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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: December ::
Shadowplay
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1993  Friday, 2 December 2005

[1] 	From: 	Debra Murphy <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 1 Dec 2005 13:54:34 -0800
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1987 Shadowplay

[2] 	From: 	Bill Arnold <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 1 Dec 2005 16:18:29 -0800 (PST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1987 Shadowplay


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Debra Murphy <
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Date: 		Thursday, 1 Dec 2005 13:54:34 -0800
Subject: 16.1987 Shadowplay
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1987 Shadowplay

I have to agree that the more I see/read Hamlet, the more I think the 
whole thing gets down to whether the Ghost is a Purgatorial spirit (one 
of two possible Catholic views), or a "goblin damned", the only possible 
Protestant interpretation, as I understand these things.  (In Catholic 
terms, the Ghost could *also* be a "goblin damned", which only adds to 
the many layers of possibilities.)

As with so much of Shakespeare, I think you can make a good case in 
either direction.

An "activist" Catholic approach would be to see the Ghost is a 
Purgatorial spirit demanding revenge in the sense of "avenging" his own 
murder and setting right the tottering state of Denmark.  (One 
nonetheless suspects that one of the sins King Hamlet's being punished 
for is anger!)  But if that's the case, then you almost have to see 
killing Claudius as young Hamlet's princely duty; to protect the state 
from evil if nothing else...which would certainly have implications, as 
Asquith suggests, for the problem Catholics faced in squaring violence 
against an oppressive regime with their consciences.  Sort of a "just 
war" theory issue, and one that continues to be debated to this day.

If you go with the Ghost-as-purgatorial-spirit view, in any Catholic 
sense, then it seems to me that one has to see what follows in the play 
as the result of young Hamlet's failure to take up arms at the proper 
time; to take down Claudius when he really had the chance-while Claudius 
was praying. His hesitation, of course, was also out of his own (and 
rather horrible, as Johnson pointed out) revenge motive-to see Claudius 
in hell.  This is hardly a good motive by any Christian standard.  The 
upshot is disaster:  the death of Polonius, Ophelia's subsequent 
madness, and the all-round bloodbath in Act v, capped off by Fortinbras' 
ascendancy.  The only upside to this mess, presumably, is Hamlet's 
growth in wisdom and "readiness".

Of course, an Elizabethan Catholic, especially one counseling patience 
and opposed to the use of force, could also take the view that the Ghost 
is a devil; but if you assume a Protestant interpretation, then it seems 
to me that the Ghost can *only* be seen as an evil spirit, out to 
provoke as much mischief as he can.  In which case, if you go by the 
argument that "ye shall know them by their fruits", then you would 
expect precisely the sort of disaster that actually unfolds in the play.

In Protestant and Catholic terms, it's a helluva Problem Play, whichever 
way you slice it.

Debra Murphy

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bill Arnold <
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Date: 		Thursday, 1 Dec 2005 16:18:29 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 16.1987 Shadowplay
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1987 Shadowplay

Jim Blackie writes, "Bravo, Bill Arnold!  And also in Hamlet- what are 
we to make of the references to purgatory?  If Shakespeare's is strictly 
a Protestant view, there IS no such place,  therefore the "ghost" would 
have to have been a demon from hell, no?"

Indeed, to praise me is acceptable but to misuse me is not.  What do I 
mean?  Well, my point was that pervasive in English literature was 
Catholicism prior to the Shakespearean Age.  And English literature, 
surely, knew of Dante's masterpiece: The Divine Comedy, agreed?  So, 
every Protestant knew of the concept of Purgatory.  Not everyone is a 
strict fundamentalist in applying their knowledge to what they read or 
view and know.  I do not believe that the Shakespearean audience thought 
just because the voice of the Spirit of Hamlet's father came from below 
the stage that ipso facto the Spirit was necessarily bad nor that it 
emanated from Purgatory.  More like, in the Dantean sense, that the 
Spirit was in Limbo!  Limbo is neither in Hell nor in Purgatory. 
After-all, Purgatory was a creation in all its detail of Dante, was it 
not?  At least in so far as it affected literature after its emergence 
upon the scene.  It follows, that *all* knowledge of the Purgatory 
Concept was influenced by the *details* of Dante's Purgatorio, agreed? 
Does that make Purgatorio a religious concept or a literary concept, if 
you follow my argument?  In any event, Purgatorio was a mountainous 
terrain, as a I recall and not to be confused with Hell or The Inferno 
of Dante.  By the way, if I err in all this, I will stand corrected, as 
I have not taught Dante in eons.  But my point is that if apples are 
religion and oranges are literature, they are not to be easily confused 
as they often are by students of both, and, yes, scholars, as well.

Bill Arnold

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