Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Ghost from Purgatory
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1294  Monday, 14 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 12 Dec 1998 09:57:24 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[2]     From:   Genevieve Guenther <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 12 Dec 1998 10:40:28 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 13 Dec 1998 01:00:24 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 12 Dec 1998 09:57:24 +0000
Subject: 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Shakespeare refers to a number of belief systems in his works, and seems
himself to have been rather more secular than an adherent of any one
system. The thought presented here by more than one poster that he was,
first and foremost, a playwright, out to capture the attention of his
audience by whatever means, seem cogent, and certainly ghosts, witches,
sprites and other supernatural manifestations provided thrills that
audiences could get no other way, one reason no doubt why so many plays
provided them.

Hamlet himself questions whether the ghost is, in fact, his father's
spirit, or a devil from Hell, called forth perhaps by his own anxieties,
remaining unconvinced until the play elicits a guilty response from
Claudius.  Although Catholicism offered a vision of purgatory, it was
certainly not the only source for ghosts, which had inhabited the
English imagination long before the Church imposed its own definitions
on English folkways. Since they derive from an oral, hence unwritten,
tradition, these deeply-rooted folkways are too often forgotten as a
rich source of Shakespeare's art, one that he draws from freely in most
of his plays.

Stephanie Hughes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Genevieve Guenther <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 12 Dec 1998 10:40:28 -0800
Subject: 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Steve Simkin writes:

[snip]

>". . . 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.

I would like to suggest here a point which I obscured in my response to
Professor Flannagan in order to emphasize the ghost's fictional status
(which I'll just re-emphasize by saying that, if "the ghost walks," he
walks on the stage). As Mr. Simkin's textual citations imply, the line
between the effect of magic and the effect of the theater was quite
thin, if even extant, in the imagination and practice of the Elizabethan
theater: just as a great deal of spiritual power was being evacuated
from the Catholic church only to be reinvested in the theater (as
Stephen Greenblatt has, I think, persuasively argued), so was a great
deal of imaginative power being drained from magic by the beginnings of
breakdown of belief only to be transferred into theatrical experience.
Thus, what we understand to be an "appropriate" response to theatrical
performance is, I would suggest, actually a product of this transfer of
imaginative investment which found its first historical circumstances in
the Elizabethan theater.  That we expect to be transported by terror
when we see, for example, Scream, and that theatrical techniques which
may create that transporting do exist, we may understand at least
partially by looking at the dramaturgy and poetics of the Elizabethan,
and particularly Shakespearian, theater.  Nor should we underestimate,
by the way, the accuracy of antitheatrical polemic when we want to
discern what the cultural take on certain practices might have been:
although they make their points in order to criticize the theater,
Puritan polemicists like Prynne often describe a general sense of what
was going on (of course, not everyone thought that what was going on was
bad). In any case, I'm actually planning to work all of that out
systematically in my dissertation (despite Professor Flannagan's polite
and generous titling for me, I must say that I'm still a graduate
student, who feels that it would be bad faith and bad luck to accept,
even implicitly, a title that I have not yet earned. . . with the job
market as it is, I have no desire to sneer at the fates!).

Best,
Genevieve Guenther

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 13 Dec 1998 01:00:24 -0000
Subject: 9.1285 Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1285 Re: 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.

<SNIP>

>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_.

If we're listing discussions of the status of the ghost, it should at
least include the fullest account, Robert H. West, _Shakespeare and the
Outer Mystery_ (1968), pp. 56-68.

However, if an answer could be arrived at simply by piling up the weight
of secondary discussion and seeing which side of the argument massed the
heavier, the question wouldn't arise in the first place.

Robin Hamilton.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.