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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Hamlet's Ghost
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1246  Friday, 11 June 2004

[1]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 11:14:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

[2]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 17:59:51 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 13:04:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

[4]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 13:35:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1238 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 20:35:59 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

[6]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 22:09:12 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 11:14:13 -0400
Subject: 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

 >I guess only Jesuits can explain Shakespeare.

Let me say proactively to those who find my last post offensive that
though I was raised not to play with my food, I never outgrew the
temptation.  One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin- whoever said
that warms my heart when I see killer whales play with, but not eat, a
baby seal... Being natural comes naturally to me.

 >Peter Bridgman writes, "As all the Orthodox churches deny the existence
 >of Purgatory, there is unlikely to be a 'non-Romish' doctrine.

The two recent internationally acclaimed scholarly works/authors I have
trusted are:

Jacques Le Goff's "The Birth of Purgatory"

Jean-Claude Schmitt's "Ghosts in the Middle-Ages"

Here is a chapter from Greenblatt's "Hamlet in Purgatory":

http://pup.princeton.edu/chapters/s7024.html

and a review:

http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.cgi?path=204401032241909

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 17:59:51 +0100
Subject: 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1188 Hamlet's Ghost

In the jumble of books by my bedside I noticed that the New English
Bible had resting on it no other than Machiavelli's "The Prince".  I
marvelled at the incongruity of the arrangement but also mused that
Shakespeare must have been heavily influenced by both.  "The Prince"
still shocks even in our own age.  Machiavelli declares himself a
Christian but reports on the methods of successful rulers as far back as
Alexander in order to propagate good government.  He propounds ideas
such as "never keep your word"; the idea of getting someone else to
murder and destroy for you then deny the connection and have that person
punished; subtlest such as 'keep your enemy healthy but not too strong
that they may invade you.'

Machiavelli's main thrust is that, for a ruler, any action is
permissible in order to maintain an orderly state so that the population
can go about its business without fear of chaos.  For him, good
government is the protection of the people and its defence.  On the
other hand bad governments allow themselves to be invaded or at least
preside over chaos and crime.  The shocking thing about Machiavelli is
that his argument is compelling.  It is almost impossible to fault his
logic - even when translated to modern times.  At the root he is saying
that it is impossible to be a good man and a good ruler.

For someone who takes the teachings of Jesus seriously - or who at least
takes his moral cues from that area - and also finds himself in a
position of political power, there is a serious and terrifying dilemma.
  I believe that this dilemma is at the heart of Hamlet the play.

Hamlet's roots are in mediaeval Christianity - Catholicism, if you like.
  Hamlet senior is very much part of that world.  Claudius and Gertrude
are new politicians - part of the new political renaissance, the new
politic real.  Claudius, in killing Hamlet Senior, is restoring order to
Denmark.  This would have got Machiavelli's approval.  Therefore the
ghost is part of medialivalism - those that are part of it see it - the
new politicians do not.  That the audience sees it is not dramatically
significant, but they do see who sees it and who does not.

Therefore there are two distinct realities in Hamlet with vastly
opposing values and perceptions.  Hamlet junior had one foot in each
world viewing everything through Shakespeare's world weary eyes.  No one
can have sympathy for both worlds and remain loyal to one.  Hamlet tried
and failed.

SAM SMALL

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 13:04:43 -0500
Subject: 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

Jack Hettinger <
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 >

 >"The central theme of the book is the Protestant denial of purgatory,
 >which severed the intercessory link between the living and the dead. It
 >would be easy to explain early modern ghost stories as an expression of
 >the trauma created by the disappearance of Purgatory -- that is, a deep
 >anxiety about the fate of the dead, welling up from the Protestant
 >collective unconscious. Marshall, though, is sceptical of such
 >explanations, which he sees as reflecting 'a rather functional view of
 >religious belief-systems, in which purgatory served primarily to channel
 >and resolve social and psychological needs which were capable of finding
 >other outlets, indeed forced to do so.' Instead, he stresses the
 >confusions and contradictions in Protestant theology. How far was it
 >possible to pray for the repose or resurrection of the dead? Would we
 >meet our friends again in heaven? Did ghosts really exist, and, if so,
 >how should they be interpreted? These were questions to which English
 >Protestant writers had no clear or unanimous answers."

Woody Allen once attempted to resolve all this confusion by asserting
his belief that, "When you die, you soul goes to a garage in Buffalo."
I never appreciated what that meant till now.

