Spirits In The Elizabethan Era

1667 Words7 Pages
William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet at a time when England was embroiled in debate about the nature of ghosts. The Elizabethan people believed in the existence of spirits. However, there was a discrepancy in how the people believed the spirits interacted and influenced mankind. The conservative held to the old doctrine stating that ghosts were spirits of deceased people and therefore not evil, while the reforming denied the possibility of ghosts in favor of spirits being evil devils. The Elizabethan Era was one marked by extreme violence and superstition which heavily influenced Shakespeare 's writing, including the ghosts he incorporated into his plays. Elizabethan superstitions are furthered in the play when Hamlet is frequented by a ghost whom…show more content…
The Elizabethans loved anything gore and grotesque. It is safe to say that the violence in Shakespeare’s plays were directed at its audience who were crazy for bloodshed. When Shakespeare lived in London he saw many gruesome things like “...London Bridge crowded with tenements and at the southern end a cluster of traitors’ heads impaled on poles. At Tyburn thieves and murderers dangled...At Tower Hill the headsman’s axe flashed regularly, while for the vagabonds there were the whipping posts, and for the beggars there were the stocks” (Waters). He was undoubtedly filing away these events to use in later works. The increase in death and morbidity around them encouraged the Elizabethans to develop an obsession with ghosts. A ghost is “...the soul of a dead person who is said to appear to the living in bodily likeness at a place associated with his life. Ghosts are said to have died in terrible and violent circumstances” (Alchin). There was no shortage of terrible and violent deaths in the Elizabethan Era, which led to an increase in perceived hauntings and greater superstition regarding spirits. There were many scholarly texts written about ghosts during this time. King James I, in fact, was the author of many texts about ghosts. He went so far as to compile a list of the proper behaviors for when one was confronted by a ghost. Three variations of ghosts were recognized by the Elizabethans, “...the vision or purely subjective ghost, the authentic ghost who has died without…show more content…
In the beginning of the play Hamlet is confronted with an embodiment of evil, which takes the form of his recently deceased father. It is undecided whether this ghost is good or evil, however, as Hamlet slowly moves to madness the ghost’s wickedness is determined. Hamlet is set in Denmark, a land created to closely model the Elizabethan London where Shakespeare resided. Prince Hamlet returns from school to attend his father, the late King’s, funeral. Shortly after his father 's death, Hamlet’s mother weds her brother-in-law, Claudius, making him the new King of Denmark. The ghost of Hamlet’s father later appears on the battlements of the castle before a group of guards, who then summon Hamlet to speak with the spirit. The Ghost leads Hamlet away from the guards and informs him that he was murdered by his brother Claudius, the new King. The knowledge imparted from the ghost causes Hamlet to go mad and form a plot to kill the King, “which even in Elizabethan times was not allowed by law or religion…”

More about Spirits In The Elizabethan Era

Open Document