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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2022  Monday, 7 October 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Oct 2002 18:35:13 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2006 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Oct 2002 18:48:13 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 13.2006 Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[3]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Oct 2002 15:17:41 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2006 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Oct 2002 18:35:13 +0100
Subject: 13.2006 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2006 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

Has anyone made reference to Keith Thomas's monumental and magnificent
Religion and the Decline of Magic (London 1971)?

See the first half of Chapter 19, "Ghosts and Fairies", pp.587-606,
which includes a fairly exhaustive discussion of the theology and also
of the appearance of ghost in plays.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Oct 2002 18:48:13 +0100
Subject: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 13.2006 Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

"Are we talking about the Master of Revels and the Lord Chamberlain? To
what extent did they act as *Protestant* censors?"

The Lord Chamberlain was an officer of State and the Church of England
was (is) a Protestant State Church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury held the ultimate authority to license
printed books.

However, all is not as simple as that may make it seem.

Religious controversy, though statutorily banned from the stage,
continued to cause problems for the Church because in 1606 Sir George
Buc had secured the authority to license plays for the press, replacing
an ecclesiastical commission which had been headed by the Archbishop of
Canterbury and the Bishop of London (they continued to have authority
over non-dramatic works). Buc's office of the Revels operated under the
Lord Chamberlain, a position monopolized by fairly radical Protestants
ever since the Careys and Cobham held the office in the 1580s and 90s

It is a source of pleasant irony, considering William Laud's unwarranted
reputation, that in 1637, when he tried to suppress playing during Lent,
the Lord Chamberlain at the time, Philip Herbert, vigorously objected to
episcopal meddling in his jurisdiction - a position that conveniently
reflected his views on Church government. This was also the year of "the
infamous Star Chamber decree of 1637", as Kevin Sharpe somewhat
ironically calls it, which, "it has been said, reads like a statute, and
was clearly intended to strengthen the ecclesiastical commissioners'
jurisdiction over the press which had hitherto rested on letters
patent": The Personal Rule of Charles I (New Haven 1992), pp.649-651.
See Janet Clare, "Art made tongue-tied by authority": Elizabethan and
Jacobean Dramatic Censorship, 2nd Edition (Manchester 1999), pp.37-38,
123 for Buc's appropriation of press censorship of drama from
Ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which she characterizes as "the
secularization of dramatic censorship under absolute state control";
also Elias Schwartz, "Sir George Buc's Authority as Licenser for the
Press", Shakespeare Quarterly 12 (1961), pp.467-468; Margot Heinemann,
Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama under the
Early Stuarts (Cambridge 1980).

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Oct 2002 15:17:41 -0700
Subject: 13.2006 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2006 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

As far as I can tell, Bill Arnold agrees with me about the ghost. Don
Bloom asks what "folk belief" consists of, and whether the censors
should be considered Protestant. I approach these questions from the
negative side.  Folk belief was what allowed the audience to pass over
the words "burnt and purg'd away" without much mental disturbance.
Shakespeare isn't expressing any settled doctrine, either "folk belief"
or Catholic Purgatory. He's just using a hint of the old idea of
purgatory to suggest that the ghost, so perfect in Hamlet's eyes, was
sinful enough to merit some horrible punishment, and that the punishment
for regicide--damnation--would be even worse. Shakespeare's ghost may
contribute as much to folk belief as it takes from it. As for the
censors, all I'm saying is that if Shakespeare, as some would have it,
was announcing his secret, subversive, rebellious Catholicism,
apparently no one in authority noticed.

Beyond that, what seems to me important in Hamlet is the conflict
between revenge as duty and revenge as sin, not the conflict between
Catholicism and Protestantism.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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