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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: November ::
Dramatis personae
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2182  Friday, 14 November 2003

[1]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Nov 2003 21:03:43 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2173 Dramatis personae

[2]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Nov 2003 21:37:16 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2173 Dramatis personae [2]

[3]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Nov 2003 05:29:42 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 14.2173 Dramatis personae


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Nov 2003 21:03:43 -0000
Subject: 14.2173 Dramatis personae
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2173 Dramatis personae

David Friedberg wrote:

>I am not at all certain that this ghost is that of Hamlet's father.  Can
>anyone tell me when did a list of characters appearing in the play
>become the norm?

According to Harold Jenkins (Arden 2 [1982] p.162) it was the 1676
Quarto.

John Briggs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Nov 2003 21:37:16 -0000
Subject: 14.2173 Dramatis personae
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2173 Dramatis personae

>The Folio of 1623 does not give a list of Dramatis Personae for Hamlet,
>but my copy of the Oxford Shakespeare does.  It lists the Ghost as of
>Hamlet's father.
>
>I am not at all certain that this ghost is that of Hamlet's father.  Can
>anyone tell me when did a list of characters appearing in the play
>become the norm?
>
>Has the Ghost always been definitively described as Hamlet's father?

I am not quite sure of the thrust of this question.  If you have doubts
about whether the Ghost is a Ghost, as Hamlet does himself - wondering
if it is instead an evil spirit or "goblin damned" pretending to be the
ghost of his father - then the character name given to the Ghost in
Folio, "Good" Quarto, and "Bad" Quarto alike strongly suggests that the
Ghost is, as it claims, a ghost.  In stage directions and speech
prefixes alike, it is identified as a "Ghost" with authorial authority.

If you have doubts about the actual identity of the Ghost, such that you
are suggesting that it is a ghost, but not of Hamlet's father, then we
have the Ghost's own word to the contrary "I am thy father's spirit",
and no apparent reason to suspect that it is lying.

The most likely alternative to the Ghost being the ghost of Hamlet's
father is - as Hamlet suspects - that the Ghost is not a ghost at all
but an evil spirit in disguise (an interpretation supported by a sizable
minority of critics), and it is quite possible to argue that the "Ghost"
prefix describes what the figure appears to be, but not what it actually
is.  This still seems to me to be a weaker argument than that
Shakespeare called the "Ghost" a "Ghost" in his stage directions and
speech prefixes because he intended it to be a ghost.

I am not sure that I understand the alternative interpretation of David
Friedberg's suggestion, which would be that the Ghost was not Hamlet's
father, but the ghost of somebody else entirely.  This possibility does
not seem to be supported or even suggested by any part of the text.

From the text itself, even without the need of any dramatis personae, it
is clear that the Ghost claims to be the ghost of Hamlet's father, and
that Shakespeare seems to endorse this claim (to be a ghost) in his
speech prefixes.  The only other reasonable possibility is that the
Ghost is not a ghost at all.  Although this can be argued, it seems to
me to be a much weaker claim.  It seems more likely, given the stage
directions and speech prefixes, that we are expected to take the Ghost
at its word.  I do not see any indication that we are supposed to
consider a third possibility, that the Ghost is a ghost, but not of
Hamlet's father.

It is quite possible that David Friedberg did not mean to raise this
possibility either, and I have simply misunderstood him.

Thomas Larque.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Nov 2003 05:29:42 -0500
Subject: Dramatis personae
Comment:        SHK 14.2173 Dramatis personae

David Friedberg tells us

'I am not at all certain that this ghost is that of Hamlet's father.'

Neither am I. It's certainly the ghost of Gertrude's first husband, but
that's not necessarily the same thing.

T. Hawkes

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