"Be Thou a Spirit of Health or Goblin Damned"
[Works cited appear at the bottom of the page.]
Hamlet's ghost defies analysis, a difficulty exacerbated by the fact that some of the important secondary sources do not always examine Renaissance studies of demonology having affiliation to Hamlet. T.A. Spalding's Elizabethan Daemonology (1) fails to consider tragic flaw Lavater's Of ghofts and fpirits walking by nyght (2), Robert West's important study, The Invisible World (3) pays little attention to Hamlet, and F. W. Moorman's article, "Shakespeare's Ghosts" (4) mentions but does not explicate the Appendix to Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft. (5). More recently, however, Eleanor Prosser's Hamlet and Revenge (6) provides an admirable and thorough explication of relevant primary sources, and offers a detailed investigation of the ghost's nature not inconsistent with my own. Stephen Greenblatt's just published Hamlet and Purgatory (7) offers a detailed and comprehensive analysis of Medieval and Renaissance tracts to sustain a purgatorial thesis. This study will support a malevolent ghost, however, even if it fails to damn Hamlet's soul.
The previous Chapter proposed a macrocosmic / microcosmic analogy:
Claudius : Laertes :: ghost : Hamlet
and provided some poetic / dramatic justifications, but the thesis is tentative unless a "goblin damn'd" can be validated by explicating Medieval and Renaissance daemonological texts for clues. This Chapter will consider the following studies:
St. Augustine: The City of God
St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
Reginald Scot. The Discoverie of Witchcraft and Appendix
James I: Daemonologie
Thomas Nashe: The Terrors of the Night
Lewes Lavater: Of ghofts and fpirits walking by nyght
Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Melancholy
Timothy Bright: Treatise of Melancholy
The ghost scenes in Hamlet should be examined in terms of doctrine as articulated in the above studies, not to determine direct influence per se, but rather to discuss the play in the context of those commentators whose beliefs molded opinion in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. As articulated in his Shakespeare's Philosophical Patterns, W.C. Curry reflects my view on the nature of influence:
"...any inquiry which demands the immediate source of his [Shakespeare's]
philosophical expressions is likely to be abortive and indeed futile. He does seem,
nonetheless, to have possessed a comfortable and accurate knowledge of the
basic principles supporting the two systems [Medieval- Christian and
Classical-pagan] in question. Scholastic doctrine, less unconsciously absorbed,
Neo-Platonic concepts, likewise transmitted by tradition, had also become
by 1610, largely anonymous and communal. And Shakespeare, like other
men of his age, came to share in these respective patrimonies, by right of
inheritance and association." (8).
Hamlet himself implies as much, saying to Polonius of the players, "...let them be well used, for / they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the times." (II,ii,519-520).
St. Augustine's City of God establishes the following essentials relevant to the current question: (9)
1) Spirits exercise an intermediary potential between God and man, but they are
true enemies of chastity and virtue. (Book VIII, Chapter XVIII)
2) But these false and deceitful mediators, the devils, wretched in uncleanness of spirit,
yet working strange effects by the arial bodies, seek to draw us from profit of soul,
showing use no way to God.
3) Devils are 'without charity.' rendering their knowledge corrupt; they thus contrast with
4) The devil may transform himself into an angel of light. (10)
5) Devils are used by God for good purposes "that the number of martyrs might be
fulfilled...because they spend their blood...against the power of impiety."
6) "...we must firmly hold God's power to be omnipotent in all things; but the devils can
do nothing beyond the power of their nature...Nor can the devils create anything (whatever
appearances of their produce these doubts) but only cast a changed shape over that which
God has made...Nor do I think the devils can form any soul or body into bestial or brutal
members and essences, but they can in an indescribable way transport man's phantasm
in a bodily shape into the sense of others...it seems to carry itself in corporal form...Now this phantasm may appear unto the senses of others in a bodily shape...The devils can play such juggling tricks with ease, by God's permission..."
7) "...the devils are allured to inhabit certain bodies by the very creatures of God; and they
are variously attracted by what is offered to them...by living creatures...they do subtly entice
man...making some few scholars to them, and teachers to many more. For man could never
know what they love, and what they loathe, but by their own instructions, which were the
first foundations of art magic, And then do they get the fastest hold of men's hearts (which
is all they seek and glory in) when they appear like angels of light, However, their works
are strange, and the marvelous, the more to be avoided..."
8) God "...can bring a soul...down from heaven, and enclose it in a form..."
Augustine's theology admits the existence of spiritual intermediaries, but that Christ is the only true one the good man need invoke. Fallen angels, while able to deceive man, do so in the context of Divine Providence that ultimately derives good from evil. Such represents the theological context for the paradox of Shakespearean tragedy. Evil spirits will always lack Christian charity, pervert knowledge, and equivocate.
St. Thomas' Summa Theologica (11) outlines the church's position on the spirit world, As Lavater and other Renaissance writers attempt to refute or sustain his arguments, recognition of Thomistic doctrine is essential to understand the Catholic Renaissance position on supernatural beings:
1) Angels "sometimes assume bodies,"
(pt. 1 Q. 51 Art. 2B)
2) "...angels guard individual men...They are all ministering spirits."
(Pt. 1 Q. 57 Art. 2)
3) Aquinas argues that although God alone knows "the secrets
of hearts," angels and demons can comprehend thoughts,
"not merely by outward act, but also by changes of countenance..."
(Pt. 1 Q. 57 Art. 4)
4) Following Augustine, Aquinas believes demons capable of
"pride and envy," being devoid of charity,
(Pt., 1 Q. 63 Art, 2)
5) Aquinas insists that "angels...stand midway between
God and man...But man's welfare is disposed by Divine
Providence...indirectly as when anyone assailed is
exercised by fighting against opposition, It was
fitting for this...to be brought through the wicked
spirits, lest they should cease to be of service in
the natural order,"
(Pt. 1 Q. 64 Art. 4)
Question 89 is critical to Hamlet, Aquinas notes that the separated soul is capable of understanding, apart from the body:
6) "...with a greater freedom of intelligence," (Art. 2),
and that devils ",.have greater natural knowledge than
the separated soul..." (Art. 3), Article 8 discusses
his belief that the dead have no concern for the affairs
of the living, but he attempts to qualify Augustine's
thinking: "...the dead often appear to the living, asleep
or awake...But this could not be unless they knew what
takes place here...the dead appear to the living...either by
the special dispensation of God...or else such apparitions
occur through the instrumentality of band or good angels,
without the knowledge of the departed,"
(Pt. 1 B 89 Art. 8)
7) Entitled Of the Assault of the Demons, Question 114
stipulates that demons function as instruments of
Divine will as "...the demons who are sent to punish,
do so with an intention other than that for which they
are sent; for they punish from hatred or envy; whereas
they are sent by God on account of his justice."
(Pt. 1 Q, n4 Art. 2)
8) Demons can manipulate "seeds of time" [Macbeth]...but not
in the sense of a metaphysical re-creation of a body. (12)
Thus if it appears that the dead return to life, Aquinas
regards the phenomenon as a semblance of reality: a demon
can work on man's imagination and even or his corporeal senses
...for just as he can form the air from a body of any form and
shape, and assume it so as to appear in it visibly; so, in the same
way he can clothe any corporeal thing with any corporeal
form so as to appear therein." (13)
(Pt. 1 Q. 114 Art. 4)
9) In question 117, Aquinas argues that "...the demons often
pretend to the souls of the dead, in order to confirm
the error of heathen superstition."
(Pt, 1 Q 117 Art. 4)
10) Demons sometimes may reveal truths to men, but with the
ultimate purpose to "...accustom men to believe him, and
as to lead him on to something prejudicial to the salvation
(Pt, 11-11 $. 95 Art. 5)
11) "It is a good thing to acquire knowledge, but it
is not good to acquire it by undo means...To seek
knowledge of the future from the demons is a sin..." (14)
(Pt. 11-11 Q. 96 Art. 2)
12) In the Supplement Aquinas considers demon's depart-
ing from hell, While maintaining the utter impossibility of
demons communing with the living, he believes
that they may "go forth for a time," being granted per
mission "...for man's instruction and intimidation..."
Significantly it is not the souls of the damned which
appear, but apparitions sent to "...instruct or deceive
the living." Further the saints may appear at will, but
the damned may not. (l5)
(Suppl. Q 69 Art. 3)
Appendices I and II examine Purgatory, denied by Protestants, but nonetheless used by those who argue that the ghost could not be from hell:
...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.
Biblically, the justification for Purgatory is II Maccabees, XII: 46. Aquinas believes a place must exist for the purgation of those who die in sin but not meriting damnation as a matter of Divine justice, Purgatorial torment is twofold: depravation of the Beatific Vision and "corporeal fire."
13) Purgatorial pain transcends any earthly torment, and in
some cases is "...in proximity to hell, so that it is the
same fire which torments the damned in hell and cleanses
the just in Purgatory.
(App. II Q.1 Art. 2)
When the ghost, for instance, warns Hamlet that,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood...
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.
he might be speaking of hell or Purgatory, a question this Chapter will investigate.
Aquinas' philosophy fuses Aristotelian metaphysics with Augustine's Platonic orientation. Arguing that God on occasion may permit supernatural visitations, he explains such appearances as mandated by Divine will directing evil to serve good, Demons may actually be the one damned or may 'create' apparitions of a damned soul to torment the imagination. The specific purpose would be to terrify the unrepentant or to test the devout. Souls suffering in Purgatory experience pain not unlike hell but are there pro tem.