David Cohen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 13:35:22 -0500
Subject: 15.1238 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1238 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft <
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 >Although free will was a given in Renaissance religious thought,
 >Shakespeare poses several interesting glosses on it. Though David is not
 >a fan of Skinner, his view of _Othello_ is persuasive and chillingly
 >accurate in many respects. Whether it's operant conditioning or
 >something else, Iago does seem to "control" Othello.

Yes but isn't THIS the question, whether it be something else?  My point
was simply that operant conditioning is a trivial concept (any animal
trainer knows all about it).  The important point for Shakespeareans, I
would think, is how easy or difficult it is to do it (condition) and to
maintain its effects.  That latter phrase is awfully important.  For
example, your can, by mighty efforts, say in a Head Start program, get
the IQ of kids up maybe 5 or 7 points, but that gain fades to zero in
time.  (Please don't blame me, I am merely the messenger, and this is an
empirical fact.) So, to understand how conditioning may work not just
initially but long-term, you must understand the biopsychology of the
creature (including human creatures) you are attempting to condition.

Try conditioning a congenitally psychopathic child to behave according
to the rules  The child will learn the rules, no doubt, just as he will
learn the rules of spoken language, but he will not conform to those
rules unless there is the equivalent to a gun pointing at his head.  No
amount of conditioning will do anything but create marionette behavior
that reverts to type as soon as the pressure is off.  The animal
conditioning literature is replete with evidence of the difficulty of
maintaining conditioning that is not consisent with the biopsychology of
the creature, i.e., that is not biologically (psychologically) prepared.
With apologies for the length, I here quote myself from "Stranger in the
Nest"

"The classic scientific investigation of reversion was reported by
psychologists Keller and Marian Breland.   In return for food, hungry
pigs learned to carry wooden coins to a piggy bank.  In time, however,
the animals reverted to their piggy ways, rooting the coins with their
snout rather than depositing them in the bank, even though it delayed
getting food.  Such seeming perversity in hungry animals prompted the
Brelands to comment on what they described as instinctive drift.  'After
14 years of continuous conditioning and observation of thousands of
animals, it is our reluctant conclusion that the behavior of any species
cannot be adequately understood, predicted, or controlled without
knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and
ecological niche.'

Laboratory results fit nicely with naturalistic observations of how
nature limits and channels nurture.  According to ethologist Konrad
Lorenz, a newly hatched Greylag gosling quickly learns to follow the
first object it lays eyes on.  Such instinctive learning, or imprinting,
requires only that exposure to the object occur during a critical period
lasting just a few hours.  Once imprinted, the animal will seek out and
remain close to the object that, in this case, is Lorenz.  Despite the
Greylag's strong attachment to the human, it has an even deeper
preference for goosey ways.  Says the researcher, "While being
completely indifferent to any fellow-member of the species and most
intensely and affectionately attached to its keeper as long as it stays
on the ground or on the water, it will suddenly and surprisingly cease
to respond to the human in any way whatsoever at the moment it takes to
wing in pursuit of another Greylag." Lorenz believes this reversion to
be a complete mental transformation.

Reversion to type, or instinctive drift, represents inborn biases in the
way individuals perceive, learn, remember, and feel about experiences.
This is why preferred habits, even messy, fractious, addictive,
wasteful, self-indulgent, or otherwise harmful habits, resist change and
why, after being suppressed, such habits reappear as if following some
inexorable principle of self-determination.

We can learn to socialize like macaques and to quack like ducks.  In the
end, though, no amount of monkey business will make us macaques; no
amount of quackery will make us ducks.  Children's behavior, even if
incompatible with temperament, can be shaped by parental example and
reinforced by physical and moral suasion; civilized conduct and
educational achievement can be promoted even when learning self-control
and good conduct is as daunting as learning to multiply by seven.

But what does the learned behavior represent: something deep and abiding
or something superficial and evanescent.  As professor Robert Hutchins
once observed, "a student... can learn how to read, but if he does not
read anything thereafter, or if he has no judgment about what he reads,
if the ability to read does nothing to civilize him, we should be hard
put to it to say that any education had taken place."    As it is with a
child's cognitive education, so it is with his emotional education.
Marionette accommodations, often acquired at great psychological cost in
rebellion and unhappiness, have a way of unraveling, as children diverge
from their siblings and from what, over many years, their parents
expected and required.

