| Quote #1
Prince Fortinbras's attempts to reclaim the lands his father lost to Old Hamlet in a bet is the first of three revenge plots in the play, all of which involve sons seeking revenge for a father's death. (For more about the implications of this, check out the theme of "Family.") Here, we see that Fortinbras acts like a traditional revenge tragedy hero – he takes swift and forceful action. This, as we soon learn, establishes him as a foil to Prince Hamlet, who notoriously delays taking action to avenge his own father's murder.
| Quote #2
Hamlet's initial reaction to the Ghost's news that Old Hamlet was murdered is rather ironic, don’t you think? Here, he seems willing to "sweep" to revenge what the Ghost calls his "foul, strange, and unnatural murder." But, as we know, Hamlet takes forever to get things done. We should point out that, here, the Ghost hasn't yet named the murderer. Could it be that Hamlet will later hesitate to avenge his father's death because it is Claudius he must murder? (It's not easy to kill a relative, much less a king, right?)
| Quote #3
In revenge tragedies, the appearance of a murder victim's ghost is common and straightforward. (Check out our discussion of "Genre" for more on the conventions of revenge tragedy.) But, in Hamlet, things are a bit more complex. Here, the Ghost claims that he's doomed to suffer in Purgatory (often imagined as a fiery place where souls had to "purge" their sins before they could move on to heaven), until young Hamlet avenges his "foul and most unnatural murder" by killing Claudius. (A few passages later the Ghost says he was killed while he slept in his orchard so he didn't have the benefit of a death-bed confession – 1.5.9).
As fascinating as all this sounds, there are some major problems with the Ghost's story. First, the doctrine of Purgatory doesn't say anything about murder helping Purgatorial souls get to heaven – prayers on behalf of the deceased help, yes, but not vengeance. Second, after the Reformation, Protestants rejected the idea of Purgatory as a "Catholic superstition." (In fact, at the time Shakespeare wrote the play, practicing Catholics were persecuted in England.) As we know, Hamlet is most definitely a Protestant. You can check out our discussion of "Religion" for more on the play's religious crisis but the point we want to make here is this: in light of the fact that Hamlet is a Protestant, it makes sense that, in Hamlet's mind, the seemingly Catholic Ghost would be totally suspicious. Even though Hamlet says it appears to be an "honest" spirit, the Ghost's shaky credibility seems to be one major reason for Hamlet's hesitancy to kill Claudius for the murder of Old Hamlet.