Be all that as it may, having Hamlet and the Ghost communicating in sign language—one might describe it almost as their “private” language—also served to produce the (in my experience, unique) effect of putting the father-and-son pair in a sort of psycho-spiritual bubble, contra mundum; a bubble that excluded all others and highlighted Hamlet’s isolation. The relationship between father and son portrayed in most productions comes across as distant, severe and (on Hamlet’s part) rather worshipful, even awestruck. In this production the father/son relationship is portrayed as having been loving and paternally intimate, which makes Hamlet’s reaction to his father’s tale of murder all the more harrowing.
All this supports the later dramatic development of something like madness in the Prince of Denmark. For if the Ghost’s visit isn’t harrowing, either in the supernatural or the psychological sense, preferably both, then Hamlet’s subsequent unhinging will not be properly set up. In fact, in my viewings and re-viewings of eighteen or so Hamlet productions, I’ve only seen two others that have, in my view, fully understood and capitalized on the importance of this setup/payoff dynamic: One was at the American Players Theatre back in the mid-nineties starring Lee Ernst; it featured a chained ghost with a booming voice who seemed to be suffering all the torments of hell. The other is the famous Russian language Hamlet of Grigori Kozintsev, with a truly haunting, almost horror-movie slo-mo apparition of a Ghost, monstrous cape whipping in the wind behind him, stalking the craggy walls of castle Elsinore like a walking nightmare.