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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Hamlet's Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1216  Tuesday, 8 June 2004

[1]     From:   Michael B. Luskin <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 10:15:24 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet's Ghost

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 07:41:38 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[3]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 15:51:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[4]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 16:20:57 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[5]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 16:20:57 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[6]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 07 Jun 2004 16:20:38 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[7]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 03:14:46 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[8]     From:   Alan Jones <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 14:31:18 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

[9]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 09:58:11 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael B. Luskin <
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Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 10:15:24 EDT
Subject:        Re: Hamlet's Ghost

John Reed <
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 >says:

 >...Hamlet mentions St. Patrick in there somewhere, when
 >addressing Horatio.  Why not some other saint?...

Patrick is the patron saint of purgatory. Hamlet says now I might do it
pat when Claudius is praying, in explaining why he doesn't knock him off
immediately.  And he says, By Saint Patrick...

Clearly references to Purgatory, the home of the ghost.

Michael B. Luskin

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 07:41:38 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

Patrick Dolan writes, "This is an intrinsically interesting question,
and could be rephrased, productively as, 'What notions of the afterlife
were current in early modern England?...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."

OK: why is it so hard not to see Will S. akin to today's Steven S.?  We
have in Will S. the same range of characters from the evil *Jaws* to the
mild-mannered *E.T.* to the good and evil spirits in the *Star Wars*
movies.  And Will S.'s plays were like Steven S.'s movies: fiction,
folks!  It does *NOT* require *BELIEF* but *SUSPENSION OF REALITY* for
the viewer!  Not *ALL* other-worldly characters are *ALL* evil such as
The Alien in *Alien* nor are they *ALL* good like *E.T.*!  Such artistic
endeavors *pray upon* [pun intended!] our fears and hopes.  But they are
*fiction*!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 15:51:38 +0100
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

Pat Dolan writes:

 >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.

Sorry, my earlier post was badly worded.  Of course WS knew would've
known who Luther was, but I still maintain a theatrical audience at that
time would be more likely to associate Wittenberg with Faustus than Luther.

 >Didn't he help save Christendom from the Whore of Babylon?

Something like that.  Didn't he put her on a diet of worms?

Peter Bridgman

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 16:20:57 +0100
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

John Reed writes:

 >Horatio thinks Hamlet is going to heaven.  He doesn't know what he's
 >talking about.  ....  Hamlet is going to the other place, if he's
 >going anywhere.

If he's going anywhere, my vote is for purgatory with Dad.

Peter Bridgman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 16:20:57 +0100
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

John Reed writes:

 >Horatio thinks Hamlet is going to heaven.  He doesn't know what he's
 >talking about.  ....  Hamlet is going to the other place, if he's
 >going anywhere.

If he's going anywhere, my vote is for purgatory with Dad.

Peter Bridgman

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 07 Jun 2004 16:20:38 -0400
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

I wrote:

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

And Pat Dolan replied:

 >This is an intrinsically interesting question, and could be rephrased,
 >productively as, "What notions of the afterlife were current in early
 >modern England?"

Well, no, I am curious about what we might (a little incorrectly) call
demographics, rather than structures of belief.  For example, I imagine
that some learned people in early modern England may have accepted
Lucretius's analysis of ghostly appearances while others may have
believed in ghosts without ever having read a word on the subject.

We often make assumptions about early modern audiences believing in real
ghosts -- Catholic ghosts, Protestant ghosts, Classical ghosts -- you
name it.  But in general how many people were skeptics?  How many
Horatios were there around? Is there any way to tell? Perhaps not.

But that Shakespeare does include the skeptical Horatio to verify the
ghost may suggest that quite a few members of his audience did NOT
believe in ghosts and needed Horatio's authentification.

Bill Godshalk

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 03:14:46 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

Patrick Dolan says:

 >"A few things concern me about the discussion so far:
 >
 >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."

You bring up a point that is useful in understanding some of the belief
systems Shakespeare was able to tap.  Not only were Catholics and
Protestants part of the picture, Humanists took part as well.
Renaissance Humanism as a philosophy also includes a syncretistic
conglomeration of religious beliefs.  Each culture in history was
thought to have contributed to our understanding of God.  So while most
of us have Hamlet down as a Protestant, by all rights his university
training led him down other paths as well.

Hamlet's words to Horatio on the subject of the Ghost:

"There are more things in heaven and on earth,
Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

So in one camp, we have Catholics who probably tend to believe that
Purgatory is a likely source of origin for the ghost, but who are still
looking for clues to indicate if the ghost is an evil spirit/Satanic
apparition; Protestants, who are being told that Purgatory is no longer
valid as a possible resting place for a ghost, and who are also looking
for evidence that the ghost is an evil spirit/Satanic apparition; and in
addition, syncretistic Humanists, who believe that the ghost can act
like he's from Purgatory because

1)      Catholics and Protestants may hold differing views, but both can
partake of the truth; and
2)      The afterlife is not a fixed state, which renders it compatable with
the concept of Purgatory.
3)      Yet it is still important to determine if the ghost might be an evil
spirit/Satanic apparition.

The syncretistic Humanist has "more things in Heaven and on earth" to
deal with than do the Protestant and the Catholic.  His belief system is
inclusive, not exclusive.  Yet determining whether or not the ghost is
evil is central to the theme of the play, regardless of which belief
system Shakespeare appeals to; and I believe he writes to all three at
the very minimum.  If the ghost is evil, Hamlet needs to avoid taking
any oaths of vengance to it; such an action would put him in league with
the Devil and/or his minions, according to each of these three commonly
held belief systems.