In 1572 appeared Lewes Lavater's Of ghoftes and fpirits walking by nyght, translated by "R.H." (16). Its importance to Elizabethan demonology cannot be underestimated. In methodological fashion, Lavater argues for and against demons and souls of the departed appearing to the living and devotes many chapters to the refutation of Purgatory, but his conclusions are objective as their substance accurately reflects Catholic doctrine as well.
In summary Part I dismisses many sightings as hallucinations of a trouble melancholic mind or deliberate hoaxes, but agrees that some are genuine, Part II outlines and refutes the Catholic position, and Part III explains why God allows spirits to appear and offers the faithful behavioral guides if confronted by a spirit.
Before noting those ideas pertinent to Hamlet, a metaphysical / epistemological difficulty must be clarified. Essentially, two points of view governed Elizabethan attitudes toward ghosts and spirits: either they were subjective manifestations generated by imaginative disorders or youthful ignorance, or objective phenomena.
Lavater examines both:
1 ) "...vayne imaginations also appeere vnto our sights: armed
men as it were are seene on earth...
(Part I, Chapter I, p, 8)
2) "True is it that many men doo falsly persuade themselues
imagin they see or heare, proceedeth eyther of melancholic,
madnesse, weaknesse of the senses, feare..."
Hamlet's character is not without these qualities if his temperament is accepted as melancholic, a contention this study does not fully accept. Such a view emerges from the romantic Coleridge-Bradley-Olivier tradition. Nonetheless, "blacke" ghosts do prey on those prone to melancholy moods as Hamlet acknowledges in soliloquy.
1) "...yet it is most certayne & sure, that all these things which
appeare vunto men are not alwayes naturall things
nor always vayne terrors to affray men: but that spirits
do often appeare, & many strange and maruellous things
do sundry times chaunce,"
2) "...it is either a good or euill Angell, or some
other forewarning sent by God..."
Shakespeare acknowledges both positions. In Act V, scene iii of Richard III, ghosts appear to Richard and Richmond (Henry VII). Richard's spirits-Prince Edward, Clarence and Hastings-are of those whom he murdered:
Clarence: Let me sit heavy on thy soul tomorrow.
Hastings: Bloody and guilty, guiltily awake!
And in a bloody battle end thy days.
Following the appearances, the stage directions note: "The GHOSTS vanish. KING RICHARD starts out of his/dream." Clearly these were subjective manifestations of Richard's tormented conscience, prophesying his defeat at Bosworth Field.
Caesar's ghost and Banquo's may be hallucinations. Moorman argues for that view, but Curry (Shakespeare's Philosophical Patterns), contends that Shakespeare intended Banquo's ghost to be an "infernal illusion, created out of air by demonic forces...in order that the murderer be confused and utterly
confounded." (17) Lavater believes that Caesar's ghost is objective, (I,XII,53),
Most critics accept Hamlet's ghost as objective as do I, and the following outlines Lavater's position on objectivity:
1) Spirits of the heavenly departed, reports Lavater, appear to console
he living. St. Ambrose, for example, spoke of the martyr Agnes who
appeared to her parents in the company of other virgins, urging them
to rejoice, "...for that she had obtained of god eternal life."
2) Of significant bearing on Hamlet's ghost is Lavater's
report that, "Many times in the nyght season, there haue
beene certaine spirits hearde softely going, or spitting,
or groning, who being asked what they were, haue made
aunswere that they were the soules of this or that man,
& that they nowe endure extreame tormentes." Deliverance
depends on the faithful's willingness to offer "...a certaine
numbre of Masses..." which if celebrated results in the spirit's
rendering "...greate thankes to their goode benefactours, and.,
that they will make intercession to God and our Ladye
A question therefore to be discussed is whether Hamlet's ghost asks for relief from its torment, which of course would sustain a Purgatorial reading.
3) Applicable to the cellarage scene discussed in the last
Chapter is the belief that "...in many mines, there appeare
straunge shapes and spirites..." usually playful, but
"...there are some cruell and terrible to beholde: whi-
che for the moste parte, doo very much annoy and hurt
the labourers digging for mettall,"
Ulysses' 'order and degree' speech in Troilus and Cressida analyzes the macrocosmic / microcosmic correspondences of a theocentric universe. Disruptions, always regarded as ominous, find dramatic expression in Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Lavater explains:
4) Before the alterations and chaunges of kingdomes and in
the time of warres, seditions, and other dangerous
seasons, ther most commonly happe very strange things in
aire, in the earth, & amogst liuing creatures clean cotrary to the
vsuall course of natur...wonders, signes, monsters, and forewarnings
of matters to come. There are seene in the aire, swords, speares...there
are heard and seene in the aire, or vppon the earth whole armies of men
Thus, Calpurnia speaks to her husband of the
...most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets,
And graves have yawned and yielded up their dead.
Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds,.,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
The Lavater parallel is obvious, and he concludes Part I with another observation essential to Hamlet and the ghost question:
5) Men "...of good corage, and such as haue bin perfectly in their
wits..." have seen spirits "...especially concuersant in the fields where
battels haue ben fought, or in places where slaughters haue ben made:
in places of execution..." Moreover, "...For by the sufferance of God,
wicked Deuils worke astrange things in those places where men haue
exercised pride and cruelitie...The maner of apearing of spirits, is diuers
& manyfold... sometimes in the shape of man whome we know,
who is yet alyune, or lately departed...Spirits haue sometimes appeared
in a pleasant fourme, and sometimes in a horrible shape...spirits sometimes,
taking a man by the arme or by the head, haue walked with them..." and put
"...them is such greate feare, that sometimes they become grayheaded in one
night." The result is often madness or suicide,
The bedroom scene, Lavater explains by allowing for selective visitations:
6) "...it commeth often times to passe, that some one
man doth heare or see some thing most plainly, when
an other which standeth by him...neyther seeth, nor
heareth any such matter."
In Part II, Lavater emphatically denies Purgatory as the headnote makes clear:
The second part of this
Booke doth shewe, that those
Spirits and other strange sights, be
not the Soules of Men,
but be either good or euill Angels, or else some
secret and hyd operations.
The particulars are:
1) "Papists," according to Lavater, speak of a place "...whiche
is prepared for them that departe hence without deadly sin,
of if they committed any such sinnes, dyd some penance for
them, but yet made not full satisfaction for them or else went hence
only stayned with venial sinne...Some of them say, that Purgatorie
is also vnder the earth as Hel is. Some say that Hell and Purgatorie
are both one place, albeit the paines be diuers according to the
deserts of soules...Some of them say, that the paine of Purgatorie
is al one with the punishment of hel, & that they differ
only in this, that the one hath an end, the other no ende..."
2) By Divine dispensation, spirits "...are permitted to come
out of hell, and that not for euer, but only for a season,
for the instructing and terrifying of the lyuing...
And that the soules which be in euerlasting ioye, or in
Purgatorie, do often appeare, it may be seene...
3) Lavater discusses four tests which Catholics apply to discriminate between good and evil spirits:
a) "...if he be a good spirit, he will at the beginning somewhat terrifie
men, but againe soone reuiue and comforte them them.
b) "...if they appeare vnder the forme of a Lyon, beare, dog
tode, serpent, catte, or blacke ghoste, it may easly be
gathered that it is an euill spirit, And that on the
other side good spirits do appeare vnder the shape of
a doue, a man, a lambe, or in the brightnesse, and clere
light of the sunne. ... We must also consider whether the
voice whiche we heare be sweete, lowly, sober, sorowfull,
or otherwise terrible and full of reproch...
c) A spirit is evil if it teaches that which "....doth varie
from the doctrine of the apostles, and other doctoures
approued by the Churches censure: or whether he vtter
any thing that dothe dissent from the faith,,according
to the canonicall rites or decrees of councele, &
against the lawes of the holy church of Rome.
d) A good spirit will profess "...any humilitie acknowledging
or confessing of his sinnes & punishments, or whether
we heare of him Any groning, weeping, complaint, boast
ing, threatening, slaunder or blasphemie."
Does Hamlet's ghost meet these tests? If the ghost fails, it is an evil spirit, which of necessity it would have to be for anyone who denies Purgatory. Souls according to Lavater are either damned or saved, with Purgatory being spuriously contrived by priests wishing to exploit financially a gullible public. Greenblatt's Hamlet in Purgatory discusses the Church's financial interest in sustaining belief in Purgatory, (18). For Lavater, however, only heaven and hell exist:
4) Paraphrasing Tertullian, Lavater stipulates that departed
souls which allegedly return are actually "..euil spirits
[that use] this kinde of deceyt, to fayne themselues to be
the soules of suche as are deceased, Also that Hell is not
open to any soule, that it should afterward at any time
depart thence..." Lavater explains the necessity of spirits
being prohibited from returning as they would "...publish
many lying tales, & false opinions...therby to seduce and
hurt vs." Yet, he believes "...god nay dispence: them to
appere here sometimes, therby to instruct & admonish vs,"
for to allege otherwise is to deny God's omnipotence,
5) Asserting the objective existence of apparitions, Lavater
writes "...If it be not a vayne persuasion... it is either a
good or euill angell, or some other fore-arning sent by
God..Angels for the most part take upon them the shapes
of men, wherein they appeare."
