Hist. of Theater and Dance
The representation of Gods, spirits, death, and the afterlife has always been prevalent in drama. The thought of not being able to know what comes after our own lives scares many people and that is why it has been represented so much in theater. These phantoms have appeared in plays since the beginning of drama. Plays like The Bacchae , or Everyman , and even more modern plays such as The Death of a Salesman and Our Town . But perhaps two if the most influential play that dealt with spirits were The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus and Hamlet .
The depiction of spirits in …Doctor Faustus has an incredibly powerful meaning in the play. In this play, as is the case in Hamlet , the phantoms are represented as being evil. In Marlowe s play the evil spirits are trying to pull the character of Doctor Faustus towards the side of evil so they can conquer his soul and bring it to Hell. In this play the two most influential entities are Mephistophilis and Lucifer. They cloud the mind of Doctor Faustus by promising him wealth and power while he lives on earth. But Mephistophilis warns him that if Faustus makes this deal with the Devil he will suffer eternal damnation. The Doctor pays no heed to Mephistophilis warnings, and he signs the contract drawn up by Lucifer himself. All throughout the play there is the presence of a Good Angle. The Angle tells Faustus many times throughout the course of the play that it is never too late to repent, and that his soul can still be saved. This Angle, however, does have the power of influence that is needed to convince Faustus that what he is doing is wrong. So Faustus ignores this presence and continues on his path towards hell.
Perhaps the single most complicated spirit in the whole play is Helen of Troy. In the very beginning of the play Faustus asked Mephistophilis for a wife, but the phantom said that this was an impossible request for him to fulfill. This was not possible because the idea of marriage was an idea that belonged to God, it was a sacrament. Instead, Mephistophilis promised Faustus that he could have as many whores as he wanted. Faustus was given the most beautiful woman in the world, the legendary Helen of Troy. However this was not really a woman at all, but rather another evil spirit disguised as Helen. This was perhaps the final draw for Doctor Faustus, after this sin there was no way of saving his soul. After one has had sexual intercourse with a devil, there is virtually no way for one to repent. Faustus actually knows, or partly knows that this entity has stolen his soul. Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Her lips suck forth my soul. See where it flies! Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here I will dwell, for Heaven is in these lips, and all is dross that is not Helena. After this act, the soul of Doctor Faustus was lost.
Shakespeare s Hamlet also has the overwhelming presence of a super natural being, the long dead father of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Although it is a different kind of spirit, the ghost in this play is also trying to convince the main character to do something. In this play it is to avenge the spirits murder. Even though this spirit is his own father, Hamlet is not sure of what to do, whether or not he should follow the command of his deceased father because the task set before him would be one of murder; an eye for an eye. Not just murder, but the killing of Hamlet s own mother and his stepfather, who also happened to be his uncle. After much convincing on the part of the phantom, Hamlet agreed to investigate the charges that brought against his mother and stepfather, and if he found them to be true he would take the appropriate actions against the villains.
Once Hamlet has discovered the truth, that his mother and stepfather had plotted to kill Hamlet s father the king, Hamlet is still not sure whether or not he should fulfill the request of the spirit simply because it is wrong to take the life of another human being.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish d ( Hamlet )
This quote shows the battle that Hamlet was fighting inside himself. Whether or not he should suffer knowing the truth or if he should take a stand and avenge the death of his father.
Hamlet does eventually take revenge against his mother and stepfather for what they have done. He kills his stepfather, but his mother was an unfortunate accident in the whole thing. She was not supposed to die. Hamlet himself is even killed in this course of action. This series of events almost brought down the entire state of Denmark.
In both of these plays, a spirit of some form or another has convinced the main character to do something evil. Even though it was the characters own will to do so, the phantoms gave them the added push that they needed to complete these tasks. Phantoms have always been seen in drama. Their presence has always been powerful. In some plays they are designed to strike fear in the hearts of the audience, like in The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus , in others they are put there for the audience to ask questions, such as in Hamlet . These plays bring up questions in the human mind, such as what happens after death, and that is most likely why spirits are represented in so much theater. No one knows what comes after death, and that scares a lot of people. Even though these plays may not be right, they at least give people an idea of what may come after our lives, and it asks the audience, what do you believe ?