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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Ghost from Purgatory
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1285  Saturday, 12 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Roy Flannagan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 10:04:19 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[2]     From:   Stevie Simkin <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 15:05:12 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[3]     From:   James Marino <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 11:06:29 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[4]     From:   William Sutton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 10:34:08 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[5]     From:   Takashi Kozuka <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 16:21:38 PST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1269 Ghost from Purgatory

[6]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 21:58:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roy Flannagan <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 10:04:19 -0500
Subject: 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Allow me to sum up some of the responses to my question, and discuss
them.

(1) Ghost is not clearly Roman Catholic ghost and may be the devil.

But the Ghost turns out to be a true ghost, not a goblin damned, and he
certainly says he comes from a place where his crimes are (thanks
Professor Guenther) being "burnt and purged away."  So I think he is a
Roman Catholic (perhaps a knee-jerk Roman Catholic) ghost.

(2) Shakespeare's part of Warwickshire was crypto-Catholic and one of
his school fellows was executed "in the wake of the Babington plot"
(thanks Professor Bishop).  And there is that bit of paper signed by
Shakespeare's dad and hidden in the wainscoting.  But Professor Bishop
says Horatio doesn't believe in ghosts, but I think he does after he
sees one: certainly he believes the Ghost's story by the end of the
mousetrap scene.  Shakespeare, it is true, was not censored that we know
of by the Master of Revels, nor was he accused like Marlowe of being an
atheist (or blasphemer or homosexual).  I don't know if Professor Bishop
is right though about the tolerance of the Elizabethan audience with
"the deployment of fictional license."

(3) According to Professor Guenther, my question was mis-focused,
because the Elizabethan theater had the license to present impossible
characters such as fairies, witches, or spirits, none of which existed.
I disagree with that: I believe that fairies, witches, and spirits did
exist for the Elizabethan audience (check the career of Godwin Warton,
later in the century, for very tangible beliefs in the kingdom of
fairies; doctors treated for possession and gave amulets to protect
against demons; witches existed in the Bible and in England, much as
Shakespeare and others presented them; and check Drayton's Poly-Olbion
for the existence of spirits like Sabrina in every English river).  I
like Professor Guenther's remark about the Elizabethans' "unclear lines
of alliance to their dead ancestors," since that might explain why
Shakespeare had to have the Ghost in the play in order to make Hamlet's
revenge plausible, though I don't agree that the Ghost is "a fictional
representation of a Purgatorial figure."  The Ghost walks: it isn't
metaphorical.

(4) Finally, the play does take place in Denmark, and Denmark,
Shakespeare could have known from personal experience or that of members
of his company, was Roman Catholic and at one time or another was
overrun by a foreign army.  Professor Quart thinks this might indicate
that yet another Catholic country was screwing up, making the
Elizabethan audience feeling smug with superiority.  I agree that the
Danes are being traduced for alleged drunkenness (Claudius may be a
drunk, but Hamlet isn't); but I don't believe Shakespeare is practicing
English chauvinism here.

Flames (of Purgatory), anyone?

Roy Flannagan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Simkin <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 15:05:12 +0000
Subject: 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Genevieve Guenther writes:

> 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.

This brings to mind the stories about performances of Marlowe's _Doctor
Faustus_ where devils were "seen" by audiences - William Prynne's
_Histriomastix_(1633) refers to

"The visible apparition of the Devill on the stage at the Belsavage
Play-house, in Queen Elizabeths dayes (to the great amazement both of
the actors and spectators) while they were there prophanely playing the
History of Faustus (the truth of which I have heard from many now alive,
who well remember it) there being some distracted with that feareful
sight"  (quoted in Chambers, _The Elizabethan Stage_, 1945, III, 423-4).

Chambers also cites Thomas Middleton writing in _The Black Book_ (1604)
of a performance of the play "when the old Theater crackt and frighted
the audience", and another report of uncertain date describing a
performance in Exeter:

"As a certain nomber of Devels kept everie one his circle there, and as
Faustus was busie in his magicall invocations, on a sudden they were all
dasht, every one harkning other in the eare, for they were all
perswaded, there was one devell too many amongst them; and so after a
little pause desired the people to pardon them, they could go no further
with this matter; the people also understanding the thing as it was,
every man hastened to be first out of dores."  (Chambers, III,  424)

How much this actually proves about what proportion of the audiences
"believed" in demons and physical manifestations of the same I guess has
to remain up for grabs.  Certainly Prynne would have endorsed any tatty
old story if it would have helped get the playhouses closed.  It also
fails to take account of audiences responding in a way they believe is
*appropriate* rather than in some kind of mass hysteria.  Anyone who has
seen _Scream_ or _Scream 2_ in a packed cinema will know what I mean.

