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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1961  Wednesday, 25 September 2002

[1]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 10:40:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 10:54:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 23:59:02 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[4]     From:   Tom Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 11:02:29 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[5]     From:   Jan Pick <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 17:17:54 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[6]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 12:55:24 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[7]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 17:29:38 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[8]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 17:03:42 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[9]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 19:28:05 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 10:40:41 -0400
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

>>Why can't Gertrude see the ghost in the bedroom scene?
>
>Because the Ghost, who is really the devil, wants to distract Hamlet
>from his attempt to make his mother repent and wants to undermine the
>effect this attempt is having on Gertrude so that Hamlet will turn his
>attention back to revenge, leaving all in an unredeemed state.
>
>Well, don't blame me!  You asked for it.
>
>Jeff Myers

In other words, the Devil made YOU do it!

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 10:54:13 -0400
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

>Thanks to Claude Casper for referring to earlier publication on the
>issue of the supernatural in *Hamlet*.  Dover Wilson was replying to the
>article by W.  W. Greg that I mentioned in an earlier post.  Greg argues
>that NO ONE sees the ghost, including Hamlet, because the ghost is a
>figment of Hamlet's imagination.  Others THINK they see a ghost, but
>they really don't. Gertrude's not seeing it is Greg's trump card.  Read
>his essay and see what you think of his argument.
>
>Cheers,
>John Cox

The flaw in this line of argument is that WE see the ghost- he is a
character in the play the way the dagger in Hamlet isn't.  It seems to
me to be an error, or symptom of an age of literalism, for directors to
stage the blade dangling that isn't there- though it is real for
Macbeth.  Like the fellow who dreams of making loves to nymphs and wakes
up with a hickey, it does not answer the complexity of Hamlet.  The
reference to Topper is glib but informed- that Shakespeare changes the
rules to suit his effect in the theatre [of his time] one can't doubt
and only marvel at the sleight of hand.  Still, in Hamlet something
significant is being stated by this scene that everyone there would
realize.  It is a surprise Gertrude can't see it and cries out for an
explanation that was probably obvious at the time.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 23:59:02 +0800
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

Hugh Grady suggests of solving critical cruxes,

>It's a (mostly) harmless
>pastime, of course, but perhaps wisdom lies with a different question
>and a different interpretive procedure, such as asking what follows if
>we admit we can't answer the question.

The most obvious thing that might follow would be critical agnosticism,
even indifference.  We'd be very unlikely to find ourselves following
this interesting thread, with its speculations about sin and damnation,
insanity and truth, Elizabethan psychology and the ontological status of
ghosts.

Cheers,
Sean.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 11:02:29 -0500
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

In traditional ghost-lore, ghosts were not always visible to everybody
at once. Sometimes their appearance was selectively allowed only to
those whom their manifestation especially concerned. (See Greenblatt's
Hamlet in Purgatory on the point). This does not, of course, solve the
immediate question, but only raises new ones. But it does situate the
debate more firmly in contemporary beliefs and legends about ghosts.

TB

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jan Pick <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 17:17:54 +0100
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

Jeff's point  assumes that Gertrude was involved or knew of the murder
of old Hamlet, which is open to question - or that it is an unredeemable
sin to marry a brother-in-law from the incest point of view, (in modern
times it is acceptable of course).  If the ghost is a figment of
Hamlet's imagination then Hamlet is 'mad' and 'bad', and very dangerous
etc!  There is no evidence of any murder as far as he is concerned and
we, the audience, do not know for sure Claudius is guilty until he
admits it to us after the play scene.  This reduces Hamlet as a tragic
hero, he becomes a deeply awkward and unpleasant man and Claudius is
justified in his anger.  It is because others see the ghost that we know
Hamlet is not insane at the beginning of the play.  Obviously there was
a reason that Shakespeare put in that scene at the on the battlements.
They can see the ghost, Hamlet sees and hears it, Gertrude, in a state
of sin - for whatever reason - cannot. This seems therefore to be part
of the ghost's punishment - his purgatory - that he cannot warn his
former wife of her danger, only his son.  Oh , bother,  I'm going away
to think this one through again!

J

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 12:55:24 -0400
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

>This has never bothered me. I've always assumed that the ghost made
>itself apparent where and when and to whom it wished (or rather that the
>Power which sent it wished). The question to me is why that Power didn't
>wish Gertrude to see it.

The Power which sent the ghost was William Shakespeare; which leads us
back to the initial question in and endless loop.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 17:29:38 -0400
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

Why can't Lady Macbeth and the thanes see Banquo's ghost?  Why do ghosts
apparently have the ability to appear selectively?

Yours,
Bill Godshalk

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 17:03:42 -0700
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

"Do you see nothing there?" "Nothing at all; yet all that is I see."
Discussions of what happens in Shakespeare often bring these lines to
mind.

Generally, the more forgotten historical knowledge must be unearthed to
explain a play the more interest in the play becomes only historical.
That Gertrude doesn't see the ghost because she is "in sin" falls into
this category of knowledge we must get from history, not from the play.
Nor do I think this has anything to do with it. Everyone is in sin--the
ghost is in purgatory, or at least in hell until his sins are burnt and
purg'd away. The structure of Christianity--a very general structure,
where personal revenge, especially on a king, in the absence of
objective proof, is a sin that will result in damnation--does seem a
case where we have to have a sense of history. I wouldn't carry that as
far as requiring a knowledge of the difference between Catholicism and
Protestantism, or of any specific beliefs about ghosts. One reason this
play still has dramatic power, and more than historical interest, is
that it does not rely on too much outside knowledge.
It's true that today, especially among academics, knowledge of
Christianity is fast fading into oblivion. So we can find someone
asking, for example, whether Claudius is trying to pray to the Christian
god. (Yes, Virginia.) I think we're still close enough to be touched by
the fear of damnation, at least by suspending disbelief, and even to
feel the fear and wonder roused by a well-played ghost. As these
potentialities fade, we can perhaps find a kind of analogous thought and
feeling that will allow us still to feel something of their power,
perhaps through our own, secular, conflicts between revenge and
forgiveness.

