Big Bully Ghosts

Spotted on Yahoo! Answers : What did Shakespeare have to say about bullying in Hamlet, Act I?
I thought it an interesting question. I don’t think that Shakespeare was trying to make any particular statement on that subject. I think that “bullying” as we know it is a pretty new name for what’s a pretty old concept. Hasn’t the big and powerful guy always forced his will upon the littler guy, regardless of what you call it?
But part of the fun is in finding today’s issues in Shakespeare’s work, we know that. So who are the bullies in Hamlet?
I saw a production once where Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were big skinhead dudes, like soccer hooligans, who made it perfectly clear that if Hamlet didn’t do what they wanted, he was in for a beating. I’ve always remembered that “Where is Polonius?” interrogation scene, because every time Claudius asked it, one of them bodily threw Hamlet across the stage.
What about the ghost itself? Isn’t there a case to be made that Hamlet’s only taken on this act of revenge because the ghost made him do it?
Then of course there’s Ophelia’s relationship with her brother and father. I wouldn’t say that Laertes is a bully, but Polonius certainly can be. Laertes’ “Watch out for Hamlet” is Polonius “I forbid you to see him.”

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One thought on “Big Bully Ghosts

  1. The Ghost said:
    "I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house . . . a tale . . . whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul . . .make . . .thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. But this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood"

    Immediately followed by:
    "List, list, O, list!"

    So Hamlet's father was forbidden to tell Hamlet his tale from Hell because it would drive Hamlet mad. Then he went ahead and told the tale anyway and commanded Hamlet to listen to it and remember. And it did drive Hamlet mad:

    As Gertrude subsequently observed:
    "Your bedded hair, like life in excrements, starts up, and stands on end."

    Hamlet later said,
    "The spirit that I have seen . . .abuses me to damn me"

    As Hamlet said,
    "churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world."

    Now THAT'S bullying.

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