Truth is, for better or worse individuals learn best in their own way,
assimilating information as they assimilate food, by breaking it down
into elements that are recreated in their own fashion.  It is why, even
when exposed to the same conditions, biologically different people wind
up different, and also why, even when exposed to different conditions,
biologically similar people wind up similar. It is what limits the
influence of parents."
In short, it's not so much what's up front but what's inside that
counts.  The point can be applied to characters like Othello, for the
power of the Iagos of this world depend on the psychology of their
victims.  The locus of explanation cannot simply be the Skinnerian
"outside," a fact upon which the heroic ship of Skinnerianism has foundered.

 >In _Hamlet_, despite a whole lot of thinking on Hamlet's part, an
 >overview of the play suggests that the Ghost, acting as father, simply
 >overpowers Hamlet (just as Polonius does to Ophelia and uncle Norway to
 >Fortinbras). In the end, the older generation uses the younger for its
 >own interests. Hamlet starts as a thinker and a Protestant; he seems to
 >end as a man of action and a Catholic. He begins the play as a scholar
 >and ends acting and thinking like a soldier. In the final moments of the
 >play, he is a walking dead man: that is, he seems to have become the
 >very image of his father at the start of the play.
 >
 >In the end, Shakespeare's point may not be that we lack free will but
 >that the goals and ends of our actions are not predictable (by us). That
 >seems to be a major point in _Julius Caesar_ as well.

I really like this part of your post, though I do believe, nevertheless,
that (1) Hamlet remains an introvert (as Reg Grouse nicely pointed out),
so that you are seeing two sides of the introvert coin, as it were-two
sides of the same person-in the developmental change in Hamlet, and (2)
we can infer lack of free will in Hamlet's behavior.  In any case, you
are quite, much of our behavior is indeed unpredictable though we-our
personality-are rather predictable. Twin, adoption, and other evidence
tells us as much, and rather definitively.

David Cohen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 20:35:59 +0100
Subject: 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

Claude Caspar writes ...

 >Peter Milward's recent demise holds promise that he will keep you
 >informed of his research from Purgatory, where he can interview
 >Shakespeare personally, and even the Ghost...

How very generous of you.  Shortly before his death, Peter kindly sent
me one of his 70s books that is now out of print.  I didn't get a chance
to thank him before he died.

 >Whilst you imply that you are more qualified to make final judgments
 >in this regard because you are Catholic ...

I'm an atheist if you must know.  And hope that is completely irrelevant
to this thread.

 >Certainly, you are not
 >saying Greenblatt's work is part of a Jewish, or Satanic, conspiracy....
 >Certainly, you are not saying that, but from a deconstructionist reading
 >what is unsaid is most important, I observe.

All I've read of Greenblatt is the excellent essays in the Norton
Shakespeare.  Having said that, I'm looking forward to reading his
'Hamlet in Purgatory', since it clearly addresses many of the issues
we've been discussing in this thread.  I'm not sure what you're
insinuating here.  If Greenblatt is Jewish or Satanist, Scientologist or
Wiccan, I couldn't give a toss.  He's a good writer.

You claimed the Ghost was the only Catholic in the play.  When I listed
passages where other characters spoke or acted like Catholics, your only
response was to say that the great Dover Wilson had made the claim, ergo
I (and the other posters who disagreed with you) must be wrong.

Shakespeare's Catholicism was not a subject that was taken seriously in
the past.  In Britain it was simply assumed that the National Poet
should be of the National Faith.  Even Catholic writers like Anthony
Burgess took this as a given.  Whether Shakespeare was a Church Papist
(as Gary Taylor claims) or a recusant (Peter Milward et al), one hopes
his religion (along with his homosexuality) can now be discussed without
people getting huffy and pompous.  Or seeing anti-semitism where none
exists.

Peter Bridgman

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Jun 2004 22:09:12 +0100
Subject: 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1237 Hamlet's Ghost

Bill Arnold writes:

 >Surely we all know, or should know, that Dante wrote his *La
 >Commedia* with its *Purgatorio* as part before his death in 1321.  Thus,
 >Will S. who knew his Plutarch surely knew his Dante, and these
 >references in *Hamlet* might be literary allusions as much as they are
 >religious allusions.

In 'The Stripping of the Altars' (pp 343-344) Eamon Duffy compares
Dante's description of Purgatory with descriptions from England in the
late Middle Ages.  While Dante's Purgatory is a "place of hope and a
means of ascent towards Heaven" in which "the devils are barred by
protecting angels", the English version of Purgatory was "altogether
grimmer", "an out-patient department of Hell, rather than the
antechamber of Heaven".

While WS may well have read Dante, his desciption of a Purgatory in
which sinners are "confined to fast" in "sulphurous and tormenting
flames", seems much closer to the English tradition.

Peter Bridgman

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