Some inferences seem justified, others not, and in between lies a wide
area of uncertainty--especially about a question as mysterious as why
Gertrude doesn't see the ghost. One inference that seems to me, though
obviously not to others, entirely unjustified is that Gertrude either
doesn't see the ghost because her back is turned or because she is
lying. The line "Nothing at all; yet all that is I see" seems to me to
have a point: Gertrude looks where Hamlet is pointing and sees nothing.
The question is why Shakespeare was making that point.

Maybe the first thing to realize is that no one knows. Maybe that's part
of the point. Ghosts are mysterious. The confidently rational Horatio is
not so confidently rational after the ghost appears: "It harrows me with
fear and wonder." It inspires much speculation, Christian, Roman and
medieval, about Caesar, fairies and witches and cocks who sing all night
long at Christimas.  Christianity seems a religion of the dawn, the
light, the day. But except maybe for one short season, the night remains
mysterious and fearful.  Gertrude's not seeing the ghost makes it more
mysterious.

Then, working from the play, we could take the ghost at his word: "This
visitation/Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose." Appearing to
Gertrude would greatly complicate matters, both for the ghost and the
dramatist. Much

explanation, especially a full account of the murder, would again be
required. Gertrude would then have to commit herself firmly to Hamlet
against Claudius, or else consciously side with her first husband's
killer.  Keeping her ignorant allows her to play a more innocent,
hopeful, mediating role. It also gives her a new reason to believe, or
half-believe, in Hamlet's madness, which she will use to excuse his
killing of Polonius and his behavior at the graveside, keeping the idea
of his madness alive to be used as an excuse to Laertes.

We might also remember, at least tenuously, that the ghost's attitude
toward Gertrude has not been uniformly one of rage and hatred--as with
Claudius. He still calls her a radiant angel, who can be "link'd" to
lust. He also tells Hamlet not to contrive anything against his mother,
not to taint his mind by killing her, but to leave her to heaven and her
conscience. The father in the play scene even shows an un-ghostlike
tenderness in hoping his wife marries again after he dies. The seed of
that tenderness may perhaps be found in the ghost's warning to Hamlet to
leave her alone.

The ghost then enters the closet at the moment when Hamlet comes as
close as he ever does to disobeying that order. His rage has risen to
the point where he's practically frothing at the mouth, pouring out his
accumulated rage on Gertrude, stabbing words like daggers into her ears.
The ghost cuts off this self-righteous rant and instantly throws Hamlet
into an opposite mood of fear, submission and guilt. He stops Hamlet
from hurting Gertrude any more.  He reminds Hamlet that he has not
carried out his vow. Then he speaks his last lines in the play:

But look, amazement on thy mother sits.
O step between her and her fighting soul.

Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.
Speak to her, Hamlet.

Overall, I feel Shakespeare is showing that the ghost still feels love,
and compassion, for Gertrude--as Hamlet also does. To appear to her
would harrow her with fear and wonder. Or maybe spark an even stronger
reaction, akin to Hamlet's horribly shaken disposition. Since "Conceit
in weakest bodies strongest works" the effect could drive her mad--or
worse. The idea that Gertrude could see the ghost and pretend she didn't
(does anyone in Shakespeare ever manage that feat?) seems implausible.
The ghost has a single main purpose: to whet Hamlet's. He happens to
appear at a moment when his mere appearance protects Gertrude from
Hamlet's anger, and then reinforces this effect explicitly, by calling
on Hamlet to help, not hurt, his mother.

Maybe there are inferences everyone would agree are unjustified,
questions that everyone would agree just don't come up. For example,
does anyone actually wonder why, if the ghost can appear in a closet, he
didn't just appear privately in Hamlet's closet when he wanted to speak
to him? I hope not, but I'm still half-expecting to hear that question
asked seriously one of these days.

Meanwhile, I have another question about this scene. After Hamlet says,

                                Look you how pale he glares.
His form and cause conjoin'd, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable.

He then says, apparently to the ghost,

                                Do not look upon me,
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects. Then what I have to do
Will want true color--tears perchance for blood.

What is this "piteous action" of the ghost? Is that out of character, or
has he demonstrated a compassion for Gertrude that could be extended to
his son, even though he would be pitying Hamlet for the pain caused by
his own command? Maybe it's conceivable that Hamlet speaks these last
lines to Gertrude, who would certainly be looking at him pityingly at
this moment.  Yet Gertrude then says to Hamlet, "To whom do you speak
this?" If Hamlet is addressing the ghost, how does the ghost change
instantaneously from inspiring revenge to inhibiting it? Has anyone ever
raised this question?

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2002 19:28:05 EDT
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

The only possible explanation for Gertrude not seeing the ghost is that
Shakespeare didn't want her to. From what I've seen and experienced,
many times it's the answering or "solving" of such inherent problems in
productions of Hamlet that sinks them. Leave the audience to puzzle, the
questions are much more interesting than one single answer could ever
be. As all these speculations demonstrate!

Ted Dykstra

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