An otherworldly presence that visits Hamlet early on in the play. The ghost appears to Hamlet as his father, though alternate readings of the play allow for the possibilities that the ghost may be a figment of Hamlet’s imagination, a malevolent demon seeking to derail Hamlet’s life, or even an actor working on Claudius’s behalf in an attempt to drive Hamlet mad and exclude him from the line of succession to the throne. Hamlet, however, believes that the ghost is truly his father. When the ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius and charges the prince with seeking vengeance, Hamlet takes the ghost’s words to heart. Though Horatio, Marcellus, Barnardo, and Francisco can all see the ghost, it’s possible that the spirit can choose to whom it is visible. When the ghost reappears to Hamlet in Gertrude’s chambers, for example, Gertrude claims she can’t see the apparition—whether she is truly blind to it or is simply pretending to be is a matter of interpretation. The ghost is, in this way, at the center of several of the play’s themes: appearance versus reality; action and inaction; religion, honor, and revenge; as well as poison, death, and corruption. The ghost orders Hamlet to act and becomes frustrated with him when he doesn’t—at the same time, the ghost itself speaks of being trapped in a kind of purgatory, unable to move on to either heaven or hell until its will is done. The ghost serves as a constant reminder of death’s omnipotence and the possibility that the afterlife for which all souls are destined is not a particularly good place, regardless of one’s actions while living.
The Ghost Quotes in Hamlet
The Hamlet quotes below are all either spoken by The Ghost or refer to The Ghost. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Hamlet published in 1992.).
Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The Ghost Character Timeline in Hamlet
The timeline below shows where the character The Ghost appears in Hamlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Act 1, Scene 2
Act 1, Scene 4
...and Marcellus stand on the ramparts of Elsinore in the bitter cold, waiting for the ghost to appear. Sounds of Claudius and his courtiers feasting and drinking merrily echo from inside... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Act 2, Scene 2
Act 3, Scene 4