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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Ghost Appearance
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0538  Wednesday, 25 February 2004

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 08:55:14 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0522 Ghost Appearance

[2]     From:   Bruce W.Richman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 16:25:11 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0522 Ghost Appearance


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 08:55:14 EST
Subject: 15.0522 Ghost Appearance
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0522 Ghost Appearance

Dear Friends,

Please excuse me if I repeat myself. There are two jokes in JC which
seem to point to Shakespeare in the part of Julius -- although, Colin, I
hasten to agree that we may never be sure of this. The first joke is
when Antony says, "When Caesar says 'Do this', it is performed" 1.2.10
of Arden 3. The second is Cassius' "Ay and that tongue of his that bade
the Romans Mark him, and write his speeches in their books'
1.2.125-6.These seem to me insiders' jokes on Shakespeare playing the
part of Caesar. If I'm right about this (and contrary views are
possible), then it would seem to me to entail that Shakespeare played
Polonius and was, perhaps, accused of killing the calf when he died as
Caesar.

I think that if one looks at the references to graves opening and
releasing their dead -- in JC, HAM, and, of course, at the Tempest where
Shakespeare is thought to be writing his literary obit in the part of
Prospero -- perhaps the conjunction becomes more persuasive.

As to the famous armor ... the tactic which Shakespeare is employing
seems to me this. The question we're wanted to ask is: how on earth does
Horatio recognize Old Hamlet's armor as being "the very armor he had on
When he th'ambitious Norway combated" 1.1.64-5 Arden 2? After all,
Horatio is Hamlet's school chum -- likely, his contemporary, or perhaps
younger (since Hamlet's 30). A lot of weak explanations have been
offered for this: Horatio saw a portrait of Old Hamlet in the armor, the
armor stood in the hall, etc. But Shakespeare's joke is that he's
modeling Horatio on Philip Melanchthon, that most reasonable of
Wittenberg men (who was, indeed, no truant in the sense that Luther had
been). Melanchthon's father was a court armorer. The Melanchthon
paradigm also underlies why Horatio can explain the "seal'd compact" of
the combat in such legalistic terms  (1.1.88-97) -- Melanchthon was a
lawyer. And why he knows so much about Caesar's fall (he was a classical
scholar, therefore the sentries address him as a "scholar" 1.1.40).Also
why he's reluctant to swear Hamlet's oath (Luther deplored the swearing
of oaths).  And why Hamlet speaks of his "philosophy", etc. It also
explains the wordplay on "truant," but I don't want to bore you.

It seems to me that the Ghost has shrugged his armor and appears "in his
habit as he lived" in Gertrude's closet, which signifies that his sins
have been burned away and he's on his way to heaven.

Hope this helps.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce W.Richman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Feb 2004 16:25:11 -0600
Subject: 15.0522 Ghost Appearance
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0522 Ghost Appearance

The first rule of doubled parts must be that the two characters can't
appear together. It follows that the next rule is that the actor has to
have sufficient time between the exit of one and the entrance of the
other to make a costume change; if the costumes are elaborate, like a
full suit of armor or a senior courtier's rich suit, one can reasonably
assume that more changing time is required. The tiny "tiring room"
off-stage didn't lend itself to the sort of split-second costume changes
suggested by a doubling of the Ghost/Polonius roles. If the dead
Polonius were in fact played by an actor other than the one who played
the live one, it would require the first Polonius to slip away at
II.iv.8 without much rustling of the arras and be replaced by the second
wearing an identical (expensive) costume. The stage direction ("Lifts up
the arras and sees Polonius") seems to invite the audience to have a
good look rather than to hide a pseudo-Polonius. Polonius is behind the
arras not, as suggested, to facilitate the ruse of a substituted actor
playing the corpse, but because everything he and Claudius do is
hugger-mugger, behind some sort of arras; the answer is
characterological, not technical. The Ghost's homely attire in III.iv
could indeed facilitate the quick costume change suggested, but what
then of the change from full armor when the Ghost exits at I.i.144 and
Polonius enters only 33 lines later? Or only 112 lines separating the
armed Ghost's exit in I.v. and Polonius's entry at II.i, with the
rapidly re-costuming Ghost/Polonius stopping three times in his fevered
tiring room labors to somehow shout "Swear" from "beneath"?.

And why exactly go to all this trouble to have one man play the two
parts? Actors always recognize Shakespeare's professionalism in the many
little ways he made things easy for them; the sort of frantic "Noises
Off" activity suggested by a doubling of the Ghost and Polonius would
make the actor's work markedly difficult. If any of the traditional
information we have about the roles that Shakespeare took for himself is
to be credited, the poet's parts were consistently minor, apparently
requiring that he not spend not much time on stage or in rehearsal.
Certainly that can't be true of Polonius's role, despite his relatively
early exit.

My authority for supposing that Shakespeare doubled the Ghost and the
Player King is SHAXICON and Harold Bloom.

Bruce Richman
Department of Psychiatry
University of Missouri School of Medicine

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