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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Ghost from Purgatory
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1275  Thursday, 10 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Jeffrey Myers <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Dec 1998 10:43:32 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

[2]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Dec 1998 11:17:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

[3]     From:   Genevieve Guenther <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 9 Dec 1998 10:41:09 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

[4]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 09 Dec 1998 19:57:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeffrey Myers <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Dec 1998 10:43:32 -0500
Subject: 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

> How could Shakespeare allow a clearly Roman Catholic
> ghost into a play performed in London in the early 1600s and not be
> called a heretic or not given proper C of E burial?

Perhaps because the ghost is not clearly a Roman Catholic ghost.  As
Hamlet himself suggests, the ghost might be the devil, and the devil
could certainly try to make one believe he is a Roman Catholic ghost
from Purgatory.  I like Roland Frye's discussion of the ghost in his
_Renaissance Hamlet_.

Jeff Myers

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Dec 1998 11:17:35 -0500
Subject: 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

Roy Flannagan reopens the question of what we can infer about
Shakespeare or his theater from his having chosen to place Hamlet's
Father's Ghost in Purgatory.  A full answer would require us to delve
deep into the character of contemporary popular religion and folklore.
But here are some thoughts.

Shakespeare's part of Warwickshire was a fairly staunchly conservative
or crypto-Catholic area all through the Reformation upheavals. Latimer
had earlier described it as the "blind end" of his diocese, and the area
retained a reputation for residual ignorance and backsliding later,
until a preaching ministry was firmly installed at the end of the
century.  As a boy, Shakespeare would have seen the whitewashing and
screening off (NOT destruction) of the familiar images of Becket, Corpus
Christi and the Great Doom in the Guild Chapel of the Holy Cross, next
to which was the Stratford School.  His own schoolmaster later became a
Jesuit in Rome, and one of his schoolfellows, a seminary priest, was
executed in the wake of the Babington plot. He himself was raised by a
father who, late in life, signed the Borromeo Testament as an act of
Catholic reconciliation-the one later found in the roof of his house. If
Shakespeare didn't necessarily believe in Purgatory, his father almost
surely did, and this may be relevant to the fate of fathers in the play.
Shakespeare himself is not recorded to have attended communion in his
Southwark parish, but this is ambiguous evidence.  (Patrick Collinson
has recently discussed much of this in a fine article.)

Yes, certainly Purgatory had been abolished. It was abolished early, and
largely stayed abolished.  This is as a matter of theology in 1603. Yet
theology was much less effective at policing popular culture for the
most part, and ghost stories have their own logic.  The Ghost's
purgatorial suffering points in the play to the sinfulness of his life
and counterpoints effectively his son's relentless idealizations. So it
has its dramatic and psychological point.  It may also have a structural
point in representing in some sort "the old ways"-"our Fathers, yes,
they believed in Purgatory, and the notion had its logic, even its
grandeur- but we don't-Or do we?" Hamlet, both play and character, are
inclined to be skeptical, to admit multiple possibilities, including
eschatological ones.  One of the things being mulled over, then, may be
popular belief itself, and its tension with orthodox theology-there
being more things in heaven and earth, etc.  Horatio doesn't believe
even in ghosts. What the Church's position on ghosts was, I'm not sure.
What is its position now?  Does it denounce ghost stories?

Whether including Purgatory can be seen as a challenge to orthodoxy I'm
also not sure. There is no evidence that anyone ever took it that way.
The Master of the Revels didn't object. Shakespeare was never in danger,
so far as we know, of the sort of atheist prosecution that seems to have
been impending over Marlowe. The most likely people to have objected,
the "Puritans", were already denouncing the theater in toto anyway, and
had bigger fish to fry than a ghost in Purgatory. What it may suggest is
that, in such matters, Elizabethan audiences (and authorities) were
prepared to countenance the deployment of fictional license in a way
familiar to us.

Tom Bishop
Associate Professor of English
Director,  Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities
Case Western Reserve University

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Genevieve Guenther <
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Date:           Wednesday, 9 Dec 1998 10:41:09 -0800
Subject: 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

In reply to Roy Flannagan:

The question, how Shakespeare could "allow" a Roman Catholic ghost to
appear in one of his plays, seems to me to be a bit mis-focused. It
seems clear that the Elizabethan theater simply had the license to
present characters that couldn't actually exist in real life, such as
the fairies in MND, the witches in Macbeth, and the spirits in The
Tempest. On the other hand, these otherworldly figures carried as much
of a potentially disruptive charge as did Hamlet's ghost, in that there
were Elizabethans, in every social milieu and of both Catholic and
Protestant alliance, who believed in the actual existence of all these
figures (see Francis Yates and Keith Thomas), despite the
contemporaneous intellectual and cultural effort to disprove their
existence by reinscribing them as effects of fantasy inspired by
theatrical performance. And it is this cultural contest, over the
theatricality of "shaping fantasies," that, I think, Shakespeare speaks
to in his having Old Hamlet come from a place where his crimes are being
"burnt and purged away." Protestants argued against the existence of
Purgatory by demystifying it as a bad theatrical fiction (see Foxe, for
example, for this argument); but, that fiction having been dismantled,
Elizabethans were left with unclear lines of alliance to their dead
ancestors and to their state in relation to their own salvation. Thus,
because Hamlet is very much about one man's multiple alliances-to his
father, to himself, and to the future of his country-and because the
alliance to the father is presented as being to something that should
be, at once physically, emotionally, and culturally, dead and gone, it
seems to me that Hamlet dramatizes the very cultural ambivalence in
circulation in Elizabethan England about the loss of Purgatory and the
clear connection to dead ancestors that Purgatory enabled. However, it
seems likely that such a dramatization was able to occur because the
state had consolidated its spiritual power through Anglicanism to the
extent that potentially subversive representations of cultural nostalgia
and anxiety could be allowed. One might also say that, if Protestants
were calling Purgatory a fiction, surely a fictional representation of a
Purgatorial figure would be well within bounds, whatever the irony. If
that seems implausible, though, or still somehow too culturally
threatening for Mr. Flannagan, let me cite what Puttenham says about
dissimulations (or metaphoric figurations) in allegory: since metaphors
"bear contrary to the intent," one who writes fictions can always claim,
if his figures cause displeasure, that they express something he doesn't
mean. In this case, one might claim if ever called to do so that the
ghost of Old Hamlet stands merely as a projected hallucination of
Hamlet's addled brains, nothing more and nothing less.

Best,
Genevieve Guenther
UC, Berkeley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Wednesday, 09 Dec 1998 19:57:56 -0500
Subject: 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1269  Ghost from Purgatory

Hamlet doesn't take place in England, or in Shakespeare's present. That
was the latitude he used. Also, Hamlet and his Denmark got themselves
killed and overrun by a foreign army. Catholics screwing up like that
leave the Elizabethan audience feeling comfortably superior and suitably
warned. (With James of Scotland the likeliest future king,
Counter-Reformation begins to be a real fear.)
 

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