"The Time Is Out of Joint"
Insofar as An excellent Difcourfe of the Nature and Subftance of Devils and Spirits did not appear until 1665, (1), the time does seem out of joint for any consideration in a Hamlet study. Yet the material appears so relevant that an effort should be undertaken to determine whether the content was current when Shakespeare wrote the play. The excerpts outlined in the previous chapter concerning Astral spirits are in question, and evidence must be derived from a comparative analysis with the primary sources used in this study, as well as textual evidence in Shakespeare generally and Hamlet specifically.
The O.E.D.'s primary definition of Astral reads, "of, connected with, or proceeding from the stars; consisting of stars, starry." Astral spirits are defined as, "those formally supposed to live in heavenly bodies, variously represented as fallen angels, souls of dead men, or spirits originating in fire."
The anonymous author of the second book of Scot's Appendix uses "astral" synonymously with "daemons," and the O'E'D. associates them with having a fiery origin. The Appendix states, "they are of the sources of the stars," and "are of the Elemental quality, subject to a beginning and ending, and to degrees of continuance..." (Chapter II, p, 495). Astral spirits then are identified with one of the four elements, fire, (2), and the classification appears to correlate with the sources I have examined in the last chapter.
James for example asserts that at the fall of Lucifer,
...fome Spirites fell in the aire, fome in the fire,
fome in the water, fome in the lande: in which
Elementes they ftill remaine...
He qualifies, however, writing that this a common deception insofar as ",,.when anie of them are not occupied in that, [working as God's hangmen] returne they muft to their prifon in hel..." (I,VI, 20-21),. Chapter III of the Appendix correlates:
...it being as difficult for any spirit to manifest
itself in this outward principle, of the four Elements,
as for a man to continue with his head under water...
In Daemonologie, Book III, James identifies another similarity to the Appendix:
...Lucifer is but by allegorie taken from the day
starre (3)'':...becaufe of his excellence (I meane the
Prince of them) in his creation before his fall...
In other words, Astral implies both an affinity and antithesis of God. (4) The Appendix agrees:
Now to proceed in the description of these InfernaL
Spirits and separated Daemons, or Astral Beings, as
also of those in the Angelic Kingdom; they that per-
tain to the Kingdom of Heaven, are either Angels
which are divided into their degrees and Orders;
or else the righteous souls departed, who are entred
These operate at God's bidding only to serve man, chiefly by protecting him from wicked spirits, Thus Lucifer may be classified as an Astral spirit insofar as substance was not changed after the fall, as Milton describes when in Book IV of Paradise Lost, his satan now hates the light that reminds him all too well of what he once had with God. Despite the moral fall, however, he does not lose in intelligence. James also notes that spirits can, "...rayfe stormes and tempeftes in the aire, either vpon siea or land..." (I,V,46), In the Appendix Astral spirits, "...have power sometimes to make great commotions in the Air, and in the Clowds..." (II,I,495), a belief Shakespeare acknowledges in Macbeth.
Lavater devotes considerable attention to the belief that spirits can and do frequent houses, and some Astral spirits "...are familiar in Houses, and do frequently converse with, and appear unto mortals." (II,I,495). Further, Lavater's contention that evil spirits occupy mines finds its echo in the Appendix: "...they occupy various places of this world; as Mines, and hid Treasures...," (II,I,495). We have discussed this when explicating the cellerage scene.
Evidence has been presented to warrant the hypothesis that Astral spirits ia a generic term used to describe supernatural manifestations, (5) known to James and Lavater and therefore probably known to Shakespeare, but however convincing these parallels may be, unless evidence is found within the canon, the hypothesis remains tentative . The following examples present the correspondence:
...from the Appendix:
Astral spirits are capable of being conjured and as possibly
"...part of the faln Angels..[.and are]...subject to the torments
...and in Shakespeare
II Henry VI:
Wizards know their times.
Deep by night, dark night, the silent of the night,
The time when screech owls cry, and ban-dogs
And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves.,
Then the spirit riseth
Descend to darkness and the burning lake!
False fiend, avoid.
...from the Appendix:
Astral spirits are said to "...meet in mighty 'Troops, and wage warr
with one other..."
...and in Shakespeare:
Oh, now doth Death line his dead chaps with steel
The swords of soldiers are his teeth, his fangs,
And how he feasts, mousing the flesh of men
In undetermined differences of Kings.
Why stand these royal fronts amazed thus?
Cry "Havoc" Kings. Back to the stained field,
You equal potents, fiery kindled spirits!
