A characteristic that made Shakespeare such an intriguing playwright is his ability to convey powerful messages to an audience in a creative and unexpected manner. When comparing act 5, scene 3 from Richard III to act 1, scene 5 from Hamlet, this niche can truly be appreciated by analyzing his usage of ghosts. Although the roles the ghosts have in their respective plays are different, they are still used as vessels that communicate profound points regarding the play’s context.
Shakespeare utilizes such entities in the aforementioned scenes as a literary device that foreshadows the outcome of a circumstance and to define what is morally acceptable. In Richard III act 5, scene 3, ghosts are used to foreshadow the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth Field. At this moment in the play, Richard and Richmond are carrying out there final battle plans that will decide the future of the English throne come the morning.
After both Richard and Richmond retire to their tents to rest before the battle, Shakespeare employs scenic parallelism to express how differently the ghosts influenced their dreams. For Richard, the ghosts communicate messages of desolation and anguish. Whilst for Richmond, the ghosts try to comfort him by conveying messages of righteousness and confidence. This can be truly appreciated in the message delivered by the Ghost of Clarence to both Richmond and Richard (“Richard III” 7): (to RICHARD) Let me sit heavy in thy soul tomorrow,
I, that was washed to death with fulsome wine, Poor Clarence, by thy guile betrayed to death. Tomorrow in the battle think on me, And fall thy edgeless sword. Despair, and die! (to RICHMOND) Thou offspring of the house of Lancaster, The wronged heirs of York do pray for thee Good angels guard thy battle. Live and flourish. This message foreshadows the victory of Richmond and Richard’s demise in the Battle of Bosworth Field. In Hamlet act 1, scene 5, the appearance of the ghost of Old King Hamlet foreshadows bad times for Denmark.
This is the moment that Hamlet is given his quest for revenge by his father’s ghost which ended in his own demise as well as the rest of his direct noble family. The ghost of Old King Hamlet expresses the reality of the situation and his desire for revenge in the following quote meant for Hamlet (Hamlet 30): I find thee apt, And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear. ‘Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. It is not appropriate to say that a call for justified revenge will lead to the demise of the main characters, but the fact that the character which is calling for revenge is a ghost supports the argument that undertaking such action will lead to a road of misery to anyone involved. A theme of dread is caused due to the ghostly interaction which hints to the audience the plot will not have a positive outcome.
After analyzing the ghost scenes in Richard III act 5, scene 3 and Hamlet act 1, scene 5, we can conclude the Shakespeare uses such entities to foreshadow the outcome of the events in their respective plays. Furthermore we’ll analyze the use of these ghosts in both plays which define the moral grounds of the situations the characters are involved in. In Richard III act 5, scene 3, the moral difference between Richmond and Richard is clearly expressed the moment the ghosts are talking to them while they are asleep in their tents.
The following statement given by the Ghost of Buckingham defines the morality for both characters (“Richard III” 9): (to RICHARD) The last was I that helped thee to the crown; The last was I that felt thy tyranny. O, in the battle think on Buckingham, And die in terror of thy guiltiness. Dream on, dream on, of bloody deeds and death. Fainting, despair; despairing, yield thy breath. (to RICHMOND) I died for hope ere I could lend thee aid, But cheer thy heart, and be thou not dismayed. God and good angels fight on Richmond’s side, And Richard fall in height of all his pride.
The Ghost of Buckingham is communicating that Richard’s morality is based on cruelty, tyranny and false pride while Richmond’s is based on gentleness, compassion and righteousness. The ghost conveys that Richmond’s morality is so upright that “God and good angels fight on Richmond’s side”. This communicates to the audience the worthiness of Richmond’s calling for the English throne over Richard’s. In Hamlet act 1, scene 5, the ghost of Old King Hamlet is used to justify Hamlet’s action in taking revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has succeeded the Danish throne.
The use of an otherworldly entity that explains how his afterlife is in purgatory and that it is necessary for revenge to be taken against his past aggressor to relinquish the suffering of his current state justifies the inhumane action of Hamlet wanting to murder Claudius. It rationalizes the “an eye for an eye” logic as it makes people in the audience think such course of action must be noble if a spirit that dwells in a reality that people fear due to their religious beliefs asks for such actions.
We can appreciate Old King Hamlet’s request for revenge to Hamlet in the following dialogue (Hamlet 30): GHOST Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. HAMLET Murder? GHOST Murder most foul, as in the best it is. But this most foul, strange and unnatural. The morality of Hamlet’s search for revenge is defined as good not only because of the circumstance that Old King Hamlet was murdered in an orchard with poison by Claudius, but because this murder is “most foul, strange and unnatural” that his ghost cannot rest in the afterlife.
Subsequently, we can conclude that Shakespeare uses these ghosts in the aforementioned scenes of Richard III and Hamlet to define the moral grounds the characters revolve around in. Moreover, he uses such entities to clearly communicate to the audience what actions are morally good and bad in the reality of the play. After analyzing Richard III act 5, scene 3 and Hamlet act 1, scene 5 we can conclude that Shakespeare utilizes such entities as a literary device that foreshadows the outcome of a circumstance and to define what is morally acceptable.