Hamlet is a complex play at least in part because it is not possible to grasp with clarity who the good guys are. And this starts with Hamlet’s murdered father, who appears to Hamlet as a ghost . The ghost clarifies to Hamlet the evil that lurks all around him and demands that Hamlet revenge his murder by his brother, who is now king and married to Hamlet’s mother. Yikes!
I have read that in Shakespeare’s time, it was accepted that ghosts came from hell, and therefore Shakespeare intended the ghost to infuse the play with evil. In other words, the ghost does not just talk about the evil done to him, he is commanding Hamlet to do evil. Hamlet is aware of the evil the ghost brings, and he says that the ghost may have come from hell, but he cannot either act on or reject the command. After all, if what the ghost has said is true (and it is), then revenge is not a crazed response. And yet, how to be sure that revenge would be just? Not just that, how to be stay safe from the man who may have murdered his father?
So how does one play the ghost? Orson Welles thought this was the most important role in the play —. and one that Shakespeare played himself. That observation and much more can be found in this fascinating video of a TV conversation that took place in 1963, I find the setting of the conversation to be most fascinating — there is no attempt to convert the conversation into something more or less than it is — a discussion of how to act by people who understood acting (rather than just being celebrities) who acted too).
Sitting around the table are Peter O’Toole (who was playing Hamlet just then at the National Theater in and directed by Laurence Olivier), Orson Welles, veteran actor Ernest Milton and host Huw Wheldon.
One of the comments to the YouTube plage offers this useful insight
Some temporal context for this intellectual and cultural feast: At the time of this airing, Johnny Carson had helmed the “Tonight” show, over here in the States, for almost exactly a year; O’Toole had become an international superstar in “Lawrence of Arabia,” one year earlier; Welles had done the same thing with “Citizen Kane,” 22 years earlier; and the Beatles were due to take America (and, by extension, the world) by storm in four short months.
If this conversation draws you into the play, you must check out John Gielguld discussing the character of Hamlet and the play overall. It offers many fascinating insights. BTW, Harold Bloom. who was no slouch when it came to talking about Shakespeare and Hamlet, thought that Gielguld’s Hamlet was the most arresting he had seen.
After these, you might enjoy the clarity that Hold Bloom brings to the discussion Hamlet and Shakespeare in general.
If you want still more, here are a few books to check out
Harold Bloom’s Hamlet
Anthnoy Burgess “Nothing Like the Sun” (a fictional biography of Shakespeare)
Yes, the great bard lives on!
BTW, I just listened to Prof Sir Stanley Wells talk about what manner of man Shakespeare was. It is the first of 4 presentations that the great scholar gave, and I found it to be of great interest. Most interesting is that Shakespeare led a double life – the prosperous property owner of Stratford on Avon, and the poet and playwright of London. By all outward appearances, he was proper and well liked. And he did not reveal the inner turmoils that make his writing so engaging.