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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Hamlet's Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1205  Monday, 7 June 2004

[1]     From:   Patrick Dolan <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 09:17:33 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 2 Jun 2004 to 3 Jun 2004 (#2004-107)

[2]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Friday, 04 Jun 2004 08:43:38 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 09:12:49 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

[4]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 11:39:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

[5]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 21:22:40 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

[6]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 21:36:10 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

[7]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 21:13:27 -0700
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet's Ghost

[8]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Sunday, 6 Jun 2004 18:42:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

[9]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Sunday, 6 Jun 2004 21:01:10 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

[10]     From:  Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Sunday, 6 Jun 2004 21:12:48 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patrick Dolan <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 09:17:33 -0500
Subject:        Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 2 Jun 2004 to 3 Jun 2004 (#2004-107)

On Jun 3, 2004, at 11:00 PM, Bill Godshalk wrote:

 >I wonder if we have any firm idea regarding
 >how many Renaissance English per hundred believed in ghosts.

This is an intrinsically interesting question, and could be rephrased,
productively as, "What notions of the afterlife were current in early
modern England?" I bet someone's done it--althought survey data isn't
available.

A few things concern me about the discussion so far:

1. It seems to me that there are different kinds of belief in play here.
I don't believe in ghosts or demons, or any kind of personal
immortality. That doesn't prevent me from believing in old Hamlet's
ghost while I'm watching the play--whether he's a demon or not. Much of
this discussion strikes me as analogous to trying to interpret Buffy the
Vampire Slayer by inquiring as to how many 21st century English speakers
believe in vampires. The preconceptions we bring to television shows are
relevant, but Angel and Spike don't quite fit the general cultural
stereotype of vampires, so we've got to figure out how the cultural
beliefs intersect what the fiction asks us to stipulate. And what's
impressive about people encountering fictional worlds is how light on
our feet we can be. (Alas, this makes it possible for us to believe in
some really wacky stuff in the real world, like popish plots, black
helicopters and the close connection between Saddam Hussein and
al-Queda.) It seems to me that both Coleridge's willing suspension of
disbelief and cultural anthropology's "Ghosts are good to think with,"
are relevant here and we're largely ignoring them.

2. When we get talking about Protestant versus Roman Catholic belief
systems, we seem to get all digital--WS and his audience members must be
one or the other. (This connects to the thread concerning The
Elizabethan World Picture, since many discussions of a historically
distant cultures tend to make them monolithic by reading elite texts as
indicative of general belief, even though information and beliefs varied
and were transmitted in a variety of ways.) Is 21st century
English-speaking culture religious or secular? I think the answer to
this question is clearly, "Yes." Same for "Was the culture inplicit in
Hamlet Catholic or Protestant?" Well, yes. You can see the point if you
talk to an American Roman Catholic. That person will sound very
Protestant in the way he/she talks about individual conscience and
relations between Church authority and his/her behaviour. It may involve
contradiction, but we're all good at containing contradictory positions.
Thus, Roman Catholic birthrates look like the faithful are, gasp, using
birth control.

3. I think Shakespeare knew all this, at an experiential level at least.
It strikes me that the power of the plays in their day comes from their
location at the rifts and folds in the belief systems and cultural
imaginations of his audience. I expect that there's continuity that
allows the plays to maintain contact with our cultural imagination as
well. And I further expect that the continuity comes because our
cultural imaginations are, in small but important ways, continue to be
formed by the plays (especially we bookish and theatrical sorts).

4. Surely a late 16th/early 17th century Englishman who worked on a play
about Henry VIII knew more about Martin Luther than the fact that he was
German. Didn't he help save Christendom from the Whore of Babylon?

Cheers,
Pat

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Friday, 04 Jun 2004 08:43:38 -0700
Subject: 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1193 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...

The play is packed with Catholic imagery and suggestion. Just one for
starters, the question of Ophelia's suicide?

Colin Cox

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 09:12:49 -0700
Subject: 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

David Cohen asks,

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

The answer is clearly yes.  See article 22 of the 39 articles.

That said, it isn't clear how it applies to the play.  Lots of people
who don't believe in ghosts or aliens are willing to accept their
existence as part of a fiction.  Not believing in something isn't
grounds to believe that the fiction presents it as a transparent lie
which we're meant to see through.

Yours,
SKL.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 11:39:11 -0500
Subject: 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

 >David Cohen wrote:
 >
 >Is it the case that at the time Shakespeare was writing, the Church of
 >England had dispensed with Purgatory"?
 >
 >
 >That's an easy one:
 >
 >"Article XXII:  Of Purgatory . . . .
 >
 >John Briggs

Many thanks, and to Norman Hinton too

David Cohen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 21:22:40 +0100
Subject: 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

 >Well, he wouldn't be there if he wasn't, in life, a practicing Catholic.
 >Non-believers could not gain access.

Lol.

If Claude Caspar is right about this, shouldn't we all hedge our bets by
becoming Catholics?  I mean if Catholics believe most souls end up in
purgatory, and Protestants believe most souls end up in hell, then
Catholics must get the better deal if non-believers aren't allowed in
purgatory.