Stevie Simkin

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Marino <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 11:06:29 -0700
Subject: 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

It might be good, as Tiny Tim would say, at this time of year for people
to remember that Charles Dickens had a ghost from purgatory; surely
Shakespeare can as well without rechristening him recusant. I agree with
Tom Bishop that proscribed doctrines die hard in folkways; my dear
mother never traveled without the assurance of her St. Christopher medal
long after he was struck from the hagiologic catalogue.

Holiday Humbug to all,
James A.G.Marino
Department of English
University of Alberta

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Sutton <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 10:34:08 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

As postscript to John Doebler's 'Shakespeare's Speaking Pictures' says
'As for Sh. we will probably never know whether he.... believed in
ghosts, or Christianity, or damnation when he wrote such plays as
Macbeth, and hamlet and Othello. What does seem reasonably clear is that
Sh. wrote as if  his audience did believe in such realities.'

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 16:21:38 PST
Subject: 9.1269 Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1269 Ghost from Purgatory

As Roy Flannagan admits in his entry, he has missed the long history of
the scholarly discussion on the Ghost in _Hamlet_.  The Ghost is not so
'clearly Roman Catholic' as Flannagan expects it to be.

Dover Wilson, in his _What Happens in Hamlet?_ (1962), argues that it is
a Catholic ghost from purgatory.  On the other hand, Eleanor Prosser, in
her _Hamlet and Revenge_ (1967), claims that it is a devil from hell.
Roy W. Battenhouse, in his 'The Ghost in _Hamlet_: A Catholic
"Linchpin"?' (1951), argues that Shakespeare created a pagan ghost 'with
some superstitious touches of nominal Christianity' (p. 192).  Roland
Mushat Frye, in his _The Renaissance Hamlet: Issues and Responses in
1600_ (1984), says that the Ghost's identity is ambiguous.  Walter N.
King, in his _Hamlet's Search for Meaning_ (1982), proclaims that its
identity does not matter; what matters, according to him, is its effects
upon Hamlet.

So many other scholars have commented on the identity of the Ghost
(Consult the MLA Bibliography for more details), and I myself am
studying this subject as a part of my PhD dissertation on _Hamlet_.
This is an extremely complicated issue.  A thorough study of the Ghost
must include Shakespeare's source books on demonology, Elizabethan
religious life, influences of Seneca, and so on.  Reading Park Honan's
biography (_Shakespeare: A Life_) may have led Flannagan to the argument
that it is 'a clearly Roman Catholic ghost' from purgatory, but we must
consult other biographies (such as S. Schoenbaum's) and other sources in
different areas of studies.

Takashi Kozuka
PhD Student
Centre for the Study of the Renaissance
University of Warwick (UK)

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Dec 1998 21:58:54 -0500
Subject: 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1275  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Abigail Quart observed:

> Hamlet doesn't take place in England, or in Shakespeare's present. That
> was the latitude he used.

Correct.  Hamlet took place in a Catholic country in a Catholic era, so
Catholicism was the applicable religious envelope, and WS was no more
guilty of heresy by positing a real purgatory than he was when he made
Diana, Jupiter and Apollo real gods in Per, Cym and WT.

I have observed a remarkable lack of religious anachronism in the Canon
and an even more remarkable willingness by WS to enter into whatever was
the religious mythos of the era in which the particular play was set.
The only significant anachronism that has been called to my attention
(and I thank Robin Hamilton for the favor) is Polixenes' reference to
Judas in WT,I.ii.419.  With the exception of two or three errant
"Marry's in pre-Christian plays, I cannot think of any others.

I believe this point is of some interest, as one can draw inferences
about WS's own religiosity, or lack thereof, from the care with which he
avoids anachronism in this area (given a certain carelessness with
respect to other time lines) and his willingness to accept the validity
of pagan or Catholic dogma in plays set in Greece, Rome and
pre-reformation times and places.
 

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