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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Hamlet's Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1177  Wednesday, 2 June 2004

[1]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 05:56:29 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

[2]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 09:34:37 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

[3]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 10:51:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

[4]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 14:43:39 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 05:56:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

Ed says:

 >"As Pamela Richards and Bill Arnold have indicated,
 >the color of a ghost was important. For example, if I
 >remember right, a dark color meant that the ghost
 >either was in hell or at the very beginning of his
 >purgatorial punishment, still burdened with the full
 >weight of its sins.
 >Conversely, a white ghost or a partly white ghost was
 >a sign of spiritual health or progress toward that
 >end. In this respect, we might note that the ghost
 >in Hamlet first appears in dark colors - in armor, but
 >later,  in Gertrude's bedroom, the ghost appears in
 >white - in a nightgown (according to the F. stage
 >directions).
 >
 >Whether Shakespeare had this in mind is anybody's
 >guess, but I suppose he might have."

This seems to come from a Catholic source, because at this time of
history, Protestants were being taught that Purgatory did not exist, and
being discouraged from praying for the dead.  It would be interesting to
know where this teaching comes from, if we could get our hands on the
source document, so that we can see if there are any other parallels in
it to the Ghost in Hamlet.

One thing I think we can be clear about, ironically:

Shakespeare meant for us not to know if the Ghost was genuine, or an
evil spirit.  It seems he liberally doused his text in clues that work
both ways.  Cleverly, for those of us who think the Ghost may be
attempting to "undo" Hamlet and damn him to hell, this permits us to
doubt whether Hamlet's actions are justified, right until the end of the
play.  And many of us do just that.  Some of us go on doubting even
beyond.  We are all free to decide for ourselves whether Hamlet's
actions were justified, or not.  I believe Shakespeare wanted each of
his audience members to come to their own conclusions on the matter.
Permitting all of us a choice to make:  an apposite means to uphold the
Renaissance Humanist teaching that mankind is ennobled by his choices.

I have been attempting to understand what the Cellarage scene is telling
us.  I have been involved in a discussion on another list which became
pretty detailed, so I'm not sure how to introduce the topic here; I have
some information which might be of interest, but I hesitate to dump it
with all of its baggage onto this list.  Perhaps we could begin with a
discussion of some of the commonly held views about the cellarage scene,
to see where the potential problems in the scene originate.

Would anyone care to elaborate on what makes this scene hard to
comprehend?

Does anyone know much about the "sword of state?"  We don't use oaths
much in our culture--"hand on the Bible" in the courtroom, and marriage
vows.  I'm interested in learning more about customs involving oaths in
Shakespeare's time.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 09:34:37 -0400
Subject: 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

You may want to review an earlier thread I initiated on the crux of why
Gertrude doesn't (can't?) see the ghost in the bedroom scene... I won't
repeat what was almost beat to death, excerpt to say its remains still
stalk, which may be the velleity Shakespeare intended, something to
haunt and taunt, beyond the frame. There are several new scholarly books
on ghosts and their ilk which flesh out the context, to add to those
referenced in the earlier thread- what a ghost meant in folklore and the
implications implied, at odds whether one was Catholic or Protestant.
One thing seems true, at least un-refuted, that the ghost (whether real
or imagined! or just ghostly) is the ONLY Catholic in the play...
Knowing the then current burning political issues is critical in
understanding the stakes WS is deploying- he seems to have loved playing
with fire his genius distanced himself from.

Though I am inclined to accept Empson's arguments for an UR-Hamlet, it
is by no means certain it existed, is it, as someone here opines?  There
are ghostly traces, but no remains.  Just like this crux, it haunts, it
taunts.

This www has some good Biblical references, my only reason to suggest it:

http://pages.cthome.net/jbair/hamlet.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 10:51:41 -0400
Subject: 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

http://pup.princeton.edu/chapters/s7064.pdf seems to address the
Ur-Hamlet crux for all its worth, and has much to say besides, including
the ghost at large. That we can't be certain this Ur was Shakespeare's
is, for me, the hinge of its value- and nothing "proves" it was, though
it is appealing.  See note 1 on the text cited above...

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Jun 2004 14:43:39 -0500
Subject: 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1167 Hamlet's Ghost

W.L. Godshalk queries, "What percentage of the British population in
1600 believed in ghosts? And what data have been used to determine this
percentage?"


As I'm not sure whether this is a serious question, a tongue-in-cheek
rejoinder, or a criticism of some remark of mine, I'm at something of a
loss how to respond. I presume he is not questioning what I asserted as
an anthropological "fact," that people (perhaps nearly all people)
believe in spirits that would be covered under a common definition of
ghost.

I also presume he is not seriously suggesting that there could be a
numerical answer to his question about the percentage of Elizabethans
who believe in ghosts. You could scarcely get a valid answer now, much
less 400 years after the fact.

Belief is always a tricky business to nail down. In regard to ghosts,
you might set up three categories: people who believe in ghosts all the
time; people who think they disbelieve in ghosts but quickly turn to
belief when something inexplicable and spooky happens; people who don't
believe in ghosts no matter what strange thing occurs.

The characters who see King Hamlet's ghost seem to belong to category 2.

I think most of us would turn out the same.

Cheers,
don

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