Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,–
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce!–won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel link’d,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.
But, soft! methinks I scent the morning air;
Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And with a sudden vigour doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark’d about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,
All my smooth body.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d:
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!
If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not;
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once!
The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
And ‘gins to pale his uneffectual fire:
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.


This passage is key to the characterization of the ghost. The ghost has just revealed to hamlet that he is his father. This, and that the ghost was a sinner are the reader’s main understanding of the ghost thus far. The first part of the passage reveals his thoughts on Gertrude and Claudius. The ghost views his brother Claudius as an “adulterate beast” (1.5.42).

This shows his anger towards his brother, for marrying his widow. The ghost also describes his brother’s wit as “wicked”(44) showing again his fury towards him. He then insults his brother “whose natural gifts were poor”(51). This shows resentment and puts down Claudius’ sexual prowess. Gertrude is also being discussed as the ghost describes her relationship with Claudius as “falling off”(47).

The ghost believes that her standards in men have declined in comparison to him. As well he describes his former queen as “seeming-virtuous”(46), which suggests that she may have been having an affair with Claudius before the death of her husband. The king reflects upon his relationship with Gertrud, he sees it as his “love was of that dignity”(48). The king has lost respect for close family members as of his death. The dead king feels as though the relationship between Claudius and Gertrude is wrong, which is not an uncommon feeling.

The second part of this passage is the king’s description of his death. This section characterizes the last part of the king’s life and explains the hanging question of how this ghost died. The king is “sleeping within [his] orchard”(59), this gives the reader the sense that the king is older and less vigorous than he was made to seem earlier by Marcellus. The king then describes this orchard as “secure”(61), ironically this orchard becomes his death bed.

This may lead readers to view the king as >>>>>. The rest of the speech explains in detail the death of the ghost, which finishes off the characterization. The end leaves the reader with more questions but not those to be answered by the ghost, as the ghost has answered those about his death. The ghost king uses this paragraph to let the audience into his character, as well as his thoughts on the other characters and their relationships.

The ghost at the beginning of his speech seems to suggest that Gertrude was sleeping with Claudius before the king’s death. The use of sexually potent diction sets up this suggestion. First, the ghost calls his brother “adulterate”(42) which literally means a married person has sexual relations with someone other than their spouse.  This is the first clue in the suggestion that there may have been adultery.

Though the reader must beware that the ghost is angry with his brother and this may just be an insult. The ghost then goes on using the words “seduce”(45) and “lust”(45), which are sexually charged. Then the ghost describes, how Claudius “won to his shameful lust/ The will of my most seeming-virtuous Queen”(45-46). The queen’s “will”(46) can be read as her sexual will with an implication of sex, which was won by Claudius’ “shameful lust”(45). Then the ghost describes his widow as “seeming-virtuous”(46) which can be read as when they were together, she was having an affair, which would take her away virtuosity.

The concentration of all this gives the suggestion that Gertrude may have been in an adulterous affair with Claudius. This suggestion is being said to hamlet who previously has a poor relationship with Claudius and Gertrude. This new suggestion would push that relationship towards Gertrude as well as Claudius into an even worse area. The suggestion that Gertrude was with sleeping with Claudius previous to the ghost’s death, would help to explain why Claudius kills the former king. While the thrown was not guaranteed to Claudius, Gertrude was.

At the end of the passage, the ghost describes his skin as the poison takes effect on him. The king first describes his skin as looking “tetter barked”(71), which gives the reader the image of tree bark. Tree bark is brown, rough, and layered, none of these are characteristics of regular skin.  The king also says this phenomenon is “instant” (71) which illuminates an image of bark forming on the king’s skin. This all happening whilst the king is sleeping in his orchard. These are two complimenting images, which is interesting.

The ghost then describes his skin as “lazar-like”(72), which can be interpreted as similar to that of a lizard, scaly, and again odd-colored, which would work with the description of tetter barked. This image also works incorporation with the king’s orchard. This description of lazar-like can also be understood as that of Lazarus.

This would again work with the notion of rough scaly and dark skin but adds more depth as it foreshadows his stay in purgatory, for the sins the ghost was not able to repent during his life.  The ghost then continues with the description of his skin as a “loathsome crust”(72), this imagery reinforces the earthy, feel and look of the king’s skin that was created previously.

This image also has an evil connotation that meshes with Lazarus. The mood of this description is evil, and morbid, due to the devil-associated words, and the connotation of the imagery used. The imagery works in conjunction with the setting of the orchard. The use of this imagery is so vivid because this death never takes place in the time period of the play, so the ghost must use diction, imagery, and mood to take the readers to the death, with the only visual aid being diction.

The speech by the ghost allows readers to understand the ghost’s situation as well as gives character depth to the ghost. The ghost reveals to hamlet his innermost thoughts on the characters surrounding him. He also reflects on himself and his relationships. Then continues to describe vividly his death, and its effects on his body. The king makes himself vulnerable to hamlet, similarly how he made himself vulnerable in the orchard.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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