Shakespeare on Ghosts

Since Halloween is right around the corner, and since this is a huge topic in Shakespeare, I would like to talk a little bit about Shakespeare’s treatment of the living impaired, specters, spirits, in a word GHOSTS.

Ghosts appear in five Shakespearean plays: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Richard the Third, Macbeth and Cymbeline. In all but one of these plays, and in many other Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas, a ghost is a murdered person who needs someone to avenge their deaths. Their function is to warn the hero of the play to revenge their deaths, and/ or to torment their murderers.

Ghosts have been part of western drama almost as long as there have been ghost stories. After all, the Greek and Roman plays that Shakespeare emulated often mention ghosts as warnings from above and below the world is in some kind of chaos. Most of the time, the kind of play in which you see a ghost is a Revenge Tragedy, plays like The Spanish Tragedy, Locrine, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and even the Disney movie of The Lion King.


The most potent example of a Shakespearean ghost is definitely  the ghost of Hamlet’s  father. I actually played this role and, rumor has it, so did Shakespeare himself! Hamlet’s father appears as a ghost two months after his death, and soon after his brother Claudius marries his widow Gertrude. The ghost’s purpose in the play is to get his son’s attention so that he can correct the terrible regicide that Claudius committed, allowing the Ghost to Rest In Peace.

Shakespeare describes the ghost as a pale, sorrowful figure, dressed in full armor. The ghost only speaks to his son in the play, and he begins with a strange and terrifying description of the afterlife:

Ghost: I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part,

And each particular hair to stand on end

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood Hamlet Act I, Scene v.

Many scholars believe that the tormenting realm of fire that the ghost describes is actually Purgatory, an old Catholic concept that explains where the souls of the dead go if they are neither evil enough for Hell, or good enough for Heaven. It’s also the place where people go who didn’t confess their sins before death, which was the ghost’s fate since Claudius poisoned him while sleeping.

Though neither Hamlet nor his father explicitly say it, there is a strong implication that Hamlet must avenge his father by killing Claudius, which will presumably release the Ghost from Purgatory allowing it to ascend to Heaven.

Some suggest that the ghost is a manifestation of Hamlet’s superego:

Ernest Jones in his book Hamlet And Oedipusbelieved Hamlet had an unresolved Oedipus complex and couldn’t bring himself to revenge because Claudius had achieved the very goals Hamlet himself secretly desires to kill his father and marry his mother

Faced with his guilt and lack of moral integrity Hamlet could have created a supernatural superego to spur him to revenge. As Freud describes it, the superego

The superego is the ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates. The superego’s criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form a person’s conscience, and its positive aspirations and ideals represent one’s idealized self-image, or “ego ideal.”

In essence, since (in Jones’ view), Hamlet is too morally corrupt to be an effective avenger for his father, Hamlet imagines the ghost to help justify his revenge to himself. This is of course, only one way of interpreting the ghost and Hamlet as a whole. There is no right or wrong interpretation for any of Shakespeare’s characters, but it is a testament to Shakespeare’s genius that, 400 years after his own death, his ghostly writings helped inspire one the architects of modern psychology.

Ghosts Of Torment

The ghost of Banquo in Macbeth and the ghosts that plague Richard the Third the night before his battle help quicken the murderous kings’ his downward spiral. Macbeth becomes more and more paranoid, and therefore easier for his foes to defeat.

When Julius Caesar’s Ghost appears to Brutus, he does so the night before his final battle- the battle of Philippi, where Brutus was defeated and committed suicide.

When Richard III sees the ghosts of all the people he murdered, it not only terrifies him, it splits his soul in half! According to Sir Thomas More, Richard couldn’t sleep the night before his final battle at Bosworth Field. Shakespeare gives Richard a strange soliloquy where the ghosts awaken his conscience and awaken him from a fearful dream:

[The Ghosts vanish]

[KING RICHARD III starts out of his dream]

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester). Give me another horse: bind up my wounds.

Have mercy, Jesu!—Soft! I did but dream.

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!

The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.

Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.

What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by:

Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.


Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:

Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:

Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?

Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good

That I myself have done unto myself?

O, no! alas, I rather hate myself

For hateful deeds committed by myself!

I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.

Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,

And every tale condemns me for a villain.

Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree

Murder, stem murder, in the direst degree;

I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;

And if I die, no soul shall pity me:

Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself

Find in myself no pity to myself? Richard III, Act V, Scene iii.

In these plays, the ghosts are a form of spectral punishment; the punishment of a guilty Conscience.

Shakespearean Friendly Ghosts

The only friendly Shakespearean ghosts appear in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline and these ghosts are the ghosts of posthumous’ ancestors. They appear before the God Jupiter to plead for their descendant. Posthumous Leonidas. They beg Jupiter, the most powerful Roman god to end Posthumous’ suffering.

Like the witches in Macbeth, ghosts in Shakespeare are mysterious and sometimes frightened- the are sort of a mirror for how we see ourselves, our lives, and our hopes to be remembered after death; the final words Hamlet’s father utters before disappearing into the morning mist are: “Adieu, adieu, remember me.”

https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/ghosts-in-shakespeare

https://www.bard.org/study-guides/ghosts-witches-and-shakespeare

Animated Richard III, 20:00 the ghosts appear:

References:

Greenblatt, Steven Hamlet In Purgatory 2001. Princeton University Press. Link: file:///Users/jrycik/Downloads/Hamlet-in-Purgatory-Princeton-Classics.pdf

Jones, Earnest, Hamlet and Oedipus. 

https://people.ucsc.edu/~vktonay/migrated/psyc179d/HamletOedipus.pdf 

Open Source Shakespeare, Cymbeline: 

https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=cymbeline&Act=5&Scene=4&Scope=scene&LineHighlight=3243#3243

http://www.markedbyteachers.com/gcse/english/which-version-of-the-hamlet-ghost-scene-act-1-scene-5-was-the-most-effective-and-why.html

Pearlman, E. Hamlet: Critical Essays: The Invention Of the Ghost. https://books.google.com/books?id=jdfWAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71&dq=ghost+that+shrieked+hamlet+revenge&source=bl&ots=KY68gIrh2V&sig=MjEr2NxLQ7T4c2xW1QscrmdeMkc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiR5o6M4I_XAhUK0oMKHQIJBeAQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=ghost%20that%20shrieked%20hamlet%20revenge&f=false

https://www.shmoop.com/hamlet/ghost.html

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/456606.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A3f62aed88fb9e9b9a8f8e462186ff95c

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How to Throw Your  Own  12th Night Party  

 Part One: The Invitation:

Tradition says the 12th night does not actually start until nightfall on January 5th; it’s the celebration of the night when the wise men finally got to Bethlehem, so make sure you you’re clear on that in the invitation. If you need help on designing clever 12th night invitations, view my previous post on creating Valentine’s Day cards!

Part TwoThe Feast

Traditionally celebrated with, (as Sir Toby puts it), “cakes and ale,” there’s a lovely recipe for a 12 night cake below.

 Picture/ recipe is available here: Jane Austin.com: Twelfth Night cake

A Twelfth Night cake is basically a fruitcake stuffed  with spices and dried fruit, that symbolizes of the three kings that came from the orient to Bethlehem all those years ago. One game you can play with your guests is putting a bean in the center of the cake. Tradition holds that whoever  finds the bean has good luck for the coming year.

The alternative version favored in France and Switzerland, is made of puff pastry, egg, and rum. Here’s a recipe I found on food.com: Swiss Twelfth night cake

Music

Singing is a big part of 12th night as evidenced in this scene where sir Toby, Mariah and Sir Andrew start singing songs: Act II Scene III

I have taken the liberty of putting down all the songs from 12th night and some YouTube clips of my favorite renditions.