6) "...if the Deuill,,.transfourmeth hymselfe into an Angel of light,
no lesse may he take the shape of a Prophete, an Apostle, Euangeliste,
Byshoppe, and Martyr...Hee affirmeth that he is this or that soule,
that he maybe delyuered by this or that meanes, that by these
means he may purchase credite and authoritie, vnto those things
whiche haue no grounde of Scripture,"
7) An evil angel may speak truthfully to men, (l9)" ...that
he might the better thrust other things vpon men,
and bring and driue them into sundry erroures, whereby
they forsaking the worde of God might giu6 eare vnto
Spirits...I meane false Prophets..."
If the ghost deceives Hamlet and is indeed a false prophet, then the irony to which previous Chapters refer is sustained. The conditions under which God allows such activity concerns Part III of Lavater's study:
1) Evil spirits test "faith and pacience" to enhance humility
or that the hardened sinner "...myght be damned, whiche
beleeue not the truth, but had pleasure in vnrighteousnesse."
2) "...Ghostes of them which wer not orderly buried, or whose
accustomed rites and ceremonies in the time of warres were
omitted, dyd appeare eyther to their friendes or vnto
others, complayning & intreating that their funerals &
all other ceremonies rnight be obserued..."
3) Ghostly visitations must be distrusted for the same reason
that false flatters are suspect: "...if thou see an angell
whiche flattereth and speaketh thee faire, such a one as
those are whiche craue thy helpe...in no wise credite
their words. Men which blaunche and flatter with us,
are always suspicious, why then shoulde not suche spirites
be suspected? Enter into no communication with suche
spirites, neither aske them what thou must giue, or thou must
doo, or what shall happen hereafter. Aske them not who they are,
or why they haue presented them selues to bee seene or hearde.
For if they be good, they will lyke it well, that thou wilte heare
nothing but the woorde of God: but yf they be wicked, they
will endeuour to deceyue thee with lying,
Concluding his study, Lavater warns that weapons never encumber a spirit; rather only by God's protection may we escape damnation. An Ubi sunt tone pervades the final chapter:
4) "...Let vs not then...with holde truth in vnrighteous-
nesse, lette euery man of what age soeuer he be, weigh
with hymselfe howe fraile and brittle this lyfe is which
God hath giuen vnto vs, and that we must depart from
hence, sooner than wee thinke for, and render an
account to the iust Iudge, of our fayth, wordes, and deedes.
Not everyone in Elizabethan England accepted supernatural phenomena with the same zeal, (20). Reginald Scot, a man learned in law, wrote The Discoverie of Witchcraft in 1584, which contained an addendum, "A treatife vpon the natulle and fubftance of fpirits and diuels..." (21). In 1665, a third edition was issued in which the addendum became two books, the second of which, anonymously published, charged that Scot had omitted important considerations. For the present, The Discoverie will be considered:
1) "...melancholie may moove imaginations..." to confess to
witchcraft.(19). Scot as noted tends to reject the 'objective' view
of critics like Lavater and James I.
(Book III, Chapter X, p. 31)
2) Scot wonders "...whether the divell createth himselfe,
when he appeareth in the likenesse of a man; or whether
God createth him, when the divell wisheth it."
Scot denies the possibility of spiritual visitations from
hell or the grave for, "...the living shall not be taught
by the dead, but by the living,"
4) Although rejecting appearances, Scot reports that some
believe "...that divels and witches also can truelie
make living creatures as well as God; though not at
an instant, yet verie suddenlie."
The references to Scot are briefer since The Discoverie treats witches more than devils, ghosts or spirits. The Appendices, however, are of considerable importance to Hamlet and await subsequent examination.
In 1594 Thomas Nashe published The Terrors of the Night, (22) Although more a literary exercise written by a satirist who enjoys wit for its own sake, the Difcourfe of Apparitions deserves consideration for accurately reflecting the popular metaphysics that a Hamlet playgoer might well have believed:
1) "It is not be gain-said, but the diuell can transforme
himselfe into an angell of light, appeare in the day aswell
as in the night, but not in this subtil world of Christianity
so vsuall as before, If he doo, it is when mens mindes are
extraordinarily throwne downe with discontent, or inly terrified
with some horrible concealed murder, or other hainous crime
close smothered in secret. In the day he may smoothly in some
mild shape insinuat, but in the night he takes vpon him like a
tyrant...A generall principle it is, hee that doth ill hateth the light."
2) 0f significance for Hamlet is Nashe's query: "It will bee demaunaed
why in the likenes of ones father or mother, or
kinsfolks, he oftentimes himself vnto us?" The response:
"No other reason can bee giwen of it but this, that in
those shapes whichhee supposeth most familiar vnto use,
and that wee are inclined to with a naturall kind of loue,
we will sooner harken to him than otherwise.
Should he not disguise himselfe in such subtil formes
of affection, we would flie from him as a serpent, and
eschew him with the hatred he ougth to be eschwed.
Of all the Renaissance writers who took demonology seriously, few proved more zealous than James I, Witchcraft was a capital offense: on February 29, 1592, one Agnes Sampson was brought before His Majesty, accused of witchcraft, and sadistically tortured. An entry dated March 16, 1598 in the Stationer's Register records James had written a treatise on Daemonologie, (23) to prove the need to punish witches, a view contrary to Scot's. In his Preface, James refers to Scot's opinion as "damnable." (24).
James' study in three books examines "Magic and Necromancie,' "Socerie and Witchcraft," and "The Defcription of all thefe kindes of Spirites that troubles men or women," The purpose is clearly defined: "...two things...the one, that fuch diuelifh artes haue bene and are. The other, what exact trial and feuere punifhment they merite.
1) Initially James determines the "...meanes
whereby the Devil allures perfones in anie of
thefe fnares:.. great ingines: thrift of revenge, for fome
apprehended: or greedie appetite of geare, caufed through
(Book I, Chapter II, pp.7-8)
2) Undoubtedly sensitive to his own 'divine right,' James
cautions princes that an evil spirit will ingratiate itself "...by
fore-telling them manie great thinges; parte true, parte falfe ... "
Much of Daemonologie is written microcosmically insofar as James establishes a correlation between the intensity of demoniac influences and the psycho-moral receptivity of the affected subject. Thus, the devil promises:
3) "...greate riches, and worldlie commoditie..." and
"...as though riche, yet burnes in a defperat defire
of reuenge, he allures them by promifes, to get their
turne fatisfied to their hartes contentment."
With these as his premises, James develops a portrait of the impoverished, revengeful subject as one who:
a) is ignorant of the devil's malignancy,
b) has led a wicked life, or
c) has been contemptuous of God.
4) "And finding them in an vtter defpair...he prepares
the way by feeding them craftely in their humour,
and filling them further and further with defpaire,
while he finde the time proper to difcouer himfelf
vnto them...in likeneffe of a man inquires of them,
what troubles them: and promifeth them a fuddaine and
certaine waie of remedie, vpon condition on the other
parte, that they follow his advife...Their mindes being
prepared before hand...they eafelie agreed vnto that
demand of his...he firft perfwades them to addict
themfelues to his feruice..."
The correlation with Hamlet is significant, insofar as the ghost-Hamlet dialogue and the "vicious mole's" operation ae explained from a theological perspective,
5) James stipulates that only God has the power to restore
body and soul after death, but he believes the devil
...can put his owme fpirite in a dead bodie..."
Thus departed souls cannot return to earth, but the devil can deceive men as indicated. Of course these beliefs reflect the denial of Purgatory: souls are either damned or saved. James describes the powers of demons. They may:
a) cause men or women to love or hate each other,
b) cause a humor imbalance,
c) trouble a human or haunt a house, and
d) be used by God to punish "...the wicked for their horrible
finnes, to punifh them in the like meafure..."
The Third Booke studies spirits that trouble men. Two kinds may apply to Hamlet:
6) "...fpirites troubles [sic.] fome houfes or folitaire places:
The fecond, where fpirites followes [sic.] them vpon certaine
perfones, and at diuers houres troubles them..."
7) Spirits that trouble men "...when they appeare in the
fhaddow of a perfon newlie dead, or to die, to his
friendes, When they appeare vpon that occafion, they are
called Wraithes...Amongft the Gentiles the Deuill
vfed that much, to make them beleeue that it was
fome good fpirite that appeared to them then, ether
to forewarne them of the death of their friend; or
elfe to difcouer vnto them, the will of the defunct,
or what was the way of his flauchter..."
8) Chapter II argues that God allows spirits to punish
those "...being guiltie of greeuous offences..." or
the good to be troubled "...for the tryall of their
patience, and wakening vp of their zeale,..,not to
trufte ouer much in themfelues..."
The Appendix to The Discoverie deserves more attention. A Discourse of Divels and Spirits bristles with the skepticism typical of Scot. He classifies spirits as:
1) "...some affirming that the soules of the dead become
spirits, the good to be angels, the bad to be divels...
some, that they have no bodies at all, but receive
bodies, according to their phantasies & imaginations;
some that their bodies are given unto them; some, that
they make themselves..and some, that they are substances
betweene God and man, and that of them some are terres
triall, some celestiall, some waterie, some airie,
aome fierie, some starrie, and some of each and everie
part of the elements, and that they know our thoughts,
and carrie our good works and praiers to God..." (25)
(Chapter II, p, 41)
2) Scot argues that the devil's effects are more subtle than
some of the hyperbolized reports of apparitions: "But in
truth we never hate so much cause to be afraid of the
devill, as when he flatteringlie insinuat himselfe
into our harts, to satisfie, please, and serve our humors,
entising us to prosecute our owne appetits and pleasures,
without anie of these externall terrors.