On the note of establishing Hamlet's ties with Humanism, we can see his
ringing (yet ironically, the passage is embedded in sarcasm) paraphrase
of Pico della Mirandola's "Oration on the Dignity of Man" in his opening
speech to R&G:

"What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!  how infinite in
faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how
like an angel!  in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world!
the paragon of animals!"

Pico della Mirandola was considered the father of Renaissance Humanism.
  His oration would have been memorized by most University students at
some point in the curriculum.  It was a speech most likely popular
enough to have been regularly declaimed on street corners throughout the
Renaissance, so the allusion and its associations would not have been
lost even on Shakespeare's groundlings.

Here is the first paragraph of the Oration, for comparison to the above:

"I once read that Abdala the Muslim, when asked what was most worthy of
awe and wonder in this theater of the world, answered, "There is nothing
to see more wonderful than man!" Hermes Trismegistus concurs with this
opinion: "A great miracle, Asclepius, is man!" However, when I began to
consider the reasons for these opinions, all these reasons given for the
magnificence of human nature failed to convince me: that man is the
intermediary between creatures, close to the gods, master of all the
lower creatures, with the sharpness of his senses, the acuity of his
reason, and the brilliance of his intelligence the interpreter of
nature, the nodal point between eternity and time, and, as the Persians
say, the intimate bond or marriage song of the world, just a little
lower than angels as David tells us.  I concede these are magnificent
reasons, but they do not seem to go to the heart of the matter, that is,
those reasons which truly claim admiration. For, if these are all the
reasons we can come up with, why should we not admire angels more than
we do ourselves? After thinking a long time, I have figured out why man
is the most fortunate of all creatures and as a result worthy of the
highest admiration and earning his rank on the chain of being, a rank to
be envied not merely by the beasts but by the stars themselves and by
the spiritual natures beyond and above this world. This miracle goes
past faith and wonder. And why not? It is for this reason that man is
rightfully named a magnificent miracle and a wondrous creation."

Della Mirandola goes on (at some length) to exclaim that the greatness
of Man is due to his ability to make choices, laying the foundation of
Renaissance Humanistic thinking--and a theme for Hamlet to consider and
act upon throughout the play.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Jones <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 14:31:18 +0100
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 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
 >
 >From:           Pamela Richards <
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 >
 >
 >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.

Could you cite the relevant records?  Even if we disregard the Catholic
resurgence under Mary I (1553-58), I have not seen direct evidence that
prayers for the dead were no longer permitted in the England of Edward
VI or Elizabeth. It's true that prayers for the dead were removed from
the Burial Service, and that the remit for officers conducting
Visitations sometimes included finding out how many of the parishioners
prayed for the dead; but that rather confirms the view that such prayers
were deplored rather than forbidden outright, and that some - perhaps
many -  parishioners were thought to be continuing the old custom.

As to Article XXII, what it covers is the "Romish" doctrine of
Purgatory, which it associates with "Pardons" and with the medieval
tradition of pilgrimages ("...worshipping and adoration as well of
Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints"). This doctrine is
dismissed as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no
warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God". Perhaps
significantly, it is "fond" (foolish), "vainly" (pointlessly) invented,
and "repugnant" to the word of God. To me, these carefully drafted words
fall short of outright condemnation. In particular, the restriction of
Article XXII to the "Romish doctrine" implies that there may be a
non-Romish doctrine of Purgatory, a doctrine derived from Scripture and
free from the corrupt accretions of the medieval church.

Though belief in Purgatory is often associated with prayers for the
dead, the two are distinct. A prayer for the dead may relate to mercy at
the Last Judgment rather than the easing or abridgement of the pains of
Purgatory:

Purgatory may be seen as a condition subject only to God's grace and not
open to negotiation. Old Hamlet's Ghost asks for no prayers, vividly
though he describes the agonies of his purgation: a medieval Catholic
ghost would want chantries endowed and masses said to reduce the length
of his suffering.

Alan Jones

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 09:58:11 -0400
Subject: 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1205 Hamlet's Ghost

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

One thing I try not to forget is how ordinary belief is, and of course
Auden's insight informs:

http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Paintings&Poems/Auden.html

Most people are not theologians, however they represent themselves, to
themselves or others, as religious, even pious, and even if educated.  I
assert with utter confidence without any evidence that if we
interrogated the very average audience for an Elizabethan Hamlet, we
would find a confusion of beliefs, mostly withheld, but held in a
death-grip nonetheless.  Let's say we interrogated an illiterate person
plucked from that throng who claims they are a law-abiding Protestant,
and I don't think we believe that audience was on average
"intellectual," but without realizing implications claims belief in
Purgatorial visitations, based on common knowledge.  Who here feels
confident to opine on whether they are Catholic or Protestant, and not
just confused? [That they may be tortured or worse, we can't preclude,
since Satan may be afoot.] Perhaps, this smacks of Foucaultian
understanding- that codification is an artificial overlay in the service
of powers.  My thought here that I am having difficulty expressing, is
that Shakespeare, among other things, is exposing the latent
contradictions that exist within & without, that are taken all too
seriously.

 >>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?

That's a different issue- see Santayana's "The Absence of Religion in
Shakespeare."

http://www.math.uwaterloo.ca/~kerrlaws/Santayana/Bulletin/y03/rubin.pdf

 >>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?



The last post had a link that summed up Greenblatt's view from his last
book, "Hamlet in Purgatory."

It was the great Dover Wilson who observed, in his wonderful, "What
Happens in Hamlet," that "in fact he [the Ghost of Hamlet's father] is
the only Catholic in the play." I just read a close reading across two
chapters of the Ghost in Prosser's excellent "Hamlet & Revenge, second
edition."  Though she takes issue with Wilson, and her reading is
compelling, her conclusion is as startling.  I will not cheat you- if
this crux interests you, you will find these chapters in any library.

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