During the Elizabethan period, a ghost was seen as a common feature in most tragedy plays. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a prime example of the use of a ‘ghost’ to entice fear and apprehension amongst the Elizabethan audience. The ghost can be seen as projecting several functions throughout the play, all of which are vital to the play’s ultimate impact. An Elizabethan audience were highly superstitious, held Roman Catholic beliefs of purgatory and were extremely fearful of afterlife and the uncertainty that surrounded it. Such views were powerful connotations that aided Shakespeare to influence his audience with considerable impact.
However, the implications of a ghost were seen as very different for a Elizabethan audience as compared with the perception of a ghost by a modern audience. Therefore it could be said that the disparity in how the ghost is received may diminish the play’s impact for a modern day audience. The audience of Shakespeare’s time were surrounded with highly religious concepts. During the period, whilst many were deemed protestants, there were many who challenged the idea of souls and their sins in relation to heaven and hell and continued to practise the old faith.
Therefore an Elizabethan audience would have been familiar with the concepts of heaven and hell and the uncertainty surrounding ghosts. Whether the ghost of Old Hamlet is living in hell or purgatory is an issue which Shakespeare leaves open and unresolved. This leaves the Shakespearean audience with the question of whether there was hope of redemption for old hamlet and in relation, themselves. This can be seen as one of the various functions of the ghost in hamlet, by engaging into the religious mindset of Elizabethans, they would question its presence and would be intent on discovering its existence and nature throughout the play.