The Ghost alias Vyce

The Ghost could vie with Vyce from the medieval moralities as a figure of darkness. After talking to Hamlet, the Ghost descends into the "cellarage", the lower part of the stage that symbolically stood for hell. Like in medieval moralities where the position a character held on the stage or the position he moved to was indicative of his moral status (e.g. in the Castle of Perseverance Mankind literally turns his back on God when he is heading towards the World), the identity of the Ghost seems to undergo a significant change along with his descent into the lower part of the stage. This change in status becomes evident in the language Hamlet is using to refer to him. Having previously called him "king, father, royal Dane", Hamlet changes the register in a shocking way and calls him "boy ". He wonders if the spirit is "truepenny", which according to the New Cambridge edition of the play means a trusty fellow. The status of the king's spectre further deteriorates when his son calls him an " old mole", digging tunnels in the earth. Hamlet seems to be increasingly convinced that he is a devil who has the power to be "hic et ubique". When he orders Horatio and the two guards to take the oath, Hamlet keeps moving around searching a spot that is free of the Ghost's unhallowed underground presence. We can only infer that he is afraid the Ghost might undo the oath or turn it to evil uses.

As we have mentioned before, the Ghost "looks like the king"; he appears "in the same figure like the king that's dead" (1.1.40), but he is not the king, that's "dead and buried". The arguments that describe the Ghost as a copy, a counterfeit of the genuine thing, indirectly establish the Ghost's kinship with the morality Vyce, particularly with the one in the Protestant theatre. A master hand at counterfeiting, Vyce ruins the hero by assuming false identities, often pretending to embody virtues[12]. Horatio is afraid the ghost "might assume some other horrible form/ Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,/ And draw you into madness" (71-73, my emphasis). Hamlet himself entertains such doubts until late in the play

The spirit I have seen

May be a devil, and the devil hath power

T'assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits,

Abuses me to damn me. (2.2.596-611)

In this reading the Ghost's armour functions as an efficient disguise and the Ghost himself bears a strong resemblance to Vyce in John Pickeryng's play -Horestes. Significantly this Vyce plays the role of Revenge. The play, whose full title is — A Newe Enterlude of Vice conteyning the Historye of Horestes with cruell revengement of his Fathers death upon his one naturall Mother (Axton, 1982) - rereads the classical motif of the Horestia within the conventions of medieval moralities. By having Vyce embody revenge , Pickeryng indicates that the latter is not an act of justice that redresses a previous imbalance, but the workings of the devil. Revenge's alias Vyce's main goal is to stir up strife among people, be they low class or princes. His major opponent is Amity, that is order, reconciliation, and peace. The moment Amity prevails, Vyce is banished.

Any ghost associated with revenge can only come from hell or a classical version of hell. This is the case of the ghost of Don Andrea in Thomas Kyd's most influential The Spanish Tragedy. Kyd has his hero, Hieronimo, make explicit reference to the Biblical injunction against revenge: "Vengeance is mine. I shall repay" is God's commandment (Deuteronomy 32. 32. and the Romans 12.14.).[13] The moment he disregards the Biblical injunction and its morality of patience, Hieronimo acknowledges his allegiance with hell.

Though on this earth justice will not be found,

I'll down to hell, and in this passion

Knock at the dismal gates of Pluto's court….

Till we do gain that Proserpine may grant

Revenge on them that murdered my son;

Then will I rent and tear them thus and thus,

Shivering their limbs in pieces with my mouths.


In Shakespeare's play the Ghost's very armour indirectly associates the former king with violence. He is described as armed cap a pied, as if ready for combat. The two guards and Horatio use weapons to fight him. The struggle against the spirit is rendered graphically on the stage, in terms that echo the symbolic fight between a morality character and Vyce, where man inevitably loses out since ordinary weapons can be of no use to him:

Marcellus: Shall I strike it with my partisan?

Horatio: Do if it will not stand.

Barnardo Tis here.

Horatio: Tis here.

Marcellus: Tis gone (I.1.140-143)

Even if he himself does not initiate any aggressive act, as Horatio is afraid he might, the Ghost triggers off the revenge plot. It is this call for revenge, for bloodshed that is difficult to reconcile with the spirit's suffering in Purgatory and asking to be remembered.

Horatio calls him a usurper: "What are thou that usurp'st the time of night." (1.1.46). Considered in political terms, what is the Ghost's message but an urge for rebellion and regicide? Hamlet thinks that he makes them "fools of nature" , and " horridly shakes our disposition". In both Shakespeare's and Pickeryng's play revenge is shown to be inextricably related with the warrior morality, which is partially demonised as socially harmful. It runs counter the endeavour of the absolutist state to lay exclusive claim to violence. Consequently this warrior morality is suppressed as inimical to the Christian valorisation of "patience" (Taylor. 116)[14] and revengers are eventually shown to be sheer imitators of the initial murderers. We feel little sympathy for characters like the rugged Pyrrhus or Laertes, who embrace the ethics of action and rush into revenge pledging

Laertes: To hell allegiance!. Vows to the blackest devil!

Conscience and grace to the profoundest pit!

I dare damnation. To this point I stand,

That both the worlds I give to negligence,

Let come what comes, only I'll be revenged

Most thoroughly for my father. (4.5.133-138)

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Comments to: Mãdãlina NICOLAESCU
Last update: August 2002
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