Hold Thy Peace, Thou Knave (Shakespeare Songbook)

O Mistress Mine (2011)

Come Away Death(2014 Shakepeare in the Park Soundtrack

Hey Robin, Jolly Robin ( Shakespeare Birthplace)

I Am Gone Sir (Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2011)

The Wind and Rain (Alabama Shakespeare Festival)
 
Games
As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts one big part of the Christmas season was appointing a lord of misrule, and ancient tradition that goes back even before Christian times. In the play 12th night Feste basically serves as Lord Of Misrule; he presides over all the games and songs in the house, and he helps Sir Toby baffle   Malvolio. In real life a Lord of Misrule presided over each Twelfth Night celebration, choosing which games and dances everyone would engage in.

 Most early Twelfth Night celebrations included a masked ball. In the 18th century, merrymakers  engaged in a sort of role playing game, where they drew a character based on a popular archetype like the soldier Charles Cuttemdown or Beatrice Bouquet, and had to act like that character the rest of the night. Finally, a holiday that encourages you to LARP!

Wassail
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As I mentioned in my previous post wassail was the quintessential winter beverage and 12 night was not an exception. In this post you can see some photos of me actually making wassail myself in accordance with a trip up recipe I found on the food from the food network’s Alton Brown.

Alton Brown Wassail recipe 


I didn’t have Madeira wine so I substituted port, but otherwise I used all the ingredients he mentioned in the recipe.


Like I said in the previous post, Wassail is derived from an old word meaning “lamb’s wool,” and you can see why when you see the frothy mixture on top.


I served this wassail to my in laws on Christmas night, and the only complaint I got was that the weather was a little too hot to enjoy it. I can personally attest that wassail warms you right down to your toes, which is great if you’ve been out caroling in 17th century England, but indoors during the hottest Christmas on record, it was a little uncomfortable- I was already wearing shorts and I was still too hot. My advice is- if you get a white Christmas, enjoy your wassail, but if it’s 60 degrees outside, stick to ale or Madeira, or some other kind of spicy spirit that you can serve
Well, that’s my advice, happy Twelfth Night everyone!
Sources:

Brownie Locks.com- History of Twelfth Night 

Catholic Encyclopedia: Feast of Fools
Jane Austin.com: Twelfth Night Celebrations
Lost Past Remembered: Twelfth night

Why Christmas.com: the Twelve Days of Christmastime

Christmas For Shakespeare Part III: Performing for Queen Elizabeth 

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! Today I will be talking about how Shakepeare’s two royal patrons, Queen Elizabeth I and James I celebrated this holiday!

We have surviving records that prove Shakespeare and his troupe performed at Christmas during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I. The buildings still exist so we can imagine what Shakespeare’s performancesal at court might have looked like. What follows is a bit of historical detective work, with a nice holiday flavor to boot.

How did Good Queen Bess celebrate Christmas?

Like her predecessor Henry VIII, Her Majesty Elizabeth  accepted presents from the nobles on New Year’s Day instead of Christmas morning. From all over the kingdom, people would bring the best and most extravagant presents to the queen, hoping to gain her favor at court. Take a look at this true case of what her favorite courtier, Robert Dudley gave the queen for Christmas in 1588:

Dudley gives Queen Elizabeth a wristwatch
Unlike her dad however, Elizabethan Christmas was a more elaborate affair than a week of sitting and feasting. Yes, Gloriana had elaborate feasts, but she preferred to impress her nobles and visiting dignitaries with dances, jousts, and plays. She was an accomplished dancer and poet, and she loved court masques.

  A masque is sort of like a combination masked ball and performance art piece. The nobles would put on costumes and masks and enact a historical or mythological event, like “the Golden Age Restored,” a masque Ben Johnson wrote for Twelfth Night in 1616. The intent was to flatter the queen and her court, as well as having a good time. Of course, Liz still made time on the dance floor for Shakepeare’s company!

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How the plays were performed:

The plays would be in a large empty hall like the banquet hall or dance hall. Probably the tables would be removed from the feasting, then the dancing would begin. At around 10PM, the actors would take their places. There might be a makeshift tiring house, which was mainly just a curtain that the actors could hide behind to wait for their entrances.
The queen or King would be sitting on a throne on a raised platform so that she or he could be clearly seen by the actors and the audience.
Which plays did They Perform? 

