Act I – Scene.v
The ghost of King Hamlet tells his son to listen to
what he has to say. His time is short for he must return to purgatory, but he needs to tell his son his sad tale, and he charges the Prince to avenge his murder. Claudius has seduced his virtuous Queen
and whilst he was asleep, poured lethal poison into his ear.
The poison curdled King Hamlet’s blood, robbing him of his life and absolution. He goes on to instruct young Hamlet to leave Gertrude’s fate to heaven. The ghost exits.
Hamlet returns to Horatio and Marcellus and makes them take an oath to tell
no one what they have seen. He tells Horatio secretly that he will pretend to be mad in order to spy on his mother and uncle.
Hamlet’s visitation confirms his worse fears that
Claudius murdered his father, which in these times was a severe atrocity. The Elizabethan audience would have been horrified by this for they considered their monarchs to rule by divine right in that they were
God’s presence here on earth.
The audience immediately sympathizes with the ghost, who has to wander in a world between life and death because he has not made a final confession of his sins. This situation compounds Gertrude’s guilt and reinforces Shakespeare’s view that the relationship between wife and brother-in-law is incestuous.
Hamlet is now faced with the inescapable fact that he must kill Claudius to avenge his father. He is annoyed and frustrated at the actions of his apparently, simple mother, saying ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’.
At the end of this scene, Hamlet tells Horatio about his plan to obtain
He intends to feign madness, which will hopefully render him invisible so that he can obtain information about the deceit and dishonesty of his mother and uncle. Presumably, he means this madness to be like a mask.
Again Shakespeare leaves this interpretation open.
There are three courses that Hamlet can take in the play. He can pretend to be mad; he can pretend to be mad and become mad, or he has been quite mad from the start. Cleverly, Shakespeare has made the stage instructions unclear so that the role can be performed in various ways.