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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
no spirit dares stir
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2027  Monday, 20 October 2003

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Oct 2003 12:28:54 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 14.2020 no spirit dares stir

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Oct 2003 12:34:33 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.2020 no spirit dares stir

[3]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Oct 2003 14:26:16 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2020 no spirit dares stir

From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Oct 2003 12:28:54 +0100
Subject: no spirit dares stir
Comment:        SHK 14.2020 no spirit dares stir

So - Bill Arnold's sole point behind these interminable ravings is
simply that "spirit" is a more "serious" word than "ghost". And there
was I thinking (rather charitably) that there was some profound
theological undercurrent to it all that I was somehow missing out on.

"Can you all *imagine* the Elizabethans translators of the English AV or
what we Americans call the KJV opting for the resurrection scene of Will
S's "Saviour" [invoked in SCENE ONE]-- with the "ghost" of Jesus
confronting Doubting Thomas?"

Well, yes - that's exactly how the KJV translators used the word "ghost"
- that was the point of my admittedly lighthearted post from a few days
ago. Maybe I should have been more blunt. But I cited the word, chapter,
verse, and all!

I guess Bill Arnold only reads his own posts...?


From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Oct 2003 12:34:33 +0100
Subject: 14.2020 no spirit dares stir
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.2020 no spirit dares stir

"The humorist received a copy of Robert Browning's latest work (which
one, I have forgotten).  As he read the new work, he began to perspire
because the words did not make sense."

I don't know who the protagonists were, but the poem in question was
almost certainly "Sordello".


From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Oct 2003 14:26:16 +0100
Subject: 14.2020 no spirit dares stir
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2020 no spirit dares stir

>OK: let's start at the top: philosophy of the word *spirit* vs.
>philosophy of the word *ghost* to maintain sensibility with the play
>Hamlet by Will S.
>OK: the opening four scenes of Hamlet the play are clearly a lexical
>analysis of the philosophy of the word *spirit* vs. the word *ghost*!

This only seems to be clear to Bill Arnold.  Most people would recognise
that something which is absolutely clear to only one person, and
completely unrecognised by everybody else, is either not very clear at
all - by contrast, it must be amazingly subtle, such that Bill Arnold is
the first person ever to have understood what Shakespeare intended - or
is simply not there.

>You cannot as a Globe Groundling get past those opening four scenes
>without a clean understanding that the spirit on the battlements in
>battle dress is *none* other than the "spirit" of the father of Prince
>Hamlet.  Indeed, in scene five, as soon as Hamlet puns the spirit with
>the words "Alas, poor ghost!" the *spirit* admonishes his son, boldly:
>"I am thy father's spirit."
>How *B-L-U-N-T* must Will S be?  What part of "spirit" do you all
>*N-O-T* understand?

Arnold seems to have "understood" something here that the character
Hamlet rather obviously did not.  Hamlet continues to refer to his
father's ghost as a ghost for the rest of the play.  "How *B-L-U-N-T*
must Will S be" in showing us that Hamlet thinks he has spoken with his
father's ghost (or else, his only alternative suggestion, a devil in
disguise)?  Arnold seems unable to accept the words of Shakespeare's
play when they do not suit him, and seems instead to be channelling
peculiar messages that nobody else has ever heard.  If the message from
the ghost was intended to be so obvious by the author, then how come the
major character of the play, the only person to whom the ghost is
talking, fails to notice it?

>Will S has the *spirit* of Prince Hamlet's father make these opening
>scenes a discussion of the lexical meanings of "spirit" vs. "ghost"!

Again, this is Bill Arnold's reading, there is nothing to suggest that
it was Shakespeare's.

>It seems that the play Hamlet by Will S has been dissed for far too long
>by some Shakespeareans who wish to treat it as a Disneyesque production
>with Caspar the Ghost haunting the stage.

Again, Arnold seems unable to understand the difference between his own
point of view, and that of historical figures.  The idea that a "ghost"
is a cartoon character or a man in a sheet that has never been somebody
alive is something that was established in modern secular times.  The
Elizabethans believed that ghosts were things of awesome import, the
spirits of dead people wandering restless in the human world for some
terrifying and significant reason (otherwise they would have been at
rest in paradise, or tormented in hell, or - for a Catholic - possibly
in Purgatory, but certainly in the other-world of the afterlife).

