The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet Analysis

ghosts in two literary works. The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet each have a ghost which guides and drives the action of the story. The writer works to compare and contrast the ghosts in each story and tell how they relate to the story. There were two sources used to complete this paper.

Throughout history writers have used unusual methods to illustrate points if their work that they want the reader to understand. In two classic works of literature a ghost was used to provide many of the needed details to the story that would have been unknown otherwise. In The Spanish Tragedy and in Hamlet there were ghosts to provide the foundation for many of the stories actions. Without the ghosts much of the things that occurred would not make any sense to the reader. While they each uses a ghost for the purpose of information provision the ghosts and the use of the ghosts have differences as well as similarities.

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Thomas Kyd penned The Spanish Tragedy in the 1500’s. It was a time where time travel was not a common idea, and there was no electricity or technology to speak of. Perhaps the most innovative method of providing certain strands of information came by way of ghosts, and the ghost Kyd used worked well within the frame work of the story. In The Spanish Tragedy the author invents a ghost called Andrea. Andrea was slain by Balthazar and the story is built around this event and tragedy. This is the first and most obvious difference between the ghost of the Spanish Tragedy and the ghost of Hamlet. In Hamlet the ghost is a king and does not do personal battle, but ordered his men into battle on his behalf during his career and life.

In the Spanish Tragedy the ghost of Andrea remains on the stage for almost the entire play. The ghost serves the same purpose that the off stage chorus of yesteryear used to serve. The days when there were only one or two actors allowed on the stage at the same time the chorus was off stage and provided information and tidbits that were needed to advance the story. In the Spanish Tragedy the ghost of Andrea is on stage almost throughout the entire play so that certain needed bits of information can be provided though the occasional comments made by the ghost as the play advances in plot.


There are several similarities between the two ghosts. One of the most obvious similarities is that the ghosts’ nemesis is offered the opportunity to wed the widow of the ghost. In both Hamlet and the Spanish Tragedy the ghosts were well to do men with an active and powerful life. When they are killed, the person responsible for their death is then given the chance to marry the wives of the men that they murdered.

Another similarity between the two ghosts is the idea of a play to re-enact and portray the death of the ghosts. Each of them uses a play to exact revenge though the plays are used in different manners.

One of the most overlooked but most obvious similarities that are evidenced in the plays when it comes to the ghosts is the reason they are there. The ghosts want revenge. The are each angry that they have been killed by those who should not have killed them and each of them wants to find revenge before they can let go of this world and move on to the next world, as specified and believed in by society at the time of the writing of the literature. That desire for revenge is what drives the entire story, but it plays out differently for each ghost. The ghost of Hamlet has to endure the knowledge that his widow falls in love and married the man who killed him, because she had no idea that he had killed her husband, whereas the ghost of Andrea was comforted with the knowledge that Bel-Imperia not only knew who murdered the love of her life, but also shared in his desire to exact revenge for such actions.

But how can love find harbour in my breast,/Till I revenge the death of my beloved?” (1.4.64-65 pp.24)


Before one can begin to discuss the differences between the ghosts one must understand the very first difference. This is the difference in how they came to be ghosts. In the instance of Hamlet the King became a ghost when his brother poisoned him to death, while the ghost of Andrea existed because he was stabbed to death in a battle of anger and revenge. One poisoned, the other stabbed but both killed and now ghosts for the purpose of the respective works that they appear in. Another main differences between the two ghosts is the fact that the women react differently to the idea of marrying the person who killed their loved ones. One of the reasons this difference may exist is because the wife of Hamlet (Gertrude) had no idea that Claudias was responsible for the death of her husband King Hamlet. The lover of Andrea was aware and was extremely upset that it would ever be suggested that she marry the killer of the man she had loved with all her heart. Bel-Imperia is then kidnapped in the hopes she will learn to love the killer of Andrea. This is another difference in the ghosts of the story. While Andrea is on stage and wants revenge, he does not become as active or as serious about the act as King Hamlet. On the other hand the ghost of Hamlet wants nothing more than revenge and seems only to exist for the purpose of getting is son, also named Hamlet to exact revenge for the death of his father. The fact that Hamlet was married and Andrea was not married is another difference but one that makes very little difference in the story lines or the final reactions of the characters in the story.

