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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: The Ghost in Ham
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0488.  Wednesday, 23 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Jeff Myers <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Apr 1997 15:58:08 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Ghost

[2]     From:   Michael Skovmand <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Apr 1997 10:16:07 MET
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0487  Re: The Ghost in Ham


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeff Myers <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Apr 1997 15:58:08 GMT
Subject:        Re: Ghost

>If you look at the text closely you will see that Hamlet Snr is in
>Purgatory.  This is certainly a Roman Catholic, not a Reformation
>belief.  How long did the "old religion" hang on?  We simply do not
>know, but it clearly was around at the turn of the century in
>Shakespeare's and his audiences' minds.

Or the Devil is playing a papist trick by trying to make young Hamlet
think he is his father in purgatory.  A knowledge of the "old religion"
probably still hangs on in England today.  Is that what you meant by
"hang on"?

Jeff Myers

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Skovmand <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Apr 1997 10:16:07 MET
Subject: 8.0487  Re: The Ghost in Ham
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0487  Re: The Ghost in Ham

The discussion on the ghost in * Ham*  in purgatory is related to
another  theme in Shakespeare: the fear of death  not simply  because
of  the loss of on'e s life, but "the dread of something after death, /
the undiscover'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns..."
Claudio in *Measure*   expresses  exactly the same thought, although in
more personal terms than Hamlet: "Ay, but to die and go not where..."
(III.1.118).  Having taught both plays recently, it's struck me  how
this fear of the uncertainty of one's afterlife, in a literal sense, is
one of the few ideas in Shakespeare that is difficult to make sense of
to a late 20th C (Protestant) reader.  Hamlet's argument in the To Be or
Not To Be - soliloquy - that this fear is the reason people don't, or
hesitate to commit suicide  - however miserable their lives may be - has
never really seemed a convincing argument to me - as an argument within
Catholic dogma, yes, but existentially, hardly. We would like ; I think,
to read this part of the soliloquy as a kind of "Verschiebung" on the
part of Hamlet - Hamlet  coming up with theological arguments for what
is  really Hamlet playing the  old delay-game with himself.  And we
might be right, of course, in part - motivation is rarely unambiguous.
And in *Measure*  the motivation may be part of  a persuasive argument
directed at Isabella, to relent, and  give in to Angelo, to save
Claudio's life. Nevertheless - in both Claudio and Hamlet , the fear of
one's afterlife/purgatory  is not presented as part of  an antiquated
system of beliefs, but  as part of a shared and legitimate way of
thinking... or so it seems. Any comments?

Michael Skovmand
U. of Aarhus.
Denmark
 

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