A Level English: Can it be that Hamlet’s own father dooms him?

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“Taint not thy mind” King Hamlet’s ghost says, and some audience members nod in approval of the ghost’s projection of compassion in its advice to the prince. However, by the end of the play, half of them are perhaps shaking their heads in disgust at what they see as a father dooming his son to his death. What divides those that do from the critics that argue that Old Hamlet gave his son good advice that the young prince was wrong to neglect is the alternating extent they see the ghost as being responsible for the ‘tragedy’ that eventually befalls Hamlet.

Martin Scofield, in his book “The Ghosts of Hamlet: The play and modern writers” suggests: “In narrating the account of his death so powerfully and obsessively the ghost does help to taint Hamlet’s mind, to intensify the sexual disgust of his first soliloquy, to throw him into the toils of disillusion with Ophelia… Hamlet surely has grounds for saying ‘The spirit I have seen may be the devil’”.

Eleanor Prosser, in “Hamlet and Revenge” compliments Scofield in writing “For over fifty lines, the ghost has done everything possible to taint Hamlet’s mind with lacerating grief, sexual nausea, hatred and fury”.

However, as there are two sides to every coin, there are disagreements on how far the ghost is to blame for Hamlet’s death; Whilst Levao (“Renaissance Minds and Their Fictions: Cusanus, Sidney, Shakespeare”) argues that the ghost “taints the prince’s mind with and obsessive or graphic tale of political outrage and sexual degradation”, On the other hand, J. Wilson (“What happens in Hamlet”) believes “the thought of it [an end to “luxury and damned incest”]… had begun to “taint” Hamlet’s mind before he sees the ghost… partly due to the fact that he might at any moment stop the “luxury” by a single thrust with his right arm”.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to this question- it is open to your own judgement.

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