Considered by many to be Shakespeare's masterpiece, the Bard introduces his historical fiction through a chance meeting of Hamlet with the ghost of his father. Writing in the very wake of Henry VIII's expulsion of the Papists and establishment of the Church of England, over which Elizabeth the Virgin Queen presides, Shakespeare introduces to us a ghost en route to Purgatory, where he is:
"Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away, But that I am forbid
to tell the secrets of my prison house,"
Rather than imagining this were some sort of counter reformation ploy, I think it's more productive and reflecting great Shakespearean subtlety here that he tacitly acknowledges, despite the dawning reformation and despite decrees of kings, that from history hundreds of years past, Christians have lived in the shadow of this Christian idea of Hell, of this purge-atorial belief.
Any reading of Shakespeare deserves generous amounts of annotation and commentary to help the reader through a lot of vocabulary which isn't often used in our day. So as to narrow my scope to a review rather than a book report, I would recommend that this edition fulfills that assignment, devoting more than half the book to historical review of religious and philosophical published material about the cultural beliefs regarding ghosts, spirits, demon kind, angels, death, the occult, and the medical humors, preceding Shakespeare's writings. And, great philosopher that the Bard is, he parodies the extraordinary political trouble in religion.
This didn't immediately sink in, when first I read the ghost's remark about marriage to his "most seeming virtuous queen." It is a ghost, only a shadow of who he used to be, who complains about his wife's 'new' filial relations with his murderous, but living brother. The metaphor is yet hanging in the air while Hamlet is confronting his mother the queen.
Another truly evil piece of work is the courtier Polonius, who Hamlet slays, spying on this same confrontation between the queen and Hamlet. Polonius really is the quintessence of Grimer Wormtongue. Not only does he achieve over-kill, poisoning the well between Ophelia and Hamlet, but from our first introduction to this family, when Ophelia's brother Laertes is traveling to a foreign city to study, even in one breath Polonius extends seeming wise counsel to his departing son, then, the minute Laertes back is turned, Polonius is spitting firebrands and madness; he employs ruffians to follow after his son, seem to befriend him, tempt him into any unseemly or un virtuous behavior they may and noise about vicious slander besides, ruining any chance of his establishing social contacts or successes of his own, which might otherwise lead him to forsake returning home.
So his daughter kills herself, pressured not only by Hamlet's feigned psychosis, but further fueled by her father's treachery. When Laertes returns home all unhinged with grief for his sister, no further allusions are given to the fruit of his father's villainy, where he had gone to study. But the evil king offers us a narrative foot note, summarizing well, I think, the emotional timbre of the author, whose son also had died,
"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions..."