In 1594 The Lord Chamberlain’s Men played before the Queen at Greenwich Palace. Alas, we don’t know which plays they performed this time. What follows is a list of the plays we do know Shakepeare’s company played at Christmas.
 

Whitehall Palace by Dankerts, 1675.
 
Love’s Labors Lost– 1597 at Whitehall palace. This time we know which play they performed before the Queen, because it’s listed right on the title page. I suspect that printing where the play was performed was designed to fire the imagination of the people who bought it. If you couldn’t be at court to see Shakespeare’s play, you could at least read his words and imagine you were there.

James I invited Shakepeare’s company to perform at Hampton Court many times. Below is an account of the plays for the Christmas holiday in 1603. Notice that Shakepeare’s name is spelled “Shaxberd.”

   

Here’s a list of some more plays we know Shakepeare’ performed at Christmas:

  1. Midsummer Nights Dream-  1603 on New Years Day, Hampton Court.
  2. Measure for Measure on Boxing Day 1603, Hampton Court.
  3. King Lear on Boxing Day 1606.
  4. Twelfth Night- Candlemas (Feb 2nd 1602).
  5. Twelfth Night 1618 and 1619 (location unknown).

 Below is an episode of the incredible documentary “In Search of Shakepeare.” The first twelve minutes show what Christmas might have been like at Hampton Court in 1603, the first year of King James’ reign.

In Search of Shakespeare: For All Time 

James loved plays and masques even more than Liz, which is why he employed one of the greatest scenic artists of all time, Inigo Jones, to come up with extravagant stage designs and costumes for plays and masques. James’ Queen Anne Of Denmark performed in quite a few masques herself. James also treated the Christmas season  as a time of charity, which might have inspired some of the lines in King Lear, which was performed ‘on the feast of Steven’ 1606:

“Poor naked wretches… who soer you are. I have taken too little care of this.” -King Lear, Act III, scene I (The Storm Scene).

We can recall the contrast between King Lear and Good King Wenceslas. In the scene I quoted earlier, Lear laments that he hasn’t been more charitable to the poor, now that he himself feels cold and homeless.

The Christmas season would carry on until oh January 6, aka Twelfth Night. This was the day when, according to Christian tradition, the Three Wise Men finally got to Bethlehem and delivered their presents. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night is all about celebrations of feasting, fools and clowns, and of course, epiphanies. Over the next few days I will delve into the traditions of Twelfth night, and teach you how to make your own Twelfth Night feast!
Happy holidays!

The Shakepearean Student

 

Sources: http://www.unofficialroyalty.com/columnists/the-laird-othistle/will-shakespeare-at-christmas-court/

http://home.hiwaay.net/~paul/shakespeare/revels/revelsacct1.html

http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/christmas/jacobean.shtml

http://www.shakespeare-online.com/theatre/theroyalpalaces.html

 

http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/m/lifetimes/society/court%20life/festivals.html

FMI look at “The Christmas Revels”

Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo and Juliet

While I work on this week’s posts, enjoy this wonderful documentary from the series Shakespeare Uncovered, about the great Shakespeare play, hosted by Joseph Fiennes, who played Romeo and Shakespeare in the film “Shakespeare In Love.” It talks about where the play comes from, and examines why this 400 year old love story endures. For you teachers, I’ve also included a great series of lesson plans that accompany the video

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/shakespeare-uncovered/uncategorized/romeo-juliet-joseph-fiennes-full-episode/

Fun Posts about Friar Lawrence from our Friends at “Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth.”

I love it every time I come across some Shakespearean humor. One of the ideas I keep coming back to in “Romeo and Juliet,” is how close the play comes to being a comedy- it has two lovers, a funny nurse, a wisecracking friend, if people didn’t die it could be a sitcom. Even more ridiculous is the clichéd comic device of having people fake their own deaths, which Shakespeare does again in his comedy Much Ado About Nothing. So here is a humorous take on the old friar, and his go-to advice:

Web comic strip from “Zounds, Alack and By My Troth,” Used with permission.

https://zoundsalackandbymytroth.wordpress.com/comic/friar/