Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Ghost III

So back to Hamlet and the Ghost... Does Hamlet lose his soul when he promises the Ghost to revenge his father's death and is the devastating end of that play proof of that? Does Hamlet's indecision come from his weighing revenge against "remember me," as one theory has it? That is, does killing someone ultimately become a difficult way for Hamlet to remember his father?

Turns out that in the English Reformation, the Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory was officially banished in 1563. Hamlet the play may have been messing with that censorship by indirectly depicting Purgatory, which was no longer allowed. There are a bunch of allusions to it: "doomed for a certain time"; "purged and burnt away"; "yes, by St. Patrick" (St. Patrick is the keeper of Purgatory); "hic et ubique" ( "Hamlet's strange 'hic et ubique' to the ghost may be taken from a prayer to be performed in a churchyard that relieves the one praying from as many years of Purgatory as there are bodies buried in the yard -- 'Avete, omnes animae fideles, quarum corpora hic et ubique requiescunt in pulvere' – Hail all faithful souls, whose bodies here and everywhere do rest in the dust.")

So, to put the play in its contemporary context, the Protestants put an end to the practices and beliefs associated with Purgatory, which had everyone concerned about the fate of their souls and those of their ancestors. Purgatory was all about remembrance and communion with the dead so that when the Ghost says "remember me," he may have been asking to have his burden lifted through prayer by the living.

Now, to say that the Ghost's primary directive is "remember me" and that revenge is secondary, as some scholarship out there would have it (like Stephen Greenblatt in Hamlet in Purgatory), is stretching it... a lot, especially if you're looking at the First Quarto. The Ghost's whole rant is essentially, "Here's what the bastard did to me; you'd be a wimp if you didn't 'sweep to my revenge'; oh but don't get carried away and off your mother -- leave revenge on her to heaven." But it is interesting to consider how revenge and remembrance can be reconciled in a culture where there was a widespread fear among the living of being forgotten after death and the one way of dealing with that was just made illegal. So, that young Hamlet may be indecisive about praying versus killing is not a bad theory, especially when you also think about other scenes; like, what stops him from killing Claudius when he has the chance.


Holy shit... you'll never believe this. I SWEAR it's true: We've been having trouble with mice in our building. We've been trying to catch them live and set them free, with not so much success (meaning they bred faster than we could catch them). So tonight we reluctantly set our first death trap. I was just about to post this and go to bed when WHAM the mousetrap springs. I can't look... hey, Nick...!!!

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