Caspar would not be quite so child-friendly and amusing if it was made
obvious that he was the disturbed and restless spirit of a small child
that had died prematurely of some nasty illness or horrible accident or
murder, and was unable to find rest in either the Christian paradise or
a humanist oblivion.  The idea of a ghost as some sort of never-alive
creature, whose previous life was unimportant is a modern invention.  I
doubt it can be traced back much further than the 19th century at the

>OK: let's get as *serious* as the opening of the play Hamlet by Will S
>as viewed by a Globe Groundling!

Bill Arnold is not a Globe Groundling, and I can still see nothing in
his interpretation that would make it the view of a Globe Groundling.
All that I see is the view of Bill Arnold projected backward into

>So--you have recently lost a parent--or God forbid, a child!  And you
>come to the play in the Globe with a heavy heart after you have been to
>the funeral of your loved one.  Did the Rabbi or the Priest or the
>Preacher speak of the *ghost* of your departed relative, rather than the

Well, two points here.  Firstly in the modern sense of "ghost", they
would not talk of your father's ghost at his funeral because his spirit
would have been expected to have made a transition directly between
being a "soul" or "spirit" within a human-body, to being a "soul" or
"spirit" in the afterlife.

A "ghost" in the modern sense, and the sense used in "Hamlet" (although
Shakespeare had alternatives not usually available to us), is a spirit
that is walking without a body in the human world.  Unless somebody has
seen the spirit of your dead father walking around in the real world
without its body, then there would be no "ghost", so there would be no
reference to a "ghost".  If your dead father had taken to wandering
around in the church in the middle of the night, and had been seen by
you and by the Priest, then the Priest might well talk - quite correctly
- about his ghost.  The fact that such a thing is very unlikely to
happen in the modern world (largely because there is no such thing as a
real ghost) explains why such references are not commonly made in
funerals.  In a literary world, however, such references are quite
possible, and indeed expected in stories that involve such ghostly

Second point.  Actually, at the time that Shakespeare was writing, the
word "ghost" could be used in at least two senses, one of which was the
one that we would recognise (so that Hamlet can say, "Alas poor ghost"
and mean that his father's soul is walking around without a body,
haunting people), but the other of which was simply a identical synonym
of the word "soul".  It is for this reason that we still talk of "giving
up the ghost" - meaning dying and letting the soul ("ghost") leave the
body .  Shakespeare uses this very phrase in 3 Henry VI 2.3.22, in which
Richard, telling Warwick with sympathy of his brother's death, says to

And in the very pangs of death he cried,
Like to a dismal clangour heard from far,
'Warwick, revenge - brother, revenge my death!'
So, underneath the belly of their steeds
That stained their fetlocks in his smoking blood,
The noble gentleman gave up the ghost.

The parallels with the ghost in Hamlet as seen by Nashe, crying "Hamlet
revenge!" are remarkable, and possibly even significant here, but
Warwick's brother cried for revenge while still alive, and his soul
presumably travelled directly to the afterlife (from a religious point
of view) but Shakespeare is *still* quite happy to refer to his "ghost"
in a speech designed to appeal to and sympathise with his brother.  If
calling a dead man's spirit a ghost was such an insult as Arnold
imagines, then Richard would certainly not have used the word here.

>Of course not.  God forbid.

Although not a funeral sermon, Richard's reference to the "ghost" of
Warwick's brother appears in a similarly reverential and sympathetic
circumstance, as Richard informs Warwick for the first time of his
brother's death.

>OK: tell me it is as serious to call your *dead* relative a *ghost*!?

If your dead relative is wandering around the world in spirit form, then
that would simply be a technically correct description even now.  In the
Renaissance they were rather more familiar with talking about the
spiritual world and its relationship to the everyday world of human
life, so this would have been even more acceptable then than now,
especially since "ghost" was commonly used to describe the soul during
or even before its departure from the body.

>You would be *horrified* if the Rabbi or the Priest or the Preacher did
>that at your relative's funeral.  Mortified, you would think the
>supposed cleric to be Daffy Duck!

Again, this sounds rather suspiciously like Bill Arnold talking about
his own feelings.  What happened to that imaginary Globe Groundling?  I
rather think he is simply Bill Arnold in disguise.

>Trust me on this: we are *not* talking comics here, folks!

The word "ghost" was not considered comical in Shakespeare's time.  The
reappearance of spirits after death was apparently taken with deadly
seriousness by the vast majority of the population.

>SCENES ONE through FIVE are *S-E-R-I-O-U-S* business about the
>philosophy of the *spirit* and are not mere *ghost* matters!

