginative writing, however much those supposedly committed to preserve and spread literary art may demean it, the fact remains that in literature there abide major hopes for human renovation.”

Wouldn’t you love to take a course from that guy?

How does it work? How does culture do its thing? The shortest answer is that culture teaches us how to see. “The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way,” the Victorian art critic John Ruskin wrote. “Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”

Ruskin intuited something that neuroscience has since confirmed: Perception is not a simple and straightforward act. You don’t open your eyes and ears and record the data that floods in, the way in those old cameras light was recorded on film. Instead, perception is a creative act. You take what you’ve experienced during the whole course of your life, the models you’ve stored up in your head, and you apply them to help you interpret all the ambiguous data your senses pick up, to help you discern what really matters in a situation, what you desire, what you find admirable and what you find contemptible.

Another way to put it is this: Artistic creation is the elemental human act. When they are making pictures or poems or stories, artists are constructing a complex, coherent representation of the world. That’s what all of us are doing every minute as we’re looking around. We’re all artists of a sort. The universe is a silent, colorless place. It’s just waves and particles out there. But by using our imaginations, we construct colors and sounds, tastes and stories, drama, laughter, joy and sorrow.

Works of culture make us better perceivers. We artists learn from other artists. Paintings, poems, novels and music help multiply and refine the models we use to perceive and construct reality. By attending to great perceivers, the Louis Armstrongs, the Jorge Luis Borgeses, the Jane Austens, we can more subtly understand what is going on around us and be better at expressing what we see and feel.

When you go to the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, you don’t just see Picasso’s “Guernica”; forever after you see war through that painting’s lenses. You see, or rather feel, the wailing mother, the screaming horse, the chaotic jumble of death and agony, and it becomes less possible to romanticize warfare. We don’t just see paintings; we see according to them.

This process of refining and expanding our internal mental models is not a dry, purely intellectual process. If we’re lucky, and maybe only in rare moments, it can be gut-wrenching and intoxicating, a fusion of the head and the heart. As my friend Arthur Brooks writes , “Think of a time when you heard a piece of music and wanted to cry. Or recall the flutter of your heart as you stared at a delicate, uncannily lifelike sculpture. Or maybe your dizziness as you emerged from a narrow side street in an unfamiliar city and found yourself in a beautiful town square; for me, it was the Piazza San Marco in Venice, with its exquisitely preserved Renaissance architecture. Odds are, you didn’t feel as if the object of beauty was a narcotic, deadening you. Instead, it probably precipitated a visceral awakening, much like the shock from a lungful of pure oxygen after breathing smoggy air.”

In this kind of education, you are lured by beauty and deeply pierced by myths that seem primeval and strange. Once in college, I was reading Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy” in the library. I don’t know what happened next. The book, with its fevered prose and savage genius, sucked me into a trance. I eventually looked up and it was four hours later. I had traveled in time back into some primeval world of bonfires, dancing and Dionysian frenzy, and it left a residue, which I guess you would call a greater awareness of the metaphysical, the transcendent. Life can be much wilder than it seems growing up on a suburban street.

The philosopher Roger Scruton argued that this kind of education gives us the ability to experience emotions that may never happen to us directly. He wrote: “The reader of Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’ learns how to animate the natural world with pure hopes of his own; the spectator of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ learns of the pride of corporations, and the benign sadness of civic life; the listener to Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony is presented with the open floodgates of human joy and creativity; the reader of Proust is led through the enchanted world of childhood and made to understand the uncanny prophecy of our later griefs which those days of joy contain.”

Your way of perceiving the world becomes your way of being in the world. If your eyes have been trained to see, even just a bit, by the way Leo Tolstoy saw, if your heart can feel as deeply as a K.D. Lang song, if you understand people with as much complexity as Shakespeare did, then you will have enhanced the way you live your life.

Attention is a moral act. The key to becoming a better person, Iris Murdoch wrote, is to be able to cast a “just and loving attention” on others. It’s to shed the self-serving way of looking at the world and to see things as they really are. We can, Murdoch argued, grow by looking. Culture gives us an education in how to attend.

The best of the arts are moral without moralizing. Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” is an inquiry into the knowledge of right and wrong, told through the eyes of one who suffers, with all the pity and sorrow that involves.

The best of the arts induce humility. In our normal shopping mall life, the consumer is king. The crucial question is, do I like this or not? But we approach great art in a posture of humility and reverence. What does this have to teach me? What was this other human being truly seeking?