3) Scot specifies the devil's intentions: he "...allureth us
with gluttonie: he thrusteth lust into our generation; and
sloth into our exercise; into our conversation, envie;
into our traffike, avarice; into our correction, wrath;
into our government, pride: he putteth into our harts
evill cogitations; into our mouthes, lies &c. When we
wake, he mooveth us to evill works; when we sleepe, to
evill and filthie dreames; he provoketh the merrie to
loosenesse, and the sad to despaire."
4) Scot repeates the familiar classification of spirits:
"...some affirme that they consist of fier, some thinke
of aier, and some of the starres and other celestiall
Disputing the Greek contention that the body and soul both die, Scot examines the Catholic position, mandating a distinction between soul and ghost, adding:
5) "...howbiet, none otherwise, but that the soule is a
ghost, when it walketh on the earth, after the dissolution
of the bodie, or appeareth to anie man, either out of heaven,
hell, or purgatorie, and not otherwise."
Although the tone of these remarks allows for a certain objectivity, Scot's skepticism ultimately prevails:
6) "...I gather, that if the protestant beleeve some few
lies, the papists beleeve a great number."
And, Scot's own belief is substantially more conservative than his contemporaries: the devil exists-one of God's creatures, to
7) "...afflict the wicked in this world with wicked temptations,
...the wicked may be said to eate up and swallowe downe the
dtivell, father than the divell to eate up them..."
Scot's opinions have great relevance for Hamlet. Initially, emphasis is on the free will of the victim being tempted, rather than the alleged apparition, but the terror he explicates comes not so much from sensationalized accounts as the subtle effect the devil has in corrupting the will. Burton puts it succinctly in The Anatomy of Melancholy:
The greatest enemy to man, is man, who by the
devil's instigation is still ready to do
mischief, his own executioner a wolf, a
devil to himself, and other... (26)
Much of the irony this study will discuss derives from Scot's opinion, and if the Renaissance is examined from the perspective of man struggling to be free from Medieval theology, as Eissler suggests, (27) then Scot and Burton may be more men of their time than James I. The degree to which Shakespeare may have been so influenced when dramatizing the ghost must be determined.
The 1665 edition of The Discoverie contains an Appendix by an anonymous author, who, charging Scot with touching his subject "...superficially, omitting the more material part..." proposes rectification. (28). Other than a brief reference to its content by Moorman, (29) the analysis does not figure in Hamlet criticism for the obvious reason that it postdates the play by 60 years, and Shakespeare's death by 49 years. Yet if the ideas expressed were current in Shakespeare's lifetime and he were familiar with them, then the contents may have critical bearing to the ghost problem, This hypothesis will be substantiated in Chapter IV; and the necessary excerpts are outlined below:
1) Astral Spirits are classified as "...part of the faln Angels,
and consequently subject to the torments of Hell at the
last Judgment...they are the departed souls of men and
women, confined to these outward Elements until the
Consummation...their nature is middle between Heaven
and Hell; and that they reign in a third kingdom from
both, having no other judgment or doom to expect for
ever." Ultimately, they "...are of the source of the Stars..."
(Appendix II, Book II, Chapter , p. 495)
2) Dwelling places of Astral Spirits on earth include:
"...Woods, Mountains, Waters, Air, fiery Flames,
Clouds, Starrs, Mines and hid Treasures: as also
antient Buildings, and places of the slain. Some
again are familiar in Houses, and do frequently
converse with, and appear unto mortals."
3) Discussing their actions and affections, the author
stipulates that "They are capable of hunger, grief,
passion, and vexation: they have not anything in
them that should bring them unto God: being meerly
composed of the most spiritual part of the Elements;
...They meet in mighty Troops, and wage warr one
with another...and have power sometimes to make
great commotions in the Air, and in the Clowds, and
also to cloath themselves with visible bodies, out
of the four Elements...and to 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 frolick Spirits
4) Astral Spirits may be "...of men departed which
(if the party deceased was disturbed and troubled
and his decease) do for many years, continue in
the source of this world; amongst these airy
Spirits, 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 strong desires and fixation
of the Imagination, which is left behind it:
Nor can it ever be at rest, till the thing be
accomplished, for which it is disturbed...When
Treasure hath been hid, or any secret thing hath
been committed by the party..."
Chapters III and IV discuss Astral Spirits of men departed. Apparently each man has his own Astral Spirit, and
5) "...if the party deceased hath departed in discontent,
and melancholy, it is often known that they return again,
and causing terrour to families and houses, do wait for
opportunity to disburthen themselves, that at length they
come into their desired rest."
Appended is an interesting example of one Codrus Laenus, "...to whom an empty, meager Ghost appeared, at midnight, signifying unto him, how sad...a Tragedy was shortly to attend him..." The specifics are his murder by "..his Treacherous Wife..." who stabbed him in the heart." (501), The Hamlet parallels are intriguing. The author stipulates that although these spirits lack articulation, an exception concerns someone who has been murdered in a particularly gruesome manner:
5) "...then the remembrance of the same doth sometimes
enable the apparition to frame a voice, by the assistance of the
Air..." Further, only those who died in perfect peace have
Astral Spirits imnune to subsequent visitations,
6) significantly Astral Spirits, "...are often sent to
terrifie men with nocturnal visions, in the likeness...
of Ghosts of their deceased Friends, They are moreover
often abetted to tempt and provoke melancholy people to
Dover Wilson has demonstrated in an Appendix that Shakespeare knew Dr. Timothy Bright's Treatise of Melancholie (30) by paralleling lines from the play with passages from the text. (31) Since the Treatise is a medical text, there are fewer references to ghosts being objectively present, but Bright does acknowledge that "melancholy procureth fear, fadnes, difpaire, and such other paffions." (Chapter VXII, p. 101). He classifies perturbations of melancholy as...
fadde and fearefull, and such as rife of them:
as diftruft, doubt, diffidence, or difpaire, fometimes
furious, and fomethimes merry in apparaunce...
(Chapter XV, p. 102)
Since these perturbations obviously affect Hamlet, the result would be important for our study of the ghost. Bright notes:
This for the moft part is fetled in the fpleane, and with
his vapours anoyeth the harte and paffinf vp to the brayne,
caufeth it without externall occafio [sic.] to forge monftrous
fictions, and terrible to the conceite, which the iudgment taking
as they are prefented by the difordered inftrument, deliuer ouer
to the hart with hath no iudgement of difcretion in itfelf,
but giuing credite to the miftaken report of the braine, breaketh
out into that inordiante faffion, againft reafon....This caufeth not
only phantafticail apparition wrought by apprehenfion only of
common fenfe, but fantafie...which gives great terror vunto the
heart...memory alfo receiueth a wound therewith: which diafableth
if both to keepe in memory, and to record thofe things...
(Chapter XV, pp. 102-104)
Although Bright argues that apparitions may be hallucinations caused by a melancholic humor imbalance, [as Gertrude certainly things during the bedroom "visitation"] he does warn of the need to examine rationally phenomena:
For thofe thinges which are fenfible, and are as it
were the counterfettes of outward creatures, the
reporte of them is committed by God's ordinaunce to
the inftruments of the brayne furnished with his fpirite,
which if it be, as the things are in nature, so doth the mind
iudge and determine, no farther submitting itfelfe to examine
the credite of thefe fenfes which (the inftrumetns being
faultles, and certaine other confiderations required neceffary,
agreeable, vnto their integrity, neuer faile in their bufines, but
are the very firft groundes of all this corporall action of life...
that the minde for the moft parte here outwardly practiceth. If
they be contrary, so alfo doth the minde judge, and purfueth
or fhuneth, for thefe fenfible matters repofing truft in the
corporall minifters, whofe mifereport, no more ought to be
difcredite the minde, or draw it into an acceffary crime of error...
(Chapter XV, p. 105)
The ghost scenes in Hamlet must be considered in these established contexts. Augustine stipulates that false mediators have knowledge transcending human limitations, but lack charity and Christ's humility. What appears to Hamlet must be judged by what it says and does if any correlation be valid. Horatio's, "It harrows me with fear and wonder," (I,i,47) counters previous skepticism. He is asked as a scholar by Marcellus to address it, but its reaction--"See, it stalks away'"--betrays offense, Either the ghost "stalks" because in vain it seeks Hamlet, or Horatio's, "By heaven, I charge thee speak" occasions fear, "Stalk" is the key, The primary etymology reads "to move cautiously like a fowler in pursuit of his game," (Onions) implying nothing malevolent, but the O.E.D. entry more precisely establishes the context: "often said of ghosts and fig., of quasi-personified maleficent agencies, as pestilence, famine etc," If the O.E.D.'s interpretation is accepted, Augustine's theology applies, Either the entity has found the mention of heaven offensive, or resents being charged by Horatio whose knowledge of Latin it fears.
Yet Shakespeare appears to balance the interpretation by assigning guilt to the interrogators. Marcellus', "We do it wrong, being so majestical / To offer it the show of violence, / ...and our vain blows malicious mockery," cannot be ignored, If true, the ghost may not be lacking in charity but simply the aggrieved party.
