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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Hamlet's Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1188  Thursday, 3 June 2004

[1]     From:   Bruce W. Richman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 08:38:19 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 10:46:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

[3]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 18:36:44 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

[4]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 13:46:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce W. Richman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 08:38:19 -0500
Subject: 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

Pamela Richards writes that in 3.4 Old Hamlet's Ghost "appears in white
--- in a nightgown (according to the F. stage direction)". I believe
that the Folio stage direction here is limited to "Enter Ghost", with no
description of what he was wearing. The only reference in the scene to
the ghost's garb is young Hamlet's "my father, in his habit as he
lived," which of course does not specify what type of clothing that
might be, and could even mean  the accustomed armor in which he appeared
on the battlement. The stage direction, "Enter the ghost in his night
gown" appears in the first quarto edition of 1603, a text apparently
reconstructed from a contemporary bit-part actor's seriously flawed
memory. Some editors have found it thematically useful to incorporate
the first quarto's stage direction into later editions, but the quarto
is its only contemporaneous appearance, and the direction was not
maintained when the First Folio was published in 1623.

Bruce W. Richman
Dept. of Psychiatry
School of Medicine
University of Missouri

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 10:46:15 -0500
Subject: 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

 >This seems to come from a Catholic source, because at this time of
 >history, Protestants were being taught that Purgatory did not exist . . .

Is it the case that at the time Shakespeare was writing, the Church of
England had dispensed with Purgatory"?

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 18:36:44 +0100
Subject: 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

Claude Caspar writes:

 >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...

I disagree.

Hamlet Sr says that because he died "unhousled, dis-appointed, unaneled"
(without the sacrament of the Eucharist, without death-bed confession
and absolution, and without the ritual anointing of extreme unction), he
has ended up in Purgatory rather than Heaven.  Although two of the three
sacraments mentioned by the Ghost had officially been dropped by the
Anglican church, young Hamlet nowhere dismisses his father's account as
Papist superstition.  When he has the opportunity to kill Claudius at
his prayers, he stops himself - because it would be unfair if the
villain went straight to Heaven while his father continued to do time in
Purgatory.

It is often assumed that Hamlet (who alone in the play utters the
Catholic oath "By'r lady") must be a Protestant because he studied at
Wittenberg.  It is unlikely however that WS knew anything about Martin
Luther other than the fact he was German.  Besides, a theatrical
audience at that time would be more likely to associate Wittenberg with
Faustus than Luther.

And it isn't just the two Hamlets who talk like Catholics.  As discussed
last week, Ophelia sings of her "true-love" as a Catholic pilgrim with
"cockle hat and staff".  This pilgrim would have found himself in a
prison cell in Shakespeare's London.

Again, at Ophelia's burial a furious Leartes asks the priest "What
ceremony else?".  The "churlish" priest answers:

"PRIEST   No more be done.
We should profane the service of the dead
To sing sage requiem and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls."

On the face of it, the (rather Puritan) priest is merely saying that
Ophelia's death was "doubtful", hence the "maimed rites".  To Catholics
in the audience though, Leartes' question could now be asked of ALL
burials in England, as the prayers for the dead (a waste of breath now
that Purgatory no longer existed) had been dropped from the prayerbook.
  Hamlet was written in 1600-1601.  If WS made it up to Stratford four
years earlier for his son Hamnet's funeral, he may well have muttered
the same question to his wife and neighbours, 'What ceremony else?'.

To ask that question openly would have clapped WS in prison.  Like the
character of Hamlet, WS may have felt urged to say something, but was
unable to say what is in his heart.  "But break, my heart, for I must
hold my tongue".

Hamlet poses the crucial dilemma that all English Catholics would have
felt painfully in 1600:

"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them."

In the writing of Hamlet, I think WS answered that question for himself,
and in doing so, made a crucial discovery that influenced all his later
writings.

In the play within a play Hamlet the prince finds a way of saying
indirectly what he cannot say openly in the dangerous Denmark court.  I
think with Hamlet the play WS made the same discovery himself.  While
many of his co-religionists were in prison - or worse - WS realised that
he was in an enviable position.  He was not only invited to court, he
was in a position to subtly influence his royal patrons with his art.  I
believe this is what he did for the rest of his career.

Peter Bridgman

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 13:46:00 -0400
Subject: 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1177 Hamlet's Ghost

 >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.

It is a serious question. I wonder if we have any firm idea regarding
how many Renaissance English per hundred believed in ghosts. I think
it's intuitive to believe that most of them did, but many times the
counter intuitive answer is correct. Has anyone done the leg work, or
are we guessing? Of course, as Don suggests, it would be difficult to
get an accurate assessment -- but some bright young (or even old)
scholar may figure out a method.

Bill Godshalk

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