Peter Bridgman

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 21:36:10 +0100
Subject: 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

David Cohen asks:

 >Does it matter to this point that Hamlet takes place in the 11th
 >century, while the University of Wittenberg wasn't established until
 >1502, when Martin Luther was only 19 years old?

I would say no, since WS is always writing about Elizabethan or Jacobean
England (usually London), no matter when or where a particular play is set.

But then if it does matter, every character in Hamlet is a Catholic by
definition.  End of debate.

Peter Bridgman

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 21:13:27 -0700
Subject:        Re: Hamlet's Ghost

I've noticed my posts have a tendency to squelch threads, both here and
elsewhere (these internet discussion fora seem to be mainly a vehicle
for light socializing), so without bludgeoning you all with an overdose
of idiosyncratia there are one or two points I would like to make, if I
may.  First, Pamela Richards writes interesting posts, thank you kindly,
and with a sweet turn of phrase.

When was this story set?  Somebody mentioned the eleventh century; I
think it might be the tenth.  If that were so then everybody but the
Ghost would be Catholic.  Well, not counting Fortinbras and his pagan
Viking uh, followers.  Horatio and Hamlet knew each other in Wittenberg,
where they studied.  What did they study in Wittenberg in the tenth
century?  It might have been an ecclesiastical institution, like a
monastery.  If that were so they probably would have been studying some
theology.  And Horatio, in addition to being a scholar, might be an
ecclesiastical scholar,  a priest, and a weak one.  He might even be
Irish, since a lot of the early German monasteries were founded by Irish
missionaries.  Hamlet mentions St. Patrick in there somewhere, when
addressing Horatio.  Why not some other saint?

As for the Ghost, it does a nice job of constructing an argument in
favor of its position.  It reminds me of the Law.  The distinguishing
feature of legal arguments is not so much that they are logical and well
rhetorical (which they are), but that they are convincing.  Why does it
work so hard to convince?  Back then (sixteenth century) Catholics
believed in Ghosts (so overgeneralized, I know).  Thank you, Jack, for
recommending Religion and the Decline of Magic.  On p.589 the author
states what Protestants thought of Ghosts: "Protestants agreed that they
were not to be mistaken for the souls of the departed, but were to be
recognised as spirits; very rarely good ones, more usually evil ones,
sent by the Devil in an effort to entrap men's allegiance.  Their
credentials were to be strictly examined, and resolute scepticism was
the only defence against their blandishments."  Hamlet, of course, is
actually skeptical.  The Ghost, it would seem, knows what it's up
against.  So it makes a convincing argument designed to lead Hamlet into
unrighteous behavior (un-Christian, anyway): namely, revenge and murder.
  And it works.  The Ghost encourages unrighteousness.  Right away a
Protestant in the audience would be leaning toward the evil-spirit ID of
the Ghost.   That's not counting all these weird little (to us) tests so
meticulously investigated by Eleanor Prosser.  It's pretty interesting.
  The author is using Catholic assumptions within the characters of the
play, and Protestant assumptions within the audience.  It's sort of like
he's giving the audience more information than the characters, or at
least using a more "advanced" (Protestant) understanding of Ghosts (of
course nowadays we know even more, understanding there is no such thing
as a Ghost of either variety).   Also, it's always interesting to look
into the philological angle, if any.  My OED claims the word "Ghost", in
addition to meaning what we now normally think of when using the word,
could also be a synonym for "spirit."  Another tantalizingly ambiguous
SP.  Gosh, if we just knew what it looked like (to the original
audience, I mean), then we'd really know.  Why didn't they specify its
wardrobe in F, anyway.

Horatio thinks Hamlet is going to heaven.  He doesn't know what he's
talking about.  He was no match for the Ghost in this spiritual combat,
and now he's just wishing.  Hamlet is going to the other place, if he's
going anywhere.  For some reason it brings to mind that Twilight Zone
about the gangster who apparently died but got his body back and a lot
of his former life (I never watched the show originally but I caught it
on reruns).  He had a helper, played by Sebastian Cabot, if I remember
right, who looked out for him and arranged for him to always win at
gambling and always be successful with the girls, I mean the women, I
mean, oh I don't know.  After a certain amount of this the gambler
complained, saying he didn't much relish heaven, it being so boring, and
he might like the other place better.  Sebastian Cabot's character just
laughed, and said, "Heaven?  What gave you the impression this was
heaven?  This is the other place!"  Ha, ha, ha.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Sunday, 6 Jun 2004 18:42:38 +0100
Subject: 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1193 Hamlet's Ghost

Claude Caspar writes:

 >Convince Greenblatt & I will worship at your shrine.

So where does Stephen Greenblatt say the Ghost is the only Catholic in
the play?

Peter Bridgman

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Sunday, 6 Jun 2004 21:01:10 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

Bruce

Thanks for your contributions to the discussion.  For the record,
someone else was responsible for the quote here attributed to me.  My
remarks were limited to the possible significance of the Hamlet's
inquiry, "Pale or red?".

Regards,
Pamela Richards

 >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

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Sunday, 6 Jun 2004 21:12:48 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

David Cohen asks when the Anglican Church ceased to support the doctrine
of Purgatory.  According to records of the Church of England, prayers
for the dead were no longer permitted after 1552.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

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