The ghost's words must decide. In IV,iv it confers with Hamlet, mandating revenge. The command might be evidence of its damnation , "working strange effects... to draw us from profit of soul," Augustine's belief. Lily Campbell argues that Renaissance revenge was not condoned unless God or His appointed deputy initiated it, Private revenge for personal reasons is always condemned, and she asks of any play:
Does the dialogue make clear whether the revenger has
the right to take upon himself the prerogative of public
avenger, executing God's justice upon others? Does the
plot make clear whether or not God executes vengeance
upon the avenger? (32)
An example from Richard II demonstrates Shakespeare's familiarity with the concept. John of Gaunt comments on Gloucester's death:
God's deputy is the quarrel, for God's substitute
His deputy anointed in His sight,
Has caused his death. The which if wrongfully,
Let Heaven revenge, for I may never lift
An angry arm against His minister.
Thus, the ghost must make clear it was slain by a usurping tyrant eager for the throne and that Hamlet's obligation to revenge must exclusively redress that. The play's exposition reveals...
1. an unnatural foul murder occurred (3 lines),
2. Claudius killed King Hamlet while he slept (79 lines),
3, Claudius now is king (2 lines)
4. Claudius has married Gertrude (19 lines),
5. It died without benefit of sacrament (5 lines), and
6. Gertrude must not be involved (5 lines),
If the ghost's preoccupation concerns the throne, why does he devote the least number of lines to that crime? Rather his concerns suggest details of the murder which is only natural, and his brother's infidelity intensified by Gertrude's involvement. Claudius is a "beast" with powers "to seduce," engendering a "falling off" from one endowed with superior "natural gifts," Therefore Claudius is a "wretch" who turns the celestial marriage bed to "garbage."
The emotional turning point for the ghost, "O horrible! O horrible! most horrible!" (I,v,80), refers, as the syntactical pattern makes clear, to his threefold depravation on earth: "life / crown /queen," and in the afterlife: "Unhous'led/ disappointed, Unanel'd," (l., 77). The evidence supports private revenge, the ghost being agonized by Gertrude's preference for Claudius and for his own unspecified sins, In executing revenge, Claudius of necessity would die, but the ghost's intent is to impress upon Hamlet his personal reasons, Thus it does, with some ambiguity, cast doubt on its intentions, for he simultaneously reinforces his public motives by commanding Hamlet to,
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be,
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
Public and private motives blend, and those favoring a benevolent spirit might further argue that the command to spare Gertrude implies charity and compassion, Nonetheless, some doubt remains. Aquinas believes angels guard individual men as ministering spirits. Thus Hamlet's initial response when confronted, "Angels and ministers of grace defend us," (I,iv,39) suggests the need for Divine guidance. The presence baffles:
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell...
and echoing Augustine,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee,
There appear three possibilities: the spirit of King Hamlet saved, the spirit of King Hamlet damned, or a good or evil entity whose identity is unknown. The investigation so far seems to support two or three, but additional evidence is needed.
Were the ghost to propose to Hamlet one single command most carefully designed to torture him, would it not involve Gertrude? We know from Claudius that, "The Queen his mother / Lives almost by his looks... (IV,vii,11-12) and Hamlet's first soliloquy (I,ii,129 ff,), saturated with images of rankness and decay, deplores the "frailty" of his mother, who with "most wicked speed," enjoys "incestuous sheets." That Hamlet and Gertrude deeply love each other must be one of the play's most vital assumptions, but so is the converse. Hamlet obviously dialectically tests it: with equal intensity, Hamlet loathes his mother for her incestuous acts. The bedroom scene consequently concentrates his desire to preserve and destroy simultaneously, Both love and hate exist in Hamlet. At first the ghost's command,
Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive
against thy mother aught, Leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her.
appears motivated by charity, but knowing Hamlet's love for Gertrude, would not the injunction deny him the once change he has for happiness; that of saving her? The sincerity of,
Confess yourself to heaven,
Repent what's past, avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds
To make them ranker.
can hardly be doubted, especially when recalling the theme-motif patterns of weeds and the "vicious mole" of the ghost. Further, since apparitions know all things at once, can see into "the seeds of time," we should not forget that the ghost at the time of the initial visitation may be aware potentially of the bedroom scene. Can there be charity in its intentions?
A belief held by Aquinas and Augustine stipulates that wicked spirits serve the natural order by testing the good. This theology directly molded Elizabethan revenge mores to the degree that its pursuit if mandated by God was allowable to restore that order, the chain of being, but a a private revenger without Divine mandate sinned. Fredson Bowers notes:
We must recognize that the Ghost's command...was first interpreted by Hamlet
as a call to an act of private blood revenge...This was a criminal act of blood,
not to be condoned by Gbd, and therefore represented a particularly agonizing
position for a tragic hero to be placed in. Is he to be the private revenger scourge
or the public revenger minister? (33)
Eleanor Prosser agrees,
...the ghost then fails the test that every member of Shakespeares audience
would have recognized for as the crucial one, a failure that scholars have
been trying to rationalize for two centuries: its command violates Christian
Thus, if the ghost intentionally inflicts the agony, then it is malevolent. When Hamlet departs with the ghost, the play's persona for 'normality,' Horatio observes that, "Heaven will direct it." (I,iv,91). The theological motif is set; whatever occurs must be sanctioned by Providence, but does Providence allow the ghost to command private revenge? The ghost mandates revenge but does not specify the means:
But howsomever thou pursuest this act...
In whatever manner or degree, Hamlet is therefore left with the angst, of deciding; the means. From the context. i.e. the dwelling on incest, private revenge engrosses the ghost, and in killing Polonius whom he mistakes for Claudius, Hamlet commits murder, In this sense, the death is an indirect result of a supernatural command.
Ghostly malevolence seems to be sustained. Giving reign to one's passions violates the Divine mandate that public morality insofar as the king ruled as God's anointed and was, at least in theory, expected to behave accordingly; privately sanctioned revenge is for God alone.
Aquinas' Question 89 asserts that separated souls have greater natural knowledge, with devils knowing more than separated souls. We have demonstrated the degree to which the ghost understands Hamlet's desires, especially concerning Gertrude, but knowledge from beyond the grave is implied:
But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up they soul...
Arden glosses "harrow" as "lacerates," citing the O.E.D., but that dictionary offers a far more significant reference: "To harry, rob. spoil," used especially in the phrase to harrow hell said of Christ." Cursor Mundi is cited, "Of hell it harus the hard prisun," among other contextually similar references. Both Hamlet and the Cursor Mundi associate hell, harrowing, and prison. By implication, might not the ghost be threatening Hamlet's soul with the prison of hell, but is forbidden by God to proceed so directly? We may recall Job, for instance, when God places clear limitations on what the satan may inflict. More indirectly, surreptitiously and perhaps effectively, it invokes fatherly love and speaks of earthly matters:
O wicked wit, and gifts that have the power
So to seduce!-won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen.
O Hamlet, what a falling off was there,
The ghost effectively defines Hamlet's agony, The arrogance and irony of the "seduction" is in direct proportion to a shattered male ego, outraged that his former wife preferred another man (microcosmically), and the clandestine assault on Hamlet's soul (macrocosmically) from the supernatural. Does this constitute enough to classify the ghost as a separated soul, or a devil assuming the guise of the deceased king? For Shakespeare to dramatize explicitly would mar the play's ambiguity, so Hamlet pursues the dialectic: "Be thou a spirit of health or Goblin damn'd..." (I,iv,40) Although spirits are sent by God to punish, Aquinas argues they often may have personal motives, chiefly envy. It is rather clear that the ghost both hates Claudius for his seduction and envies him for possessing Gertrude. Hamlet's overture of sympathy, "Alas, poor ghost," is thus quickly repudiated: "Pity me not..." (I,v,5), While the dead appear to return, in actuality they do not, for Aquinas believes a body is shaped from air; thus "a mere semblance of reality." Hamlet echoes with, "Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell..." (I,iv,41). Unfortunately one can not decide conclusively; the ambiguity persists. The Summa notes that although apparitions often reveal the truth, they do so to lead the faithful, "...to something prejudicial to the salvation of mankind." Clearly Horatio envisions that possibility when warning Hamlet:
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my Lord
Or to the dreadful summit cliff
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness?
The nature of the temptation invites madness and illustrates the irony that pervades the play, The ghost beckons, and ignoring Horatio's plea, Hamlet follows, perhaps to his damnation. Probably the most potent argument for a Purgatorial, and therefore a benevolent spirit, comes when the ghost tells Hamlet:
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.
The passage is difficult. Q1 omits 'certain' and reads 'time' for 'term,' and Q2 and F1 read "certaine tearme." Shakespeare usually denotes 'term' as a fixed amount of time as in II Henry VI:
King Henry: Cousin of York,
We here discharge your Grace from being Regent
I'n the parts of France till term of eighteen months
Be full expired.
But Shakespeare elsewhere liberalizes the connotation. In Romeo and Juliet, the protagonist worries about his future with Juliet:
...my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels, and expire the term
Of a despised life...
