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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Ghost from Purgatory
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1304  Wednesday, 16 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Takashi Kozuka <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 1998 12:50:07 PST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1294 Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[2]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 1998 17:39:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1285  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[3]     From:   Roger Schmeeckle <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 Dec 1998 10:56:40 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1285  Re: Ghost from Purgatory


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Dec 1998 12:50:07 PST
Subject: 9.1294 Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1294 Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Robin Hamilton says:

>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.

However, a list of secondary sources and discussions on a subject can be
helpful for those who are interested in the subject, whether they are
experts of Shakespeare or lovers of the Bard.

Takashi Kozuka
PhD Student in the Renaissance Studies

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Dec 1998 17:39:27 -0500
Subject: 9.1285  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1285  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Regarding the fictional license Elizabethan audiences would tolerate,
it's significant that, as James Marino and Larry Weiss point out, there
were plenty of supranatural beings that were -clearly- not credible to
Christians, whatever they might think of Purgatory, which audiences were
perfectly comfortable with.  Andrea's description at the opening of "The
Spanish Tragedy" of his ghostly assignment to the classical underworld
is probably the most familiar, and comes with the full pagan apparatus
of "churlish Charon", "Minos, Aeacus and Rhadamanth", and referral to
Pluto himself, with a "passport".  The gods Diana and Jupiter in
Pericles and Cymbeline are also relevant; let alone the plethora of
obscure deities who turn up at court masques.   The Ghost in Hamlet
turns the heat up a bit, being a piece of semi-defunct Christian rather
than (or as well as) pagan mythography, but its unexceptionability seems
to me to point to a similar response-that this is an exploratory fiction
rather than a piece of theological position-taking.  Shakespeare seems
to take some pains to conjure up an old-Catholic aura to face the
Wittenberg student-not only in the Purgatory reference, but in the
Ghost's lament at being done in "unhouseled, disappointed, unanneled"
which  alludes to Roman practices.  Yet, as Roy Battenhouse insisted, a
Christian ghost, unlike pagan/Spanish Andrea, would hardly be let out of
Purgatory at night to cry "like an oyster-wife, Hamlet, Revenge".  So
the signals are a deliberate mixture- as Hamlet also interprets them.

Nor am I convinced by the recent critical narrative according to which
"a great deal of spiritual power was being evacuated from the Catholic
Church only to be reinvested in the theater".  This seems to me greatly
to overstate the importance of the theater in Elizabethan culture (no
doubt something drama critics are prone to do!).  Art always interprets
its culture, and religion was a vital part of Elizabethan culture to be
interpreted, by the theater as much as by epic poetry, lyric poetry, and
painting, but to twin the Church and the theater in this way, as though
a kind of hydraulic (or "bank-account") homeostasis balanced out their
fall and rise, doesn't seem right to me.  It was the Puritan polemicists
who saw it thus, which is perhaps why we are also urged that those
costive gentlemen "often describe a general sense of what was going
on".  But neither court nor popular audiences saw it this way, and I
don't think we need to.  (Are our own radical polemicists "describing a
general sense of what is going on" when they inveigh against Hollywood?
That's not my impression.)

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

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger Schmeeckle <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Dec 1998 10:56:40 -0800 (PST)
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.
>
> 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.

Many thanks for the excellent references.

There is no conflict between interpreting the ghost as the devil and as
an apparition of a soul in purgatory, assumed by the devil in order to
tempt Hamlet.  The ambiguity concerning whether the ghost is real or a
deception of the devil is early established, and, to the best of my
knowledge, never resolved.

It makes a great deal of difference in how we interpret the play.  The
most common interpretation seems to be that the ghost is really Hamlet's
father, that his charge to Hamlet produces an obligation, and that
Hamlet is wishy-washy in executing the ordered revenge.  However, on the
assumption that Hamlet is being deceived by the devil, Hamlet is being
tempted to the dreadful sin of revenge, he succumbs, o what a noble mind
is there oe'rthrown, and when he wishes Claudius to suffer eternal
punishment in hell, he has reached the nadir of corruption, resulting in
the murder of Polonius, Hamlet's flight, and, by the time he returns, a
complete change of heart, a divinity having shaped his ends, howsoever
he willed.

A study of Shakespeare's reaction to the revenge plays popular in his
day might shed light on the viability of the second interpretation.

     Roger Schmeeckle
 

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