This theme of darkness. Whether Hamlet appears to be

This essay will discuss how William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and John Milton’s Paradise Lost uses elements such as revenge and sin, to convey the use of darkness. These elements are few of many that play a fundamental role and provide the reader with awareness of the texts nature. While Shakespeare’s play focuses on the Ghost of Hamlet’s father seeking revenge, Milton’s poem Paradise Lost focuses on retelling the story of the Fall of Man, where God and Satan fight in an acrimonious battle over control. Using a combination of critics such as Sir Francis Bacon, C.S Lewis and Percey Shelley, this essay aims to highlight the interrelated elements of darkness and how they help in uncovering history within the Renaissance period. Revenge can be considered as a form of darkness, which is evident in Shakespeare and Milton’s respective texts. The Ghost and Satan both use the form of manipulation to involve others into their revenge plan. In Shakespeare’s text, Hamlet is ordered by the Ghost of his late father to kill Claudius, who murdered the Ghost to become the new King of Denmark. The Ghost manipulates Hamlet through the quote: “So art thou to revenge when thou shalt hear.”1 (1. 5.) and influences him to murder Claudius. The action Hamlet is ordered to undertake demonstrates a very dark and twisted form of revenge. It’s possible the Ghost in Hamlet is used as a personified spirit for Hamlet to gain revenge on Claudius. However, Hamlet is more than willing to take revenge when he eagerly expresses “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift, as mediation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge”2 (1. 5.). This quote conveys that Hamlet is bloodthirsty which forces the reader to focus on his mental instability; reinforcing the theme of darkness. Whether Hamlet appears to be in the correct frame of mind, his hasty consideration to commit such an act presents the idea he hasn’t considered other possible solutions for revenge on Claudius. Lord Francis Bacon supports this idea in his book ‘The Major Works’ due to his belief in “Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it”3. Here, Bacon presents the idea that when somebody is willing to commit murder as revenge against their victim, and successfully murders them; they believe they have won. However, Bacon considers death as a spiteful action which suggests that murder in Hamlet is just a vindication of honour. On the other hand, although Paradise Lost doesn’t necessarily fit the typical ‘revenge tragedy’, Satans revenge plan to destroy mankind in the text is fundamental and is fuelled by the anger present for God. Adam and Eve plays a vital role in Satans revenge, where Eve was tempted to eat from the forbidden tree that God instructed not to touch: “In her ears the sound yet rung of his persuasive words”4 (l. 736). In successfully tempting Eve to eat from the tree, Satan presents the dark message “For onely in destroying I finde ease”5 (l. 128). This creates disturbing thoughts to the reader, that Satan enjoys “destroying” and finds it satisfying to get revenge; which emphasises on his dark mind-set. Percey Shelley defends the action of Satans revenge by stating that “It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil”6. However, Shelley’s point could be argued against that Satans ultimate revenge of “…Make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” is a grotesque thought and can be understood as to why Satan was made a “personification of evil”7. This supports the use of darkness in this text as his twisted revenge expresses dark imagery, which Milton creates to disturb the readers thoughts. Interestingly, both Shakespeare and Miltons texts demonstrates darkness surrounding spiritual characters. In Hamlet, the protagonist expresses the fear he has for evil, whereas Paradise Lost demonstrates the power of evil. Hamlet questions the apparition he sees of his father’s Ghost to prevent himself being tricked by the devil. He expresses this worry when questioning whether “The spirit I have seen may be a devil – and the devil hath power”8 (2. 2). The darkness this presents is the fear of the devil that Hamlet displays. The punctuation used, such as the hyphen demonstrates a delay in his thought and therefore can be seen that he is in doubt as to whether the Ghost was sent by the Devil. More fascinatingly, “Devil hath power”9 (2. 2.) expresses that Hamlet knows the ultimate power of the Devil and therefore finds it hard to trust the Ghost. Hamlet’s scepticism is proven through the quote: “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!”10 (1. 4.) in which shows him warding off any possible evil. In Elizabethan times, it was believed by many protestants that ghosts were the apparitions of evil spirits that were sent to earth by the Devil, in order to lure the soul of man to hell. Dover Wilson expands on this concept, commenting that Catholics and Protestants believed “souls of the departed came from Purgatory and were thought to have come from hell, who were devils that assumed the shape and appearance of the dead”11. Using Wilsons information, it gives the reader a different perspective to consider, that the Ghost is something much eviller. Dupporting the idea that the Ghost is possibly from purgatory, can be considered from the quote: “My hour is almost come, when I to sulphurous and tormenting flames must render up myself”12 (1. 