In the Henry passage, term denotes a specific and limited amount of time-eighteen months. The Romeo and Juliet excerpt expands the temporal reference to a lifetime; it is somewhat open-ended. Although these linguistic examples may be necessary conditions for doubting Purgatorial residence, they are hardly sufficient thematically. At best, we may argue that Shakespeare's use of "term" may allow for some latitude.
The most significant evidence for a Purgatorial ghost is the line: "Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purg'd away. (I,v,12-13)
It appears to set finite limits on suffering, thereby validating the Catholic belief in Purgatory. That not- withstanding, the ghost s performance appears at odds with Catholic doctrine:
1. He does not request prayers for release,
2. He specifically mandates the opposite: "Pity me not..."
3. He speaks of "foul crimes done in my days of nature," and
4. He admits to dying without benefit of sacrament.
Although Augustine and Aquinas' theologies illuminate our understanding of the ghost, nothing definitive may be concluded. Shakespeare probably did not have The City of God and the Summa Theologica as desk references, but the cited passages demonstrate the play's compatibility with Scholastic tradition retained in the Renaissance. Therefore, a detailed comparative analysis between Hamlet and classic Renaissance daemonological studies may illuminate some controversial passages.
In Of ghofts and fpirites walking by nyght, Lavater believes good spirits appear to console the living. Hamlet's ghost provides the Prince, for the moment, with a heretofore lacking sense of purpose and resolve:
...thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter...
Greenblatt, however, counters, noting that anti-Catholic, Protestant polemics against purgatory find expression in the ghosts remember me" injunction, to wit that souls,
...are harrowed above all by the fear that their sufferings
will cease even to be credited, that their prison house will
be dismissed as a fantastic fable, and that their
very existence, in its horrible, prolonged pain, will be
doubted. It is this fear that seems to shape Shakespeares
depiction of the Ghost and Hamlets response. (36)
Does "remember me" refer to a command not to forget a soul suffering in Purgatory, or not to forget the command to revenge, which in this study means private revenge? The familiar ambiguity again perplexes. Even if Shakespeare intended "Till" to refer to Purgatory, he does so in a context implying eternal damnation. (37).
The irony of his commitment will be treated in due course; for the present Hamlet's resolve helps to mitigate the angst of his first soliloquy. From the glimpse Shakespeare allows of Hamlet's youth prior to the murder, we suspect he deeply loved life's richness and infinite variety of challenges. Now, the ghost's revelations not only confirm previously felt suspicions, but pro tem allow him to focus his considerable mental energies on what appears to be a single purpose: revenge, The degree to which irony colors the resolve depends on how the ghost's ultimate purpose is interpreted. There does, however, appear to be consolation.
Lavater of course rejects Purgatorial doctrine but frequently discusses orthodox Catholicism with objectivity. Thus he asserts spirits frequently identify themselves as departed souls, reporting that "..they nowe endure extreame tormentes..." and request Masses for deliverance. As noted, the ghost does not invoke such aid preferring not to be pitied. When the ghost appears the second time, Horatio asks,
...If thou 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.
This, the third of three conventional explanations for spirits, finds antecedents in Lavater and the Appendix to Scot. Some of these can be "Cruell and terrible," and in context, "extorted" means to rest or take from. Perhaps Lavater's explanation illuminates the cellarage scene. a bit of comic relief, reminiscent of the stock 'devil' of the miracle plays, occurs, but it must be remembered in this more serious context that under the stage in Medieval times was considered hell itself. (38)
Lavater believes spirits appear with macrocosmic and microcosmic forewarnings, especially physical violence. Horatio's "A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye," (I,i,115), chronicling Julius Caesar's assassination, parallels the "rotten" condition of Denmark, also wracked by murder and assassination. In this context, the appearance of a ghost would undoubtly be taken as a malevolent dramatization of further macrocosmic disorder. The parallel with Horatio's bit of history too close for the intention to be otherwise:
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets"
From a macrocosmic perspective, Francisco's heart-sickness parallels th"moist star" being "sick unto doomsday." Something in Denmark is "rotten."
Lavater rejects Purgatorial doctrine as a 'popish" scheme to dupe financially unsophisticated laymen. Yet, his four tests discussed above might be applied to the ghost as a means of ascertaining origin:
1. Spirits may terrify men at first, but "soone reuiue and comforte them." We have discussed this, noting the ghost appears to offer comfort by at least giving Hamlet a sense of purpose, but his subsequent agony in no small measure comes from the spirit's demanding Gertrude be left to heaven. Hamlet perceives his hope for happiness in saving his mother and perhaps marrying Ophelia, and although the so-called revenge command is a necessary condition, only Gertrude can prove sufficiency. Comfort then may be more short term psychological than long term socio-moral.
2. Good spirit are associated with men, doves, lambs and the sun; evil ones with lions, bears, todes, serpents, cattle or black ghosts. Shakespeare's poetics isolate the ghost from the "clere light of the sunne." Its first appearance "usurpt' this time of night..." (I,i,49), and Marcellus recalls previous visitations "at this dread hour." (l.76), which Horatio takes as omniously foreboding, "...some strange eruption to our state." (l.72). First scenes in Shakespearean drama, through the skillful use of images / motifs , always establish a mood that permeates the play. Here, the ghost emerges in darkness, a metaphor for the "vicious mole's" moral decay. Horatio's lines during the second visit make the light/dark contrast more vivid and apparent, "But look, the morn in russet mantle clad / Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill. (I,i,171-172).
Even more pronounced is Marcellus'...
It faded on the crowing of the cock,
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad
The nights are wholesome...
But in Hamlet, spirits do stir, and the night is not wholesome. The ghost by implication is a malevolent intrusion, despite Marcellus that "We do it wrong, being so majestical, / To offer it the show of violence." (I, (I,i,148-149).
The fourth scene of Act I contains the theme passage, its content expressing the macrocosmic / microcosmic agonies that infest Denmark. It prologues Hamlets' discourse with the ghost, whose language represents one of the most scurrilous motifs in the play:
Harrow up thy soul
Murder most foul
Incestuous and adulterate beast
Prey on garbage
O horrible! O horrible! most horrible!
The "vicious mole" imagery suggests the "blacke ghost" of Lavater; indeed Shakespeare offers only limited counterexamples. Horatio calls Hamlet a "goodly king," his son notes he was a "man," Horatio believes his countenance bespoke "sorrow," and the ghost admonishes Hamlet to leave Gertrude to heaven, which may not be charitable. If we take the ghost at its word, Horatio's belief is largely nullified; Hamlet appears not to have been "goodly."
3. Lavater's third test defines an evil spirit as teaching anything that contradicts or subverts Christian doctrine. Sets of confusing paradoxes are concurrently dramatized. Certainly the ghost commands revenge, but as Greenblatt notes, Renaissance playgoers loved the genre and accepted that certain kinds of revenge were permissible:
But this reality is theatrical rather than theological; it can accommodate
elements such as a Senecan call for revenge, that would radically undermine
church doctrine. At the same time, it can offer the viewer, in an unforgettably
vivid dream of passion, many of the deep imaginative experiences, the tangled
longing, guilt, pity, and rage... (39)
Certainly Hamlet probes the depths of the imagination of the viewers and characters alike. The mind's caverns are indeed "measureless," evoking the terror that comes from ambiguity--what gives us pause as Hamlet himself observes.
Secondly, the ghost stipulates that the murder left him,
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd
No reck'ning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head,
"Imperfections" is the operative word. In Henry V the Duke of Burgundy lists what imperfections he considers indigenous to the political situation:
The even mead, that erst brought sweetly forth
The freckled cowslip, burnet, and green clover,
Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,
Conceives by idleness, and nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough, kecksies, burrs,
Losing both beauty and utility..,
Even so our houses and ourselves and children
Have lost, or do not learn for want of time,
The sciences that should become our country,
But grow like savages-as soldiers will
That nothing do but meditate on blood
To swearing and stern looks...
The passage anticipates Ulysses' 'Order and Degree' speech and Hamlet's own "unweeded garden" soliloquy. An O.E.D. references confirms "imperfect" had originally a much stronger connotation: "positively faulty, vicious, evil." In conjunction with the depravation of the last sacraments, the case for malevolence strengthens. Chronologically, perhaps Hamlet received the Last Rites after his physical death, but in any event the ghost s narrative makes clear they were of no benefit, so the "imperfections" remained on his soul. The depravation might occasion pity, but the ghost eschews it. Lavater's third rule appears violated.
4. Good spirits acknowledge and confess sins, but evil ones groan, weep, complain, boast, threaten, slander and blaspheme. True to his method, Shakespeare is ambiguous. The ghost does acknowledge sin, but he regards his love and natural gifts as superior, He boasts of these and slanders Claudius. Yet, his attitude toward Gertrude, his "most seeming-virtuous queen," may imply pity, or at least a desire to see her remain a victim of her fate. Thus King Hamlet or whatever visits in his guise appears to fail the fourth test, but with mitigating circumstances.
A verdict seems allusive. The ghost appears to pass the first test, but there is evidence suggesting his words regarding Gertrude entrap Hamlet. By his own words, the ghost fails the second test. The "vicious mole" is fully operative, The third test's sociological implications lessen guilt: the ghost demands private revenge, but the mores of Renaissance England regarded such violations on the stage as a legitimate part of their entertainment. Further the lament that death occurred without the sacrament may be considered worthy of pity. The same ambiguity characterizes the fourth test.
