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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
Hamlet's Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1154  Monday, 31 May 2004

[1]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 May 2004 07:32:37 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 May 2004 12:07:16 -0400
        Subj:   Hamlet's Ghost

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 May 2004 11:12:47 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

[4]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 May 2004 09:49:43 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

[5]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Friday, 28 May 2004 19:19:28 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Friday, 28 May 2004 07:32:37 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

 >Pamela Richards writes...

 >>I believe, along with one of the posters here who
 >>stated that we can
 >>determine Shakespeare's intention from a thorough
 >>reading of the text.
 >
 >I'm glad that isn't true.  I'd say the closer the
 >scrutiny, the more
 >mysterious and enigmatic the play becomes.
 >
 >Peter Bridgman

Peter, I must agree with you that scrutiny enhances the transcendent
nature of the play itself.  But would we not both agree that to evoke
the mysterious and to touch on the enigmatic was Shakespeare's
intention?  Or can we believe that his construction of these plays was
an accident of the universe?  There are intentions and intentions;
devices and devices.  Sometimes the author intends to create ambiguity,
to layer complexity.  To provide the audience a choice.

Perhaps it is accidental that the loss of more direct communication of
meaning in the play, which we may expect to happen over time and
distance from the cultural and intangible values which engendered the
work originally, leaves us with a host of symbols uncoupled with
meaning.  Our minds and souls are left to form constellations of these
unnamed stars, and on those inky skies we write the personal myths of
our soul's own device.

I find both ways of understanding and enjoying Shakespeare are valid,
and probably many others besides.  This may not touch on the point you
made, but I wonder to what degree Shakespeare was aware that his use of
symbols, and in some instances the eventual obscuration of their
meaning, would render his plays virtually immortal.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 28 May 2004 12:07:16 -0400
Subject:        Hamlet's Ghost

Writing of the play Hamlet, Sam Small notes, "I have brought this up
before - so please forgive me - of the incongruous nature of the ghost
in the drama.  In a play utterly devoid of the supernatural - a
contemporary political thriller, if you will - we are forced to the
conclusion that ghosts actually exist."

I think this is an interesting observation. From an audience point of
view, most in the audience believed in ghosts, but by no means all did.
The appearance of the ghost heightens the power of the drama, but I
suspect that the real issue is that in this play, Shakespeare is dealing
with matters of metaphysics.  What do we know for sure about the
afterlife?  The play suggests that we know damn little. The origins of
the ghost are not explained, nor is a Protestant or a Catholic view
affirmed. Providence is asserted to exist by Horatio, but his summary of
the plot at the end of the play explains things in terms of chance,
mistakes, and plots.

If Shakespeare affirms anything, it seems to be that there are more
things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. It
should be noted that even the afterlife is not really affirmed, for the
Ghost may be the Devil, and not Hamlet's father.

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 28 May 2004 11:12:47 -0500
Subject: 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

Sam Small's point about the rules that Shakespeare allegedly broke in
introducing a ghost into a realistic "political thriller" requires some
qualification. The two most closely related plays to *Hamlet* are
*Macbeth* and *Julius Caesar* -- both of which have ghosts.

I would say the reasons why he includes ghosts in the plays taken from
these disparate ancient sources are threefold: 1) Many peoples have
ghost superstitions that are taken seriously by nearly everyone
(Shakespeare's audience among them); 2) Ghost superstitions in Europe
tend to be associated with (among other things) vicious murders; 3)
They're great theatre (or at least WS thought so).

Cheers,
don

PS: I don't think we ourselves are so free from ghost superstitions as
we may pretend.)

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Friday, 28 May 2004 09:49:43 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

Sam Small asks:

"Did Shakespeare not believe this himself but believed the audience did?
  If so why base so important a topic on the superstition of the
uneducated?  Plays such as the Tempest and Midsummer Night's Dream are
fantasy worlds in which fairies and spirits exist.  In "The Merchant of
Venice" or "Measure for Measure" for instance, there are no goblins or
sprites because the plays are realistic and contemporary.  So why did
Shakespeare appear to break the rules of his own making?"

I'm not sure we can properly address what Shakespeare believed from the
distance that interposing time imposes.  His plays were varied; his
approach to the introduction of characters, whether supernatural or
strictly mundane, seems fairly utilitarian.  If he can develop his story
on such a character, or move his story on using such a character, he does.

Some of his choices may be predicated on a style or genre of literary or
dramatic tradition.  For instance, I understand that there are a number
of revenge plays that use the device of a ghost.  It is possible, as
grave and dignified as Hamlet's ghost seems, that Shakespeare intended
to use Hamlet's ghost not only to emulate well-known revenge plays and
develop conflict, but also to provide a measure of comic relief, as in
the cellarage scene.   This scene may be a parody of similar revenge
plays, although I don't have much familiarity with that form.  Perhaps
someone else here knows whether or not this might be the case.

Hamlet is actually quite a funny play, in many places.  Clowns or fools
are another device that Shakespeare uses, and Hamlet has its share of
those, too.  In fact, Hamlet evidently acts in the role of court jester
throughout much of the play.  And no wonder, for the jester is the only
person in court more powerful than the King.

I think the appearance of supernatural characters like ghosts, or
mundane characters like clowns, in Shakespeare's plays serve to show us
more about his intended impact on the audience than his personal
convictions.  The ghost to frighten us, the clown to make us laugh, and
so forth.  And with that touch of genius, he can send us into a whole
new frame of mind by sending us a Ghost who makes us laugh, or a Clown
who makes us shudder.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Friday, 28 May 2004 19:19:28 -0400
Subject: 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1148 Hamlet's Ghost

 >Pamela Richards brings out some interesting points about Hamlet's ghost,
 >namely whether the ghost is an evil spirit or a true re-emergence of his
 >father's being.  She also reminds us of the fact that Shakespeare used
 >recognisable devices - such as the ghost - that would gain credibility
 >with the audience.  I have brought this up before - so please forgive me
 >- of the incongruous nature of the ghost in the drama.  In a play
 >utterly devoid of the supernatural - a contemporary political thriller,
 >if you will - we are forced to the conclusion that ghosts actually
 >exist.  Did Shakespeare not believe this himself but believed the
 >audience did?  If so why base so important a topic on the superstition
 >of the uneducated?  Plays such as the Tempest and Midsummer Night's
 >Dream are fantasy worlds in which fairies and spirits exist.  In "The
 >Merchant of Venice" or "Measure for Measure" for instance, there are no
 >goblins or sprites because the plays are realistic and contemporary.  So
 >why did Shakespeare appear to break the rules of his own making?
 >
 >SAM SMALL

We live in a much more scientific and enlightened age than Shakespeare's
original audience and are far less likely to believe in various aspects
of the supernatural.

That's why Stephen King and Ann Rice never make the bestseller lists -:)

John Ramsay

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