Hamlet

The Ghost Character Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
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:
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
). 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.

Related Characters: Marcellus (speaker), Hamlet, The Ghost, Horatio
Page Number: 1.4.100
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...skeptical that anything will appear, and so Barnardo begins telling him the story of the ghost. He has barely begun his tale when, surely enough, the ghost appears. (full context)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...like the king that’s dead.” Marcellus urges Horatio, an educated “scholar” to speak to the ghost. Horatio confesses that he is full of “fear and wonder” as he gazes upon the... (full context)
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
After the ghost exits, Barnardo remarks upon how pale Horatio looks, and asks the man if he’s all... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
...restore glory to Norway. Horatio says that they should all take the portent of the ghost very seriously and heed its warnings. (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Just then, the ghost reappears. As it heads for Horatio, Horatio orders it to stop. The ghost stops short... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
All three men lament having lost the chance to communicate with the ghost. Horatio urges Marcellus and Barnardo to accompany him to Hamlet’s quarters to tell the prince... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Horatio begins telling Hamlet about how a ghost which bears a striking resemblance to Hamlet’s father has appeared to Marcellus and Barnardo three... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...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)
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
The ghost suddenly appears, and Horatio urges Hamlet to address it. Hamlet begins speaking to the apparition,... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Horatio begs Hamlet at length not to follow the ghost, as it may have devious designs on Hamlet’s life and might try to lead him... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Hamlet follows the ghost as it leads him along, but soon grows tired. He orders the ghost to speak... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
The ghost tells Hamlet that it is indeed the spirit of his father. He begins speaking of... (full context)
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
The ghost tells Hamlet that though everyone at court has been told that the king died after... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
Horatio and Marcellus at last catch up with Hamlet and breathlessly ask him what the ghost had to say. Hamlet is reluctant to tell them, though, for fear that they’ll betray... (full context)
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
...predicts, begin acting very strangely—they must not let on that they know anything about the ghost or his visit with Hamlet. The ghost calls out again for the men to swear... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
...the material, whether the man is really guilty of murder. Hamlet is worried that the ghost he saw may have been the devil trying to tempt him into evil—but the play... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
Action and Inaction Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Religion, Honor, and Revenge Theme Icon
Poison, Corruption, Death Theme Icon
The ghost appears, and Hamlet asks the “heavenly guard” what he should do. Gertrude, who apparently cannot... (full context)