Again the distinction between comical "ghost" and serious "spirit" is
one made by Bill Arnold.  Shakespeare's contemporaries would apparently
not have recognised such a distinction.

>Get *real* with Hamlet the play by Will S!  Treat it with the respect it
>deserves.  Prince Hamlet is *L-I-T-E-R-A-L-L-Y* at the funeral of his
>dead dad and you all are treating this *drama* as if it is *A Midsummer
>Night's Dream*!  Which it ain't. I mean to tell you all that the *whole*
>world is reading and *watching* this discussion of the *WATCH* scenes.
>There are some heavy hitters on board, and some very heavy hitters who
>browse Hardy's message board each day before they step into class, or
>write that review, or clarify a new book on the bard.  Inquiring minds
>want to know, the whole truth, and *not* fluff.  We are the delight of
>Shakespeareans worldwide.  So let's *not* open Hamlet the play with
>Caspar the Ghost, OK?

As I have pointed out Shakespeare had never heard of Caspar.  I also
suspect that many of the important people reading this discussion will
have long ago created their own readings of the play, which would for
the most part look nothing like the one produced by Bill Arnold.  Is
Bill Arnold really so self-deluded that he dismisses all of these
readings (produced by "heavy-hitters" infinitely more significant to the
world of Shakespeare studies than Arnold or myself) as "fluff" and
falsehoods, unless they agree completely with Arnold?  The idea that
only Arnold's view is serious and correct is rather comical in itself.

>Can you all *imagine* the Elizabethans translators of the English AV or
>what we Americans call the KJV opting for the resurrection scene of Will
>S's "Saviour" [invoked in SCENE ONE]-- with the "ghost" of Jesus
>confronting Doubting Thomas?

Jesus, of course, was not technically a "ghost" after his death because
he had been resurrected, and was present in the flesh.  That's why he
makes Thomas touch his wounds.  I'm an atheist with no particular
knowledge of Christian doctrine, and what little I know comes mainly
from my study of literature and history, but I know this.  Why doesn't
Bill Arnold?  It rather spoils his attempts to reconstruct the thinking
of a Globe Groundling, if he doesn't even understand the basic elements
of the faith by which that Groundling viewed the world.

Anyway, let us ignore the instance of Jesus as a resurrected non-ghost,
and look at the Bible itself.  Does it use the word "ghost" in a
respectful, serious, non-comical fashion?  Of course.  What about the
"Holy Ghost"?  Is that a Caspar-ish figure in Arnold's reading?  If so,
then he has sadly misunderstood Christian doctrine and Renaissance

The "ghost" of Jesus gets a reference too, although in the sense of his
spirit as it leaves his body, not the haunting figure without a body
that he never became.  Both King James and Douay-Rheims translate all
four gospels to say that Jesus "gave up the ghost" on the cross (Mark in
the King James, for example, has "And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and
gave up the ghost").  The King James uses the exact same phrase in
relation to such respected biblical figures as Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac,
and Jacob, among others.  If Arnold feels that the translators of the
Bible intended to be comical or disrespectful when describing the deaths
of the Biblical patriarchs, and even of Jesus himself, then once again
he has seriously misinterpreted both the Bible and Renaissance English.

>OK: go ahead and tell me they are synonyms.  Sure, they are; but they
>have *D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T* meanings.

They both had a variety of meanings, but when used in the same way they
meant exactly the same thing.  When the word "spirit" was used to mean a
human soul wandering the real world in insubstantial form after death,
then it meant exactly the same as "ghost" when that was used to mean a
human soul wandering the real world in insubstantial form after death.
There was no difference at all.

>Seasoned professionals on SHAKSPER will not be *conned* by connotation
>vs. denotation sleight-of-hand tricks.  None doubt they denote the same
>to Globe Groundlings, but there is a substantial difference between the
>connotations of *ghost* as opposed to the connotations of *spirit* and
>it is precisely the latter word and its connotations which Will S

So please try to apply your claims to all the other plays in which
Shakespeare uses "spirit" as a synonym for "ghost".  If the exchange has
the significance that you are trying to give it in "Hamlet" then it
*must* have the same significance in these other plays, or your argument
collapses because then it becomes obvious that "ghost" is an exact
synonym for "spirit" used interchangeably by Shakespeare.

>OK: the two words are synonymous but not the same!  Get real. It might a
>*synonym* be: but Will S chose to make it a *big* issue in SCENES ONE
>through FIVE, and you all ought to finally take note, and stop finagling
>with Hamlet the play as other than a most *serious* play.
>I have already said that *Macbeth* is *not* on the same caliber of play
>as *Hamlet* and you all know that *Hamlet* is the more intellectually
>challenging of the two: so put your analytical caps on on deal with the
>cards Will S dealt!