While there are many differences that are obvious there is one that may be easily overlooked in the examination of the plays. The ability of Hamlet to speak to his son, while Andrea never speaks to his loved ones is one of the central differences between the ghosts and a difference that drives the plots along. It is interesting to note the differences in the way the authors chose to utilize their ghosts in this manner. Shakespeare takes a most direct route when he allows King Hamlet to talk to his son. It is something that paves the way for the playwright to be able to convey many things that otherwise would be hard to convey. This was used perhaps because it was the most simple and direct method. Shakespeare was well-known for using the most direct method to get things done and allowing the ghost to talk directly to his son was a way for the audience to be told exactly how he died. The audience would not know how he died otherwise, because of the fact he was poisoned. Having him come back as a ghost and be able to convey this to his son was one of the only ways it could have been told. The other difference is that Andrea was angry, but that anger was not displayed as openly as it is in the ghost if King Hamlet. Hamlet not only shows anger at the man who poisoned him but also at his son for being nervous about what his father wants him to do.

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

Murder most foul, as in the best it is,

But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.”(I.v.25-28)

The few above words by the ghost of King Hamlet tells the audience and the son that his death was not natural by the furthest stretch of the imagination. This underscores another difference between the two ghosts. It centers much of the play of Hamlet on the way he died while the play of The Spanish Tragedy works more to illustrate the aftermath of his death and also includes many sub-plots that have nothing to do with the direct cause of the death of Andrea. These differences may appear subtle at first but if one peels the top coat off and examines the underpinning of these differences one will see that these differences cause the plays to be what they are. Individualize accounts of a family tragedy with a twist to make each one its own story.


While each play tells a story that might survive without the ghost to prod it along the story of Hamplet would suffer the most without the ghost of King Hamlet. Without the ghost of King Hamlet it woud be much more difficult to tell the same story. This play was written in the days that there was no technology. There were mo forensic capabilities and it would have been impossible to know that King Hamlet had been poisoned unless the new King for some reason decided to confess. Without the ghost the audience and the other characters would have been taken in a completely new direction about the play’s meaning. Without the ghost and the conversations between the father and the son the play would haved had to center on something else and it would not have been what it was. The fact that the ghost was a part of the play and therefore able to tell the world what had happened to the King, leads the entire story to its conclusion. Had the world not been able to eavesdrop on the ghost and his anger ther would have bveen no need for the play. Hamlet would not have had to come home from school and there would have been no plot. Had the ghost of Andrea not been invented and allowed to participate in the play many things would have gone unnoticed but the story line itself would still be able to be portrayed.

A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark

Is by a forged process of my death

Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life

Now wears his crown.”(I.v.35-39)

This not only shows a difference between the two ghosts it also provides an explanation about the way ideas were alluded to at the time. This passage allows the reader to understand that this play was written in a time where romantic ways of speaking were the norm. The ghost uses hints, and clues to illustrate the point he is trying to make and the ghost of Andrea is a bit more direct. Though the two ghosts speak during their respective plays the ghost of Andrea is used throughout the play as more of a prop than a main character. The ghost of Hamlet is used as a chief element of the eventual actions that Hamlet takes. His prodding and guilt trips to his son cause Hamlet Junior to make mistakes as well as to stall for time. In the Spanish Tragedy the ghost is used to provide foundational information and while they are both out for revenge, the appearance of Andrea is given by permission of Pluto and for the sole purpose of revenge. The ghost of King Hamlet is not fully explored as to why or how he came to be in the play.

The lack of ghosts in both plays would make the plays become boring and pedestrian. The plays use of ghosts are what made them different for their time and different even today. The use of ghosts provided the most advanced theme of its time in both instances. It provided the audience with a what if scenario because they could take way from the play the themes that were developed by having a ghost in the play.

One of the things that made the ghost of Hamlet so interesting is the era in which he was invented. He was written into the play at the time because it was important to the plot, in fact he was the plot, however he was utilized during an era when society believed that evil spirits could appear as the ghost of loved ones and use the family and friends to commit the acts that they wanted committed. Ghosts could be friendly or they could be evil and deadly.


The works of the two authors share many similairites. They each revolved around the death of someone who comes back as a ghost, and they each seek revenbge for their murder. They each use a play to act out that revenge though one commits murder during the play while the other uses the play to get the new king to become nervous and obvious as to his guilt. Each pay uses ghosts in ways that were advanced for the time that they were set in. Each of them would be sadly lacking in substance and plot if the ghosts did not exist.


Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Barrons Educational Series. 1996

Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy. Theatre Communications Group 1997

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