Three of Lavater's tests demonstrate circumstantial guilt. To invalidate them as non-definite by relying primarily on the second test makes the apparition a "blacke ghoste" and therefore evil, However, Shakespeare is not so willing to apply theological and legal precepts with certitude.
Because Lavater denies Purgatory, spirits that return are usually damned, Additionally an evil angel may transform himself to an angel of light and appear to men. This belief finds reality in two crucial Hamlet scenes. When discoursing with Hamlet, the ghost asserts that lewdness can court virtue "...in a shape of heaven..." Later, in Act II, Hamlet doubts the ghost's origins and believes,
The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath power
T'assume a pleasing shape...
Would it be in keeping with the ghost's arrogance to suggest his origin, but in a context so overwhelming to Hamlet's emotions that the Prince might not suspect until his "heat-oppressed brain" finds a moment for a dialectic investigation? We have seen as much when explicating its use of "harrow," and so Shakespeare might well allow the possibility.
Part III of Lavater's analysis outlines reasons why God might allow evil spirits to test a man: to engender humility and patience or to punish unbelievers, It is difficult and perhaps textually unwarranted to hypothesize Hamlet's conduct prior to the murder, but Ophelia's analysis, "O what a noble mind is here o'rthrown," (II,i,l153 ff.) merits attention. When we recall as well Gertrude's near idolatry, Hamlet's dynamic assumes its rightful place. Ophelia's analysis correlates with Lavater. The Prince may indeed face Divine retribution for his actions, His is the impatience of youth coupled with a burning zeal to right the wrongs he feels inflicted. Hamlet's confrontation with this 'destiny' is the play's essential conflict, embodying any thematic statements and their implied irony, including his relationship with the ghost, How malleable such an individual might be, especially under the direction of a malevolent spirit is open to question, but undoubtly the effects on the latent "vicious mole" would be considerable.
Lavater's conclusion gravely admonishes the faithful to shun spirits that flatter or crave help for the danger of moral entrapment looms ever present. Obviously the ghost craves help which Hamlet wants to give, but does it flatter? A good case may be made:
1. The ghost appeals to Hamlet's familial bond: "If thou didst
ever thy dear father love..." Hamlet replies, "O God!!!
2. The ghost appeals to Hamlet's intellectual curiosity: "I find
thee apt./And duller shouldst thou be than..." (I,v,32-33).
3. The ghost climaxes with an appeal tn Hamlet's resolve,
continuing the metaphor of "Lethe wharf."
Paraphrased, the ghost argues, 'You are my loving, dedicated and intelligent son; your duty is clear, lest you seem dull-witted." As noted, the ghost does not hesitate to flatter himself, and thus feels this a good tactic (as did Chaucer's Pardoner ) to use on Hamlet. Hamlet accepts the flattery as the young are prone to do and suffers accordingly.
Lavater's study correlates with Hamlet in many significant respects: consolation, Purgatorial doctrine, selective appearances, tests for malevolence, modes of appearance, humility and arrogance, pleas for internment, and flattery. Each has been considered, and Hamlet's ghost frequently appears as a composit of Lavater's comments, thus reflecting Shakespeare's imaginative skill to "...give to airy nothing: / A local habitation and a name," But Shakespeare had no desire to write theology, and the ambivalence regarding the ghost's origin must thus far be considered a necessary element of the play's metaphysics.
Reginald Scot''s Discoverie (1584) offers little clarification except to advance the "psychological receptivity" theory (tragic predisposition) prone to melancholics who think they experience ghosts, Hamlet gives his own credence:
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.
If the conclusion is correct, the context may not be as our study of Burton will confirm. Hamlet is not necessarily melancholic by disposition, especially when recalling Ophelia's analysis. Scot's contribution may be quickly dismissed.
Thomas Nashe's The Terrors of the Night, however, offers more substantial criticism, some of which reflects Scot's. Nashe stipulates that an apparition nay be tyrannical when men are plagued by horrid torments, especially a concealed murder. Is there a correlation with Hamlet? Prior to the visitation, Hamlet agonizes over his mother's hasty marriage and possibly suspects Claudius. Of course the ghost reveals the details, but does it act tyrannically? Complicating the discussion is Renaissance doctrine on royal prerogative which assigned a far less pejorative connotation to tyrants; kings were kings by Divine sanction, and royal abuses were to be endured as signs of God's displeasure, at least in theory. When, for example, Richard II tells Bolingbroke, "We were not born to sue, but to command..." (I,ii,196), playgoers not only accepted, but demanded their kings-both on the stage and in reality behave in such a manner, as the Earl of Essex was to discover. How then can Hamlet's ghost be judged? Of the many didactic considerations, The Mirror for Magistrates best profiled tyrannical behavior in a way the Renaissance mentality might find offensive:
Richard II: I am a Kyng that ruled all by lust
That forced not of vertue, ryght, or lawe,
But always put false Flatterers most in trust
Ensuing such as could my vices clawe...
I set my minde, to feede, to spoyle, to iust...
(King Richard the Second, 11,1-7)
Shakespeare's history plays provide similar examples, such as the melodramatic Richard III:
Plots Have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate...
And everyone recalls Henry IV's rebuking his son for consorting with Falstaff. Thus a king who valued personal aggrandizement above his subjects' welfare acted the tyrant. Significantly, then, Shakespeare has his "hero" King, Henry V, banish Falstaff, who pathetically believes he can continue his former role. (40) Click here for additional details.
The ghost, when king, apparently behaved with consummate political skill and military acumen, if we believe Horatio's account of the Norwegian campaign, but Shakespeare often based his historical dramas less on a king fulfilling his duties properly, than on the 'behind closed doors' machinations that often betrayed weakness and the potential for abuse: thus Henry VI is weak, Richard III an outright, self-confessed villain, and Richard II ineffective. Only Henry V fulfills his subjects' expectations.
Although not specified, the ghost implies a life of debauched carnal pleasure with Gertrude that his subjects might well have found offensive. Thus politically there is little in Hamlet to suggest the deceased king functioned differently from the expected norm, but his personal life left something to be desired. His own words to Hamlet betray a tyranny of excess not inconsistent with the Mirror for Magistrates.
Nashe advises that the devil hates light. Here we are on firmer ground, as there is ample evidence that the ghost finds light abhorrent and repulsive. According to Horatio who is no amateur, the ghost flees "like a guilty thing" when the cock, "that is the trumpet to the mourn" crows. Marcellus speaks of light in association with Christ's birth, and the dichotomy between ghost and Jesus, the light of the world, could not be more apparent. The ghost's words sustain the dialectic; it must pause immediately following its quasi-pornographic denunciation of Claudius' lust making: "But soft, methinks I scent the morning air: / Brief let me be." (I,v,58-59) And again: "The glow-worm shows the matin to be near / And gins to pale his uneffectual fire. / Adieu, adieu, adieu. " (I,v,89-91). The lines offer convincing proof the ghost's abhorring light, For the uneducated especially, the ghost is malevolent, but a playgoer with academic training might be unconvinced, and further evidence must be uncovered.
Devils often appear, writes Nashe, in the likeness of one's parents, relying on love to entrap the unwary. Remembering therefore how the ghost used love to entice Hamlet to revenge, we see the case for malevolence strengthened. Nashe's Terrors contributes some circumstantial insight to the investigation, but only circumstantial. It is to the considerable influence of the Daemonologie that we must turn.
James argues in Book I that excessive passions and curiosity and the desire for revenge render one susceptible to demoniac influence. Excessive intellectual curiosity leading to damnation was a favorite Renaissance theme best reflecting the mores of the age. The Chorus in the Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus warns: "Till, swollen with cunning, of a self-conceit, / His [Faustus] waxen wings did mount above his reach / And melting, heavens conspired his overthrow."
Certainly Hamlet's passions are well-evidenced. The first soliloquy reverberates with passion, and its basis is the intellectual curiosity of the speaker. His "Must I remember?" (I,ii,l43) demands an affirmative response, He cannot forget the murder, Gertrude's actions and his own nervous energy that demands a resolution. May he not then be especially susceptible to malevolent influences just as Macbeth's desire for Duncan's throne enhance his susceptibility and eagerness when confronting the witches?
James believes that devils may foretell future events by confounding the subject with half-truths and lies, lest he discover their intentions too quickly. A critical question for Hamlet of is the ghost's veracity; if it lies, then entrapment becomes compelling evidence for spiritual malignancy. Horatio's conjecture concluding scene i--
I have heard
The cock, that is the trumpet to the mourn
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day, and at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
T'extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine...
correlates with James:
...they make them beleeue, 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 Elementee
they ftill remaine.
He disputes this contention on the assumption that the only fall in question is from Divine grace, after which they function as God's "hang-men, to execute fuch turnes as he employes them in. And when Auie of them are not occupyed...they muft to their prifon in hel..."
We have noted earlier that Shakespeare may use "harrow" and prison-house in the same context to hint obliquely at the ghost's origin, and that no spirit mlay operate without God's consent. Horatio's reference to the elements suggests the popular belief that all God's creatures exist in a macro- and microcosmically ordered universe, and that he and James believe the ultimate metaphysical reality for spirits was hell. The ghost stipulates:
I am thy father's spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to fast in fires,
Till the four 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...