One of my heroes is Samuel Johnson, the essayist, playwright, poet, dictionary compiler, one of the greatest critics of all time. He was something of a mess as a young man — lazy, envious, unreliable. Over the decades, he read, wrote and felt his way to greatness. He read with astounding sensitivity. Once at age 9 he was reading “Hamlet” when he came to the ghost scene. He was so terrified he ran to the front door so that he could look out at the people in the street, just to remind himself that he was still in the land of the living.

He wrote biographies of his moral exemplars. He wrote essays, poems and plays about the great works of the Western tradition, and especially about his own sins as if he were trying to beat it out of himself through the scourge of self-examination. (Johnson had a special weakness for envy, and so dozens of his essays in his periodicals mention the sin of envy.) His awareness of human depravity led to humility, self-restraint and redemption. And it worked. By the end of his life he was lavishly generous, a man who had the ability to see the world with absolute honesty and sympathetic perception. Johnson socialized with artists and statesmen, but he invited society’s outcasts to live with him so that he could feed and offer them shelter — a former slave, a doctor who treated the poor, a blind poet. One night he found a woman, most likely a prostitute, lying ill and exhausted on the street. He put her on his back and brought her home to join the others. Johnson was a somewhat tortured Christian. These radical moments of welcome are the essential Gospel-like acts.

When he died, his eulogist observed that he left a chasm in national life that nothing could fill up. He embodied that old humanist ideal. He had become a person of taste, a person of judgment, a person of culture. He died a wonderful man.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author, most recently,  of “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.” @ nytdavidbrooks

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  1. Einführung in die Themen von "Hamlet"

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  2. Ghost Appears To Hamlet

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  3. Hamlet seeing his father's ghost

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  5. Hamlet Sees The Ghost Of His Father In Hamlet Act I Scene Iv By William

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  6. Hamlet Speaks With His Father's Ghost Drawing by Mary Evans Picture

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VIDEO

  1. I could see his father's sadness in his eyes

  2. เพื่อนยืมรถ วิญญาณหลอน I Ghost Father ผีพ่อง...อย่าดุ้ง Ep.5 #ปออรรณพ

  3. Hamlet Video 6/15/23

  4. Hamlet and Himself

  5. Hamlet

  6. ตั้งใจหลอก I Ghost Father ผีพ่อง...อย่าดุ้ง Ep.21 ​#ม้าม่วง @powerpuffgay3855 @channel8318

COMMENTS

  1. Hamlet Act I: Scene v & Act II: Scene i Summary & Analysis

    Hamlet is appalled at the revelation that his father has been murdered, and the ghost tells him that as he slept in his garden, a villain poured poison into his ear—the very villain who now wears his crown, Claudius. Hamlet's worst fears about his uncle are confirmed. "O my prophetic soul!" he cries (I.v.40).

  2. Ghost (Hamlet)

    "...but know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy Fathers life, Now wears his crown." Ghost of Hamlet's Father [4] He tells the young Hamlet that he was poisoned and murdered by his brother, Claudius, the new King of Denmark, and asks the prince to avenge his death.

  3. Hamlet

    Synopsis: The Ghost tells Hamlet a tale of horror. Saying that he is the spirit of Hamlet's father, he demands that Hamlet avenge King Hamlet's murder at the hands of Claudius. Hamlet, horrified, vows to "remember" and swears his friends to secrecy about what they have seen. Enter Ghost and Hamlet. HAMLET Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak.

  4. The Ghost Character Analysis in Hamlet

    Polonius The Ghost Previous Next Before the Ghost of Hamlet's father ever appears on stage, Horatio and the guards give a detailed description of the recently deceased King Hamlet, painting him as a good and courageous ruler. They are afraid of his specter, but their fear is due to the supernatural element rather than the man himself.

  5. Shakespeare's Hamlet Act 1 Scene 4

    Shakespeare's Hamlet Act 1 Scene 4 - Hamlet Sees his Father's Ghost Hamlet Please see the bottom of the page for full explanatory notes and helpful resources. Next: Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5 __________ Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 4 From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan. Stage Direction.

  6. Shakespeare's Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5

    Next: Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1 Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 5. From Hamlet, prince of Denmark.Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan. 2. My hour, the time at which I must return to the lower regions. 6. bound, Delius points out that Hamlet uses the word in the sense of ready to go [M. E. boun, ready to go], while the Ghost takes it as the past participle of the verb to bind.

  7. Hamlet

    Hamlet then verbally attacks his mother for marrying Claudius. In the middle of Hamlet's attack, the Ghost returns to remind Hamlet that his real purpose is to avenge his father's death. Gertrude cannot see the Ghost and pities Hamlet's apparent madness. After the Ghost exits, Hamlet urges Gertrude to abandon Claudius's bed.