Then let confusion of one part confirm
The other's peace. Till then, blows, blood, and
Denotatively, of course "fiery kindled spirits" refer to John and Philip, but the extended personification of death in the present and future casts a supernatural aura, implying Renaissance fondness for macrocosmic-microcosmic correspondences. This view is directly confirmed later in the play by the Bastard:
Now, by my life, this day grows wondrous
Some Airy devil hovers in the sky
And pours down mischief.
This correspondence between Astral spirits and one of the elements has been demonstrated.:
...from the Appendix:
Astral spirits often "...deceive and delude the observers
of Apparitions, who take such for portents of great
alterations, which are nothing but the sports and pastime of these
...and from Shakespeare:
(Following the apparitions' appearance, the protagonist tells Lennox:) (6)
Infected be the air whereon they rid,
And damned all those that trust them,
(Later, Macbeth tells Macduff:)
And be these juggling fiends no more believed
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.
...from the Appendix:
The Astral spirits "...are capable of hunger,
grief, passion, and vexation...and when they
are worn out, they return into their proper essence
or primary quality again..." (7)
...and from Shakespeare:
Measure for Measure;
Aye, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world, or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless, and uncertain thought
Imagine howling---'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.
The correspondence between this and the Appendix is almost exact, as a reading of Chapter II confirms. Further, the comparisons demonstrate Shakespeare's awareness of the Astral spirit phenomena in fact, if not in name. In the plays cited, spiritual beings:
1. are capable of being conjured, but must return to their original elements.
2. promote conflict , abetting macrocosmic / microcosmic turmoil,
3. deceive those who would command them, and
4. are capable of emotional imbalances suggesting, for example, the passionate
rages of the love melancholic,
The final proof must come from Hamlet. An initial generalization from the Appendix not only correlates Astral spirits with ghosts, but also define Hamlet's ghost's alleged purpose:
The variety of Examples...may serve as stronge
inducements to confirm this particular of Astral
Spirits, or Ghosts that belong unto mortal men,
returning after death untill the cause of their
returning be taken away.
In this case, King Hamlet's ghost allegedly returns and must do so until the act of revenge is complete.
Horatio addresses the ghost and asks if it,
...hast uphoarded in the life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which they say your spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it, stay and speak.
Among the "they" may be included the Appendix's author who, writing of Astral spirits, notes that they frequent mines and treasures. (II,i,495). Horatio's knowledge of Astral spirits is apparently sophisticated enough for him to pose the question, although when taken in context with his other two is more guesswork than certitude.
The ghost's emotional description of its own plight is self-defining.
I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to stalk 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,
Perhaps the implication may not be Purgatorial as critics believe, but rather certain term" may refer to an astral spirit's behavior:, "...when they are worn out, they return into their proper essence or primary quality again.... (II,i,495), which in this case would be the element fire. Fire imagery predominates in the ghost's language:
...to subph'rous and tormenting flames,.
...to fast in fires...
...burnt and purged away
Make thy two eyes like stars,..
But this eternal blazon must not be,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,.
The glow-worm shows the matin to be near
And gins to pale his uneffectual fire.
The Arden edition notes that "eternal blazon" means "depiction of the world beyond," (8), which is taken to mean Purgatory, hell or in this case the element fire, The confusion is one of duration and finds expression in Romeo and Juliet, for instance, when Romeo speaks of banishment, he cries...
There is no world without Verona walls,
But Purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence banished is banished from the world,
And world's exile is death. Then "banished"
Is death mistermed.
Beyond Verona is death of some kind, and Shakespeare articulates what must have been a popular confusion. Read as metaphors, hell and purgatory are identical which, according to Aquinas, is the case at least in terms of the pain inflicted. Read sequentially, however, purgatory is the least agonizing either in terms of time or pain. Probably Romeo means the former, and in Hamlet the ambiguity, a reflection of the Renaissance Protestant/Catholic dispute over the legitimacy of Purgatory (We might recall Hamlet's university and what happened there: Hamlet himself puns on the consequence) may be resolved if the fire imagery used so frequently by the ghost be in reference to the element fire, where Astral spirits are confined, "...until the Consummation..." (II,II,495),
Certainly Shakespeare at the zenith of his career did not use language carelessly. The repeated references to fire throughout the ghost's dialogue confirm an Astral nature, Image patterns in Hamlet have thus the serious dramatic function of helping to identify the ghost's nature.
Other Appendix references provide additional documentation. Astral spirits of departed men behave in a fashion not unlike the ghost:
Others are the Astral Spirits of men departed, which
(if the party deceased was disturbed and troubled at
his decease,) do so for many years, continue in the
source of this world...to the great disquietness of
the soul of the person to whom they belong: Besides
the causes are various that such Spirits rest not...
