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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2142  Monday, 28 October 2002

From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 Oct 2002 10:42:26 -0400
Subject: 13.2130 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2130 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

>I had a thought, though that perhaps mischaracterizes it- just a wisp of
>understanding, a velleity.  Gertrude doesn't see the ghost because she
>has become thoughtless, up until this scene, not recollecting, not
>"remembering."  C. Caspar

Gertrude can't see the ghost because she's a woman and lacks the higher
noetic function that similarly prevents Eve in Paradise Lost from
directly conversing with Raphael, leaving it to Adam to act as medium of
divine wisdom and law (see Bennett, Joan S.  Reviving Liberty: Radical
Christian humanism in Milton's Great Poems.  London: Harvard U P, 1989).
While Milton laid out his epistemological system prosaically in the Art
of Logic, Shakespeare left only an allegorical version. Applying
Bennett's paraphrase of Milton's system to Hamlet:

Intuitive reason operates among the angels and sometimes humans (Adam
and Hamlet); the noetic and dianoetic level of reasoning form axioms
alone (Horatio and Marcellus/Barnardo respectively); and on the level of
the syllogism and its extensions--what we call discursive reasoning (Eve
and Gertrude). Of course, the higher functions encompass the lower.

Restricted by the gender hierarchy to discursive reasoning, Gertrude can
only think of the dead king as flesh and blood, and when that is dead,
so is her conversation with him. It is owing to her female lack of
higher rational faculties that Hamlet's intuitive perception (i.e. the
ghost) absolves her of true culpability. The sentries and Horatio are
able to see, but not converse with the ghost. Even the implication that
Horatio (whose possible dianoetic faculty is suggested by his
"scholar"ship and perhaps moral purity) has influenced the ghost with
his majestical words is left unconfirmed, raising a related question:
does the ghost see or hear Horatio?

Whatever else he might represent, Hamlet in Denmark personifies the
highest intellectual faculties valorized by Renaissance humanism.
Shakespeare has to bring the ghost to Denmark for the same reason that
Milton had to bring Raphael to Eden, to deliver the moral imperatives
perceived by the angelic level of human reason. Like Nietzsche's
philosopher, Hamlet alone stands beyond good and evil, even the good of
being and evil of not being, and yet is the one born to set the world
right.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
http://phoenixandturtle.net

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