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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: December ::
Re: Ghost from Purgatory
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1317  Friday, 18 December 1998.

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 12:14:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1313  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[2]     From:   Genevieve Guenther <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 10:31:05 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

[3]     From:   James P. Lusardi <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 15:23:54 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.1313  Re: Ghost from Purgatory


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 12:14:11 -0500
Subject: 9.1313  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1313  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

Robin Hamilton  wrote:

>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.

Damn, this almost had me convinced; it is so compellingly logical.  On
further reflection, however, I think the fallacy is assuming that the
ghost could not have come from Hell and still retained his mortal
persona.  The shade of Old Hamlet returning from Hell could give advice
which was not damnable.  I don't believe that Christian mythos
postulates that damned souls become devils, only that they are tormented
by devils.  Consider Dante's treatment of the shades in the Inferno.  If
I recall correctly, some of them gave damned good advice (no pun
intended-maybe).

I think there is another reason for WS's preference for Purgatory over
Hell in this instance.  If Hamlet Pere were perpetually damned, his
essential goodness while human would be called into question thus making
Claudius's murder less heinous and Hamlet's revenge less imperative.
But this is by no means as clear as Robin's syllogism, which fails only
because of an error in the minor premise.  Therefore, since WS could
have chosen another alternative, the fact that he chose the one he did
(albeit he may have good and sufficient dramatic reasons for doing so)
does not cast doubt on the inference I draw (from many other instances
in the Works) about WS's own faith or lack thereof.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Genevieve Guenther <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 10:31:05 -0800
Subject: 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1304  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

In defense of the "recent critical narrative" to which Professor Bishop
takes issue, let me say that unlike "epic poetry, lyric poetry, and
painting," the Elizabethan theater was never simply a text, but also a
group of buildings north of London, a reoccurring event with its own
sets of rules and codes, a personal and collective artistic experience
for its performers and its audiences, and an economic enterprise
important enough to its culture, and thus lucrative enough for its
successes that at least one of them was able to buy his family a coat of
arms. That many theaters were built on land that had be taken back by
the monarchy in the dissolution of the monasteries; that the theaters
offered their audiences a collective theatrical experience much like the
one that had been offered by the Catholic church (and here we may look
to Protestants like Foxe to see the sense that the "magic" of the
Catholic mass was being disabused as "merely theater"); and that plays
like Hamlet itself worry the questions of Reformation, and family, and
alliance, exactly by engaging them as theatrical issues-just as Hamlet
puts on a play to test the veracity of the Ghost, as if the audience's,
or Claudius', reaction to a play were more revelatory than any reaction
to a ghost from Purgatory could be (see the historian Le Goff on the
return of Purgatorial ghosts to chide loved ones for not doing their
financial duty to the mass being sanctioned by the medieval church) --
and we may see that the Elizabethan theater was in a wonderful position
to offer its culture a venue in which unresolved desires left by the
Reformation could be engaged, and at least partially resolved, if
sometimes tragically, by that theater itself.

Now as to the question of whether "our own radical polemicists"
accurately describe a general sense of what's going on when they
"inveigh against Hollywood": I would have to say that they do! It seems
clear to me that contemporary film does nothing to uphold far-right
"Christian" family values, in its display of sex outside of marriage,
drug-taking, violence, and even, in its limited way, homosexuality. Of
course, the extent to which these displays encourage such behavior in
the spectators is at issue (as it is with the Elizabethan polemicists)
-- but it nevertheless seems true that Hollywood "interprets" at least
some cultural features as they are. But, again, here as with the
Elizabethan polemicists, not all of us think that this is such a bad
thing.

Best,
Genevieve Guenther
UC, Berkeley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James P. Lusardi <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Dec 1998 15:23:54 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 9.1313  Re: Ghost from Purgatory
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.1313  Re: Ghost from Purgatory

A publication not yet mentioned, though it certainly should be, is Harry
Keyishian's The Shapes of Revenge: Victimization, Vengeance, and
Vindictiveness in Shakespeare, Atlantic Higlands, NJ: Humanities P,
1995.

Jim Lusardi, Shakespeare Bulletin
 

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