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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Ghost from Purgatory
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1313  Thursday, 17 December 1998.

[1]     From:   An Sonjae <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 10:06:08 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 06:33:58 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           An Sonjae <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 10:06:08 +0900
Subject: 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

> 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)

One such study, and a very nice one, mainly prompted by Prosser's
dogmatism in insisting that only the devil could possibly urge Hamlet to
take revenge, can be found in Peter Mercer's "Hamlet and the Acting of
Revenge" (Macmillan 1987) ISBN 0-333-43333-5. I recommend it strongly. A
much more complex (and perhaps therefore more rewarding) approach to the
broader issues will be found in John Kerrigan's "Revenge Tragedy:
Aeschylus to Armageddon" (Oxford 1996) ISBN 0-19-812186-5.

An Sonjae (Br Anthony)
Sogang University, Seoul, Korea

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 06:33:58 -0000
Subject: 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

There is the question as to why Shakespeare should choose to locate the
Ghost as coming from Purgatory (if it does so).

The answer could be stated (somewhat schematically) as follows:

If the Ghost is either a devil or the spirit of Old Hamlet returned from
hell, its advice would be damnable and should be rejected immediately.

If the ghost is either and angel or the spirit of Old Hamlet returned
from heaven, then its advice would have (almost) the status of a divine
command, and should be followed immediately.

If the Ghost is the spirit of Old Hamlet returned from purgatory, then
it has only that authority (and knowledge) which would have been
possessed by its formerly living self.  In this case, Hamlet is left to
decide for himself the truth of the situation and the actions he must
take.

From this perspective, there would seem to be fairly compelling dramatic
reasons for Shakespeare locating the Ghost as coming from Purgatory.
Unfortunately, these same reasons prevent us from extrapolating from the
play to any religious ideas held by Shakespeare in a non-dramatic
context.

With regard to the points made by Roger Schmeeckle:

"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.

... 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."

I discuss these issues (although with different conclusions), along with
the nature and status of the Ghost, in my article, "The Instability of
Hamlet", Critical Survey 3, no. 2 (1991), pp.170-177.

Robin Hamilton
 

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