So Arnold, after lecturing us endlessly on how we must take "Hamlet"
seriously (which apparently means that we must give up our own opinions,
and accept those of Bill Arnold) now tells us that he does not take
"Macbeth" as seriously as he takes "Hamlet", so we can just ignore the
fact that Arnold's claims don't hold up in the second play.

If Arnold thinks that Shakespeare was deadly serious in "Hamlet" but was
just messing around when he wrote "Macbeth", so did not have to follow
the same rules,  then he seems to have got himself into some strange
parallel Arnoldian universe.  I very much doubt whether Shakespeare
would have agreed with him, and I suspect that very few Shakespeareans
would agree with him either.

>As a campaign, we are only beginning to penetrate SCENE FIVE!
>I will make my last point, clean, clear, crisp and piquant:
>If you would diss the opening scenes of Hamlet, and insert a *ghost*
>where Will S intends a *spirit* then you ought to look at yourself in
>the mirror?  What do you see?  Would you be at all pleased with a Rabbi
>or Priest or Preacher who called your departed relative a "ghost"?

Looking in a mirror is not a good way of reconstructing the past, or of
understanding the original intention of literature.  I have no doubt
that Arnold has constructed his theory by looking in a mirror and
admiring his own reflection (which is why he has got confused between
what Arnold believes, and what Shakespeare is likely to have believed).
I do not think that it is a good idea that - on Arnold's advice - we all
rush to our own mirrors to create our own view of the play, and even if
we did, we would all see different things since we would be looking at
our own faces (which look nothing like Arnold's).

If my father kept turning up in the street outside my house after his
death (which hasn't happened yet - may he live forever!) then, if I
believed in that sort of thing, I would be quite happy to discuss the
appearance of his ghost.  As it happens, I would describe such a thing
as a hallucination, not a "soul" or a "spirit" or a "ghost", but if my
philosophical beliefs persuaded me that I had really seen him in spirit
form after his death, then the word I would use is "ghost".

>If you would be offended, then note that Prince Hamlet was so offended
>by Horatio making light of the "spirit" of his dead father.  He put it
>bluntly, as the duty-bound filial son:
>"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
>Than are dreamt of in your philsophy.
>...Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!
>...The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
>That ever I was born to set it right."

And then, as Arnold once more conveniently forgets, he goes on and on
referring to his dead father's ghost.  If Hamlet was really annoyed by
Horatio's use of the word "ghost" then he would hardly continue to use
it himself.  Despite the Arnoldian edict on what Hamlet must mean, the
real Hamlet (Shakespeare's creation) has used the word "ghost" just 29
lines beforehand, and uses the word "ghost" 13 lines afterwards.
Neither the ghost's use of the word "spirit" (which Arnold views as an
offended command to Hamlet not to refer to it as a ghost) nor Hamlet's
use of the word "spirit" (which Arnold views as an offended correction
of Horatio) stops anybody - least of all Hamlet himself - from
describing the ghost as a ghost.  Hamlet, supposedly corrected by his
offended father's spirit, uses the word "ghost" again in a soliloquy
just 92 lines later, and then uses the word repeatedly throughout the
rest of the play, including  one instance only a few lines after he has
- in the Arnold world view - supposedly snapped at Horatio for using the
offending G-word.

We are fairly obviously dealing with two things here, the script, and
Arnold's response to the script.  The script contains the word "ghost"
in places that Arnold doesn't want it to be, and he consequently tries
to clamp on interpretations and explanations that put these references
aside and ignore them.  Unfortunately for Arnold's theory, these
explanations do not stand up to the rest of the text, and the word
"ghost" keeps on popping up after Arnold has told us that it should have
been put aside.  Hamlet is supposedly "corrected" by the ghost, and
supposedly "corrects" Horatio, but none of this stops him saying that he
has seen his father's "ghost" over and over again.

Once again, the only conclusion that I can reach is that Arnold's theory
is *NOT* an obvious description of what Shakespeare clearly intended (so
clear that Arnold can insult anybody who disagrees with him for their
stupidity and fluff or their lack of attention to Shakespeare's words),
nor is it even really a credible argument about a possible
interpretation of the script, since - by the rules of standard literary
criticism - Arnold's interpretation is in many places openly
contradicted by the content of the script.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"       "British Shakespeare Association" 

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