When the person hath been murthered; So that the Spirit
can never be at rest, till the crime be discovered.
When desires and lusts, after Wife, or Children, House,
Lands, or Money, is very strong at their departure;
it is a certain truth, that this same spirit belonging
to the starrs will be hankering after these things, and
drawn back by the desires and fixations of the Imagination,
which is left behind it: Mor can it ever be at rest, till
the thing be accomplished, for which it is disturbed.
There can be little doubt that King Hamlet was disturbed at death. We are told that he died without benefit of the sacraments, that Gertrude had been unfaithful, and that he sorely missed being king. His Astral presence on earth thus suggests an intense hatred, demanding revenge and further accounting for the obscene language used to describe Claudius and Gertrude.
The ghost's dialogue is in effect a superb dramatic monologue, wherein is revealed the deepest cravings and yearnings. With absolute irony, the grotesque scene reveals the very lust for Gertrude that he condemns in Claudius, and the "lands" of course is Denmark, The motive power is an imagination corrupted by an outraged ego. Such behavior correlates with Astral spirits, What must be accomplished, given the moral tone, is private revenge on Hamlet's part as he is the only means available to the ghost.
These investigations cast derious doubt on the identity of the ghost as a departed saved' soul. Chapter II of the Appendix refutes such on the belief that a saved soul wards off dangers, and reveals heavenly secrets:
...if a Holy Soul in its returning and apparition is
farr different; if a Holy Soul appear, it is, to persons
like it self, and that in sleep, warning them of dangers,
and discovering heavenly secrets unto them: And if a
damned Soul appear, it is likewise to such as are of a
nature like it self; whom it instigates, asleep, teaching
them notorious Villanies in Dreams; and provoking them
to every wicked cogitation.
If a holy soul's intent is to appear to one like itself, then Hamlet at the time of the visit probably qualifies, but heavenly secrets are certainly not revealed by an evil ghost, and Hamlet is too emotionally charged to listen to Horatio. Conversely, if the soul be damned, the Appendix intimates that the apparition senses an affinity between itself and the subject and comes in dreams to provoke evil.
Two responses are possible, each not flattering to the ghost, Taken literally, the ghost does not appear to Hamlet in dreams-although the Prince has bad ones, nor is Hamlet, at least in the beginning evil. Thus, the ghost is disqualified as a good departed soul. However, from a dramatic perspective, a likely hypothesis is that Shakespeare modified the damned soul concept insofar as the ghost reinforces Hamlet's diseased wit, corrupted imagination, and love melancholy, qualities which make him flawed but not evil. Either way, the case for benevolence fails.
Given Shakespeare's mastery of his dramatic sources and his willingness to change what suited him, and given the Renaissance debate over Purgatory, the poet in creating the ghost, fused the notion of Astral spirit and damned soul. This synthesis finds substantiation in the Appendix:
...every kinde of Astral Spirit is obsequious to the
Kingdome of darkness, that the devilish Spirits can
effect little or nothing without their assistance in
this external principle of the Starrs and Elements
upon the bodies or possessions of Mankind...
Shakespeare himself never hesitated to combine or continuously refine his character prototypes; indeed the skill with which the Bolingbroke-Cassius-Claudius-Macbeth line matures is a tribute to the dramatist's genius.
The final chapter of this study demonstrates the effects of my hypothesis on Hamlet's character, noting especially how Shakespeare utilizes irony.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS for "HAMLET AND THE DAEMONS"
(1) The Discourse, according to the title page, appears in two books: the first by Scot, and the second, "now added in this Third Edition, as Succedaneous to the former, and conducing to the compleating of the Whole work..."
(2) "...Thye are part of the faln Angels, and consequently subject to the torments of Hell at the last Judgment...: (II,495).
(3) In The Second Shepherd's Play, the comedic sheep stealing episode is wedded to Christ's nativity with "day starre."
(4) Milton will dramatize Satan's near regeneration with constant references to light imagery in Book IV of Paradise Lost.
(5) In Elizabethan Daemonologie, T.A., Spalding notes in this connection: "The subject was one which, from its nature, could not be settled ex cathedra, and consequently the subject had to grow up as best it might, each writer adopting the arrangement that appeared to him most suitable." (p. 34).
(6) The Appendix specifically argues a correlation between Astral spirits and witchcraft. See Appendix I.
(7) Thus the ghost tells Hamlet, "But soft, methinks I scent the morning air: / brief let me be...Fare thee well at once; / The glow -worm shows the matin to be near..." (I,v,58-59; 88-89).
(8) Harold Jenkins (ed). Hamlet. Arden edition, New York: Methuen, 1982. (Note 21), p. 217.