5.). This creates dark imagery of Hamlets father burning in hell, reinforcing the use of darkness in Hamlet. According to scripture, Satan keeps the non-believers of Christ in spiritual darkness by disguising himself, blinding people to the truth of God and denying his own existence. Satan is able to manipulate himself to appear differently, for example in Paradise Lost and Genesis 3, he appears as a serpent to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “the serpent, suttl’st Beast of all the field”13 (l. 495). It is clear Milton creates the sound of the serpent in this quote. The sibilance within “the serpent, subtlest beast”14 (l. 495) grabs the reader’s attention as the harsh ‘s’ sounds connotes the sound of the snake. Additionally, in Corinthians (11:14-15) Paul warned the Corinthians that Satan appears as an angel of light “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light”15 (1:13-15). By Satan manipulating himself to appear different to people, it keeps his true identity hidden and makes the unbelievers sceptical of his existence. Satan uses manipulation to blind people of God’s truth, as supported by Corinthians (4:3-5) when it is said: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the God of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”16. This proposes the idea that Satan is envious of the higher position God takes. By blinding God’s truth to believers, it results in segregating communities. C.S Lewis’s Critical Analysis of Hierarchy supports the idea of all existence having some natural superior, but suggests everything is inferior to the omnipotence of God. The natural hierarchy leaves Satan inferior to God, meaning Satan has to follow Gods rules which he opposes to and attempts to override His power; causing the rebellion to happen. C.S Lewis states the ways in which the hierarchy can be destroyed, one of which is failing to obey a natural superior which is God. We see this occur when Satan lures Eve to eat the apple from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s text demonstrates that Satan takes pleasure for his ultimate aim of destruction against God, proving the ways he attempts destroy the natural order which emphasises the way Paradise Lost uses darkness. Shakespeare doesn’t provide the reader of Hamlet with many detailed stage directions. With such little stage direction provided, the reader must grasp these ideas from the characters speeches in order to create the mood, style and look Shakespeare intended. In theatre, “the Ghost who returns to demand retribution for some murder was a familiar stage presence”.17 (1. 1.) and was due to the belief of protestants, that Ghosts were evil spirits and would elaborate on the use darkness in the text. We see from the text that the Ghost is able to move and interact with Hamlet, therefore he must be played by a real person. The Ghost in Hamlet is described as being dressed in armour according to Horatio when he states: “Such was the very armour he had on”18 (1. 1.). Shakespeare may have dressed the Ghost in armour to present the idea that he is powerful and cannot be defeated. The Elizabethan audience would’ve seen this costume as distinctive as Ghosts in other plays were presented in a white ensemble. How the Ghost enters the stage isn’t very clear as the reader is only given the stage direction “Enter GHOST”19. In the Elizabethan Playhouse, trap doors that lead from ‘hell’ were typically used to raise characters onto the main stage. It would make sense for the Ghost to appear this way, as the play subtly hints the Ghost has come from purgatory. By the Ghost ‘rising from hell’ it foreshadows evil which reinforces how Hamlet uses darkness. BLC Productions20 created an adaptation of Hamlet where the Ghost enters from the upstage left, just before the lights are dimmed to a royal blue colour that waves across the stage. The effect this has is very mesmerising but the entrance of the Ghost isn’t unsettling, as it doesn’t create the unnerving effect the trap door of the Elizabethan Playhouse would. The Ghost enters wearing a white cloak with shiny details that climb up and round his shoulders. His face is concealed beneath a white masquerade mask which creates the intimidating atmosphere. Again, this isn’t as effective as the armour Shakespeare intended for the Ghost to wear. More interestingly, the ghost himself doesn’t physically speak. A pre-recorded audio is echoed from the speakers presenting a demonic tone of voice. This creates an uncomfortable atmosphere within the audience and suggests the Ghost is in fact, an evil spirit. Hamlet doesn’t seem to feel comforted by the spirit of his father as he falls to the floor and covers his face with his hands. I personally believe that the Ghost should break the fourth wall. By interacting with the audience, it would manifest Hamlets emotions onto them and create a darker tone to the overall performance. The main concept of Paradise Lost is retelling the ‘original sin’ story. The original sin was the act of Adam and Eve eating from the Forbidden Tree, which God stated not to touch. This sin is explained as to how evil entered the perfect creation God built. Satans “purpos’d prey”21 (l. 416) was Eve for which he led her to “a goodly tree far distant to behold, by making it appealing to her with the “fruit of the fairest colour mixt”22 (l. 249), that look “to satisfy the sharp desire”23 (l. 249). The imagery that Milton presents to the reader portrays how successful Satan was at manipulating objects to make everything seem desirable. At the sight of the apple it made Eve feel “hunger and thirst at once”24 (l. 285) and “reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat”25 (l. 781). From when Eve falls into temptation and bites the apple, Satans revenge is a success. It could be suggested that through Eve’s lack of control over her temptation, she condemned Adam through greed and thirst in return for knowledge and uses this to cover for her own welfare. Milton describes Eve “Greedily ingorg’d without restraint, and knew not eating death”26 (l. 790). This quote creates grotesque imagery and forces the reader to acknowledge how bad the sin was that Eve committed by comparing it to death. The metaphor “eating death”27 emphasises the innocence of Eve being oblivious to the ‘deathly fruit’, which helps to enhance the darkness of the serpent. The darkness of Satans plan is due to fault of Eve, but could be argued Eve isn’t to blame. Modern critics like Sally Frank argues that “Eve was right to eat the apple”28 and that because of her failing at resisting temptation people believe “Eve is the source and symbol of many of the negative traits assigned to women”29. Conversely, in Paradise Lost “God left free the will”30 (l. 351) which could be suggested the fall of humanity is Gods error. This reinforces Eve’s choice of eating the apple thus making God at fault. Nonetheless, Satan takes pleasure for the ultimate aim of destruction by describing himself as “The Enemy of mankind”31 (l. 494) and for all darkness that falls into this world which captures the use of darkness in Milton’s text. 

