Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 810. Wednesday, 17 Nov. 1993.
From: Robert O'Connor <
Date: Wednesday, 17 Nov 1993 12:04:40 +0700
Subject: 4.0803 Re: The Ghost in *Hamlet*
Comment: Re: SHK 4.0803 Re: The Ghost in *Hamlet*
It is good to see that any question about *Hamlet* will set off a volley
of questions. When I was working on the play for my Honours dissertation a
few years ago, the Mel Gibson movie came out and I soon found that EVERYONE
had a theory!
The Ghost fascinates me as much as it does many others; one thing I came
across when researching my dissertaion was a remark of Harold Jenkins' in
the Arden edition of the play. In the notes to I.ii.255 (p.197), he reports
the recieved view from classical times that "ghosts were the spirits of the
departed", and that this was disputed by the Protestants - as Nick Clary
pointed out. Jenkins, however, claims that this dispute "is not
dramatically relevant" on the grounds that "Shakespeare is aware of various
beliefs and allows Hamlet to be the same."
Is the dispute "dramatically relevant"? The sources cited by Nick Clary -
and the one by Jenkins (Burton) - surely inform the play-in-performance,
now and then, as much as the text. On the other hand, to introduce too
many views to this question (and to others) may be to 'smear' the issue
across so many possibilities as to make it meaningless.
Most of the productions I have seen have NOT doubled the parts - the Ghost
is often played by one of the seniors of the troupe, though I have seen one
version where it was never seen on stage by anyone - a consensual
hallucination, perhaps. About ten years ago a local company managed to
have the same actor play Hamlet and the Ghost, by virtue of a technical
trick, I confess: the Ghost was filmed intoning his lines and then
projected onto a gauze screen which was lowered over the front of the stage
in the appropriate screen. This presentation, I felt, inclined the
spectator toward the "spirit of health" view, that the Ghost was in fact
the shade of Hamlet's father. I lean toward the "goblin damned" view of
the Ghost myself. If it is not a prejudgement of Claudius, I suggest that
to double the parts of Claudius and the Ghost is to reinforce this view.
The point I am trying to make, I suppose, is that how the Ghost is 'seen'
or 'read' depends very much on the performance. Those productions that do
not physically present the Ghost on stage - suggestive as this may be -
are, I think, taking an easy way out.