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Shakespeare's Characters: The Ghost (Hamlet)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 19. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co.

With all the mighty power which this tragedy possesses over us, arising from qualities now very generally described; yet, without that kingly shadow, who throws over it such preternatural grandeur, it could never have gained so universal an ascendancy over the minds of men. Now, the reality of a ghost is measured to that state of imagination in which we ought to be held for the fullest powers of tragedy. The appearance of such a phantom at once throws open those recesses of the inner spirit over which flesh was closing. Magicians, thunder-storms, and demons produce upon me something of the same effect. I feel myself brought instantaneously back to the creed of childhood. Imagination then seems not a power which I exert, but an impulse which I obey. Thus does the Ghost in Hamlet carry us into the presence of eternity.

Never was a more majestic spirit more majestically revealed. The shadow of his kingly grandeur and his warlike might rests massily upon him. He passes before us sad, silent, and stately. He brings the whole weight of the tragedy in his disclosures. His speech is ghost-like, and blends with ghost conceptions. The popular memory of his words proves how profoundly they sink into our souls. The preparation for his first appearance is most solemn. The night-watch — the more common effect on the two soldiers — the deeper effect on the next party, and their speculations — Horatio's communication with the shadow, that seems as it were half-way between theirs and Hamlet's — his adjurations — the degree of impression which they produce on the Ghost's mind, who is about to speak but for the due ghost-like interruption of the bird of morning; — all these things lead our minds up to the last pitch of breathless expectation; and while yet the whole weight of mystery is left hanging over the play, we feel that some dread disclosure is reserved for Hamlet's ear, and that an apparition from the world unknown is still a partaker of the noblest of all earthly affections.
"T. C." in Blackwood's Magazine.


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