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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1981  Thursday, 26 September 2002

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 07:50:18 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Helen Vella Bonavita <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 15:50:58 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[3]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 11:00:52 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[4]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 09:20:55 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[5]     From:   D. Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 13:42:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[6]     From:   Harvey Roy Greenberg <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 16:11:26 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[7]     From:   Jan Pick <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 21:44:32 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[8]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 16:12:28 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

[9]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 23:06:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet



[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 07:50:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

Claude Caspar writes, "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 wake 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."

I have no doubt that Buffy the Vampire exists, because she's on TV.  But
more seriously, what was the status of ghosts, and visibility, to
characters and audiences, during the Shakespearean Age?  Was not the
ghost in the Marlowe play visible to characters and audiences?  How is
it that Shakespeare "changes the rules"?  And who wrote the "rules"?

Bill Arnold

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Vella Bonavita <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 15:50:58 +0100
Subject: 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1942 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

Rather than the Ghost being the devil, could it not be that he wishes
Gertrude to be brought to a sense of her own guilt through reason and
her own examination of conscience rather than the shock of a
supernatural accusatory presence? Just as Christ said of Thomas,
'Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they
that have not seen, and yet have believed' (John 20:29), Gertrude's
remorse for her marriage is surely more valuable and hence more
redemptive if it is brought about by a change in her own heart and firm
promise of amendment than if she is given proof in no uncertain terms by
her husband's ghost.

Claudius is unable to pray and to be forgiven because although he
recognises his sin, he is unable to make the firm promise of amendment
which in his case would be to give up his unlawfully acquired crown and
wife (leaving aside the question of surrender to the law). Gertrude on
the other hand with Hamlet's help undergoes an examination of
conscience, recognises her error and may be prepared to make the firm
promise of amendment which is a necessary element of forgiveness (in the
Catholic Church anyway). Whether she ends up doing so or not is another
matter - but the fact that the Ghost is invisible to her permits a
flexibility in interpretation that would not otherwise exist.

Helen Vella Bonavita

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 11:00:52 -0400
Subject: 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1961 Re: Haunted by the Ghost in Hamlet

First, let apologize for the curtness of ALL last my replies- perhaps
too little sleep or too much coffee.

>From:           Jan Pick <
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>
>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!

Not necessarily so.  Gertrude's "sin" may 'just' be adultery (which you
probably forgot was at issue, as well), and there is intense debate over
how complicit she was in the murder, and subsequent cover-up.  That we
see (or seem to see) her realize what has happened in the course of the
play eventually distancing herself from Claudius, is a main line of
thought- the irony being that this distance dooms her: had Claudius been
closer he might have been able to keep her from drinking the poison.
(Chance, in Shakespeare, as in R&J's accidental death just because the
letter happens to be delayed by a plague, is a telling sign of his
understanding...)  I must say that the post in which the director posits
that Gertrude does in fact see the ghost, though not compelling enough
to turn the tables of this crux, is not only original, as far as I can
recollect, but profound.  Having reread the scene, and watched it as
well with this in mind, I am not convinced that this was Shakespeare's
overt intent- in other words that he staged it so; but, it is terribly
suggestive.  I wish I could have seen it portrayed.

>From:           David Bishop <
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>
>"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

David, I can only comment is spots, just now.  Claudius, it has been
observed, is the only Catholic in the play.  There is certainly a play
between the two great beliefs of the day, Shakespeare careful not to get
branded, tortured, or worse, disgraced and poor. One idea Dover advances
and has historical support is that her sin is against Claudius & that is
the test of her sight, in some popular folklore.  Claudius, says Dover,
and I think this is not to be easily dismissed, is shocked to see that
she can't see him! (the "piteous action"  action!!) In one stroke Hamlet
& Claudius (and Gertrude) all respond to this revelation- not that there
are ghosts, but that Gertrude can't see Claudius.  How else explain the
ghost's reaction to Gertrude's inability to see?  Hamlet, between sees
her disbelief and sees the ghost's broken heart. (Why he can't have come
to her before Hamlet, Hamlet being needed to be the medium in this
s

 

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