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Word Count: 1,172
Shakespeares Definition of a Ghost The American Heritage Dictionary published in 1973 defines a ghost as the spirit or shade of a dead person supposed to haunt living persons or former habitats Unfortunately this simple definition does not explain where a ghost comes from or why it haunts When used in the context of Shakespeares Hamlet this definition seems to suggest that the ghost who visits Hamlet truly is his dead father seeking revenge To the modern reader this straightforward interpretation adequately characterizes the ghost and his purpose however to the Elizabethan audience the ghosts identity proved more complex For the Elizabethans four different types of ghosts existed each with its own purpose and qualities Before they could determine the meaning behind the ghosts appearance the Elizabethans had to classify the ghost in one of the four categories Similar to the modern definition the Elizabethans believed in the possibility of the ghost being an actual dead person sent to perform some task or mission On the other hand the ghost could be the devil disguised in the form of a deceased loved one tempting to procure the soul of one of the living The nonbelievers among the Elizabethans saw ghosts as omens telling of troubled time ahead or simply as the hallucinations of a crazed person or group Shakespeare recognized the complexity of the Elizabethan ghosts identity and played off of the confusion making the question of identity a key theme to his play Throughout Hamlet Shakespeare explores each of the possible identities of the ghost with each one adding a new twist to Hamlets plight When news of the ghosts presence first reaches Hamlet and Horatio they declare it an omen of forthcoming evil Hamlets reaction indicates that he is not surprised My fathers spirit - in arms All is not well I doubt some foul play Would the night were come Till then sit still
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