Drawing to a close, the use of deep analysis and rich accounts from critics portray how the elements discussed highlight how darkness is used in Hamlet and Paradise Lost. Critics mentioned such as Sir Francis Bacon, Percey Shelly and extracts from Corinthians helps to support ideas put forward. Undeniably, both texts delve into literary features such as imagery, metaphorical sentences and sibilance to reinforce the use of darkness within Shakespeare and Milton’s text.

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1 William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2000) (P. 28)

2 Shakespeare (P.29)

3 Francis Bacon, The Major Works (NY: Oxford University Press, 1996) (P. 343)

4 John Milton, Paradise Lost, (Global Language Resources, Inc. 2001) (P. 177)

5 Milton, (P. 162) Line 128

6 Suzuni Jumbo, What Shelley Found In Milton’s Satan and God, (, undated) Available at; <> accessed 9th January

7 Jumbo, (

8 Shakespeare, (P. 59)

9 Shakespeare, (P. 59)

10 Shakespeare, (P. 26)

11 Harold C Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 1 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009) (P. 382)

12 Shakespeare, (P. 28)

13 Milton, (P. 141)

14 Milton, (P. 141)

15 Corinthians, Bible Gateway. online. Available at: (Accessed 12th January)

16 Corinthians, Bible Gateway. online. Available at: (Accessed 12th January)

17 John Mullan, Ghosts in Shakespeare, (The British Library, 2016) online Available at: Accessed 14th January

18 Shakespeare, (P. 8)

19 Shakespeare, (P. 7)

20 BLC Theatre, BLC Theatre Presents Hamlet by William Shakespeare, (Youtube, 2013)

16th January 2018

21 Milton, (P. 169)

22 Milton, (P. 249)

23 Milton, (P. 249)

24 Milton, (P. 285)

25 Milton, (P. 255)

26 Milton, (P. 255)

27 Milton, (P. 255)

28 Sally Frank, Eve Was Right to Eat the “Apple”: The Importance of Narrative in the Art of Lawyering, (Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, 1995) Vol. 8: Iss. 1, Article 4. Available at: hp://

29 Frank, (Vol. 8: Iss. 1, Article 4)

30 Milton, (P. 243)

31 Milton, (P. 247)