  8. Hamlet Act III: Scene iv Summary & Analysis

    He shows her a picture of the dead king and a picture of the current king, bitterly comments on the superiority of his father to his uncle, and asks her furiously what has driven her to marry a rotten man such as Claudius. She pleads with him to stop, saying that he has turned her eyes onto her soul and that she does not like what she sees there.

  9. Why does Hamlet follow his father's ghost in Hamlet

    Horatio and Marcellus stand aside. Hamlet follows the ghost because his deepest desire, more important to him even than his life, is to talk to his beloved father again and find out...

  10. The Ghost Character Analysis in Hamlet

    Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

  11. Did Daniel Day-Lewis see his father's ghost as Hamlet? That is the

    Matt Trueman Mon 29 Oct 2012 09.07 EDT Daniel Day-Lewis has put paid to one of the most infamous stage anecdotes of all time, revealing that he didn't literally see his late father's ghost...

  12. Hamlet 1: His Father's Ghost

    General English Video series Shakespeare Hamlet 1: His Father's Ghost Hamlet 1: His Father's Ghost Hamlet returns home to find his father has died. Zimbabwean actor Tonderai Munyevu explains how Hamlet is about a man who has to figure out what happened while he was away. Connection Error Transcript Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Discussion

  13. Shakespeare's Hamlet Act 1 Scene 1

    Next: Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2 Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 1 From Hamlet, prince of Denmark.Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan. Stage Direction.Elsinore, the modern Helsingor, a seaport on the north-east coast of Denmark, to the north-west of Copenhagen: A platform before the castle, a terrace in front of the castle, up and down which the sentinels patrolled.

  14. Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5 Summary & Analysis

    The ghost tells Hamlet that it is indeed the spirit of his father. He begins speaking of the horrors of purgatory, but laments that everything he wants to say cannot be told to "ears of flesh and blood.". The horrified Hamlet listens, rapt, as the ghost urges him to seek revenge for the late king's "foul and most unnatural murder.".

  15. Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4 Summary & Analysis

    The ghost suddenly appears, and Horatio urges Hamlet to address it. Hamlet begins speaking to the apparition, begging to know if it truly is the ghost of his father. He asks the ghost to tell him why it has chosen to leave its tomb and wander the grounds of Elsinore in full armor. In response, the ghost motions for Hamlet to follow it.

  16. Hamlet: Questions & Answers

    Hamlet himself raises the possibility that the Ghost is actually a demon impersonating his father, which certainly seems possible, though we never see any further evidence to support this idea. In Act 3, scene 4, when the Ghost appears to Hamlet (and the audience) but not to Gertrude, Gertrude sees the Ghost as a sign of Hamlet's madness.

  17. The Role of The Ghost in "Hamlet" by Shakespeare

    Hamlet first meets the ghost of his dead father in Act-1, scene IV, and scene V. The ghost reveals a terrible secret that his uncle Claudius murdered his father by pouring poison into his ear when the king had died of a serpent's sting. But the ghost says to Hamlet-"The serpent that stung thy father's life now wears his crown" The Ghost ...

  18. The Ghost of King Hamlet

    The Ghost of King Hamlet provides the inciting incident for the play by charging his son with the task of taking revenge on Claudius. The ghost tells Hamlet that he cannot move on to heaven until ...

  19. The Ghost of Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Purpose is but ...

    Remember me" (1.5.91). Hamlet responds to his father by stating, "I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,/ …And thy commandment all alone shall live" (1.5.99-102). In other words, the memory of Hamlet's father, embodied in the form of a ghost, gives Hamlet his sole purpose for the remainder of the story.

  20. Hamlet Act I: Scene ii Summary & Analysis

    Summary: Act I, scene ii. The morning after Horatio and the guardsmen see the ghost, King Claudius gives a speech to his courtiers, explaining his recent marriage to Gertrude, his brother's widow and the mother of Prince Hamlet. Claudius says that he mourns his brother but has chosen to balance Denmark's mourning with the delight of his ...

  21. Introduction to the Ghost of Hamlet's Father

    J.D. Morris and Co. With all the mighty power which this tragedy possesses over us, arising from qualities now very generally described; yet, without that kingly shadow, who throws over it such preternatural grandeur, it could never have gained so universal an ascendancy over the minds of men.

  22. How is Hamlet unreliable?

    Hamlet is introduced as an unreliable narrator in the very first act of the play; only he sees his father's ghost and hears the message that Claudius is a murderer and that Hamlet should kill him in revenge. Shakespeare continues to present Hamlet as an unreliable narrator throughout the rest of the play. ... Some may consider Hamlet a hero ...

  23. Opinion

    When I come across a Rembrandt in a museum, I try to train myself to see with even half of Rembrandt's humanity. Once in St. Petersburg, I had the chance to stand face to face with one of his ...