Aquinas believes that the fires of hell and Purgatory are the same, and so it is entirely possible, given the ghost's preoccupation with private revenge and its desire to entrap Hamlet by warning him to ignore Gertrude, that hell is its ultimate reality. Further, if Hamlet's dramatic method points to dialectical testing, it becomes apparent that the ghost forces Hamlet to choose between its commands. The very nature of that choice precludes synthesis, and since integration, to be the 'ideal' Renaissance man, A Sir Philip Sidney, best characterizes Renaissance anthropomorphic values, then any obfuscation would be viewed as malevolent. Even, therefore, it the ghost does not overtly lie, which in itself is doubtful, its version of the injunctions commanded to Hamlet are sufficiently devastating to his psyche to support malevolence, The terror Ophelia experiences dramatizes the horror. Her suicide foreshadows the Prince's own death.
In Chapter II of the second book, James explicates the threefold process that devils employ to pervert their victims. Significantly, they parallel the ghost's methods in Hamlet. At the first visitation, the devil finds an
entreffe reddy for him, either by the great ignorance
of the perfon he deales with, ioyned with an euill life, or
elle by their carelefnes and contempt of God: And
finding them in an vtter defpair,...he prepares the way
by feeding them craftely in their humor, and filling them
further and further with despaire, while he finde the time
proper to difcouer himfelf vnto them. At which time..he
either by a voyce, or in likeneffe of a man inquires of them,
what troubles them: and promifeth them, a fuddaine and
certaine waie of remedie, vpon condition on the other parte,
they follow his advice...Their minds being prepared before
The devil's seduction requires initially a degree of predisposition, and Hamlet's "vicious mole" suffices. No one familiar with his despair should question the corresponding macrocosmic interlace: "'How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world!" (I,ii,133-134). Given the interlace pattern of disease imagery, Hamlet's despair seems almost complete. The circumstances for a visitation could not be more precipitous.
James' assertion that visitations occur in the likeness of a man and in isolated areas obviously correlates with Hamlet, and it is worth recalling Lavater' s first test for a spirit's authenticity, that of providing comfort, James insists such comfort ameliorates. Now the ghost knows why Hamlet's heart breaks, He issues his commands, and Hamlet appears comforted. But if the only remaining chance for Hamlet's long-term happiness is Gertrude's salvation on earth, then the comfort is ironic, the depth of which only gradually becomes apparent to Hamlet as his involvement deepens, Hamlet may well have been enticed to what the ghost hoped was his damnation.
James outlines details of a second and third meeting. At the second, the spirit,
...makes them to renounce their God and Baptifme
directlie, and giues them his marke vpon fome fecreit
place of their bodie, which remaines foare vhhealed...
Further, the mark may be altered at the spirit's discretion and serves to remind the subject of his bondage. The interim between the ghost's initial visit and the bedroom scene appears to validate James' theory, but not physically. Shakespearean drama is dramatization of consciousness. Thus the spiritual and moral effects of the vicious mole remain one of Hamlet's metaphysical primaries. The mole exists in Hamlet's mind prior to the ghost's visit and is intensified (altered) by the ghost; thus Burton argues at the outset of The Anatomy of Melancholy that all men by nature are prone to that disposition due to original sin. The image / motif patterns previously outlined amply demonstrate this conclusion: indeed it is their dramatic function.
James' "marke" infects Hamlet's consciousness and in dramatizing its agonies, Shakespeare's craftsmanship transcends whatever 'sources' on demonology he may have known in the same way, for example, as Gorboduc pales before Lear, though both have similar plots. Hamlet's lines demonstrate Shakespeare's more than passing familiarity with the sources we have been examining. They mention in effect the devil's power to assume a "pleasing shape," making therefore the "mousetrap" necessary, for, in II,ii,594 ff., Hamlet himslf notes that the spirit may be devil which has the power to assume a "pleasing shape."
In the "To be" soliloquy, the "'marke" virtually becomes James' literal meaning. Initially internalized, "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer...," (III,i,57), the "mark / mole" corruption produces that which is macrocosmically visible: "...the thousand natural shocks / that flesh is heir to," (11.62-63), What prevents Hamlet from suicide, in effect the final renunciation of Baptism by the despairing, is the fear that lies after death and whatever positive sensibilities he has left from Ophelia's assessment.
The list of macrocosmic referents in the soliloquy is impressive:
whips and scorns of time
the proud man's contumely
the pangs of dispriz'd love
the law's delay
Each refers to one half of the metaphor: the mark's external manifestation, but particularized by Hamlet to reflect the nightmare of his circumstance. Finally, introspection prevails, but it is, "...sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought..." (1.85). Action may be stayed, but only theoretically, Hamlet does act.
The Prince's reiteration of "honest," used ten times in the play, suggests a motif binding the objective and subjective dimensions of the "marke." Its obscene connotation implies not only the moral corruption of the prostitute, but also attendant physical manifestations:
For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a
good kissing carrion-Have you a daughter
Let her not walk i'n th'sun. Conception is a blessing
Both macrocosmically and microcosmically, Ophelia to Hamlet has the "marke" of a condemned woman, and Gertrude, with more cause, is treated the same. The cancer spreads.
As the ghost evaluates Hamlet's actions, however, it perceives a violation of its injunction to leave Gertrude to heaven. It is in this context that the bedroom scene must be explicated. James discusses the need for subsequent visitations. The devil,
...fearing leaft otherwaies they [the subject] might either
forget him, being as new Prentifes, and not well inough,
founded yet, in the fiendlie follie: or elfe remembring of
that horrible promife they made him, at their laft meeting,
they might skunner at the fame, and preaffe to call it back,
At their thirde meeting, he makes a fhew to be carefull to
performe his promifes, either by teaching them waies howe
to get themfelues reuenged...
Shakespeare synthesizes these appearances in the bedroom scene in which Hamlet's language interlaces with the ghost's:
Such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love,
And sets a blister [the 'vicious mole'] there, makes marriage vows
As false as dicers' oaths...
The correspondence with James is obvious. In context, filled with microcosmic filth and corruption, Hamlet implies James' contention that subsequent visitations are meant as proddings:
Hamlet: Do you not come your tardy son to chide,
That, laps'd in time and passion, lets go by
The important acting of your dread command?
Ghost: Do not forget.
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
The command to revenge is James' horrible promise in two ways, Any revenge implying private motives is morally wrong. Secondly, since the ghost initially directs Hamlet to revenge rather than to maternal evangelism, its command deliberately frustrates the purpose that led to Hamlet's visit in the first place. Apparently the ghost believes Hamlet's love for Gertrude precludes his original commandment. Even if only nominally observed in the Renaissance, Christian love should transcend revenge.
The ghost's, "0 step between her and her fighting soul," has convinced commentators that only a benevolent spirit could pity Gertrude's anguish, imploring Hamlet therefore to cease, Whether this be Shakespeare's intention may perhaps be determined by examining Q1:
Hamlet:...I thus long haue let reuenge flippe by?
O do not glare with lookes fo pittiful!
Left that my heart offtone yeelde to compaffion,
And euery part that fhould affift reuenge, And
Forgoe their proper powers and fall to pitty,
Ghost: Hamlet, I once againe appeare to thee,
To put thee in remembrance of my death:
Doe not neglect nor long time put it off.
But I perceiue by thy diftracted lookes,
Thy mother's fearefull, and fne ftande amazde:
Speake to her Hamlet, for her fex is weake,
Comfort thy mother, Hamlet, thinke on me.
Ql's lines find a more compassionate Hamlet, fighting against pity, and a more compassionate ghost. There is a difference between "Comforte thy mother" and "O step between her and her fighting soul." The former at least equates revenge and Gertrude's salvation, while the other implies the dispatching of Gertrude's torment as soon as possible lest the Prince completely forget the command to revenge, But if Q1's authenticity and reliability be questioned, then Shakespeare's intention may be interpreted as a reaffirmation of the spiritual entrapment implied by James I.
A passage in James does, however, conflict with Hamlet's responses, James argues that an evil spirit makes his victims renounce God and Baptism. It is insufficient to hold that Hamlet's melancholy and resolution not to die implies renunciation, However, what dramatizes that renunciation and what is an indirect result of the ghost's command is Polonius' death. Thinking he is Claudius, Hamlet commits private revenge, for which he knows he ...will answer well / The death..." (III,iv,178-179). Hamlet knows he cannot escape God's justice, and it would therefore appear the ghost's actions conform to James' criteria for a malevolent spirit's intent.
James' fondness for lists of demoniac powers pervades the Daemonologie. Chapter V of Book II outlines the effects of witches on their subjects and insofar as demons frequently operated in the universe through them, a correlation with Hamlet may provide additional evidence, James believes they can move men and women to hate each other, suggesting the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship. Her affection for Hamlet is genuine, and he knows it. She tells Polonius:
My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbrac'd...
And with a look so piteous in purport
Its if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors, he comes before me.
Her simile provides a connection between their relationship and the demoniac influence. Because Gertrude defiled marriage by wedding Claudius, Hamlet concludes all women share the same taint. For the ghost's command to be fulfilled, Hamlet must sever all previous relationships and concentrate on revenge; yet he cannot. Gertrude and Ophelia mean too much to abandon as the ghost well knows. Hamlet's agony, his "vicious mole," is the choice he is being compelled to make between revenge and wishing to see Gertrude restored and having a normal relationship with Ophelia, conditions not without possibility if the ghost had not interfered.
James suggests witches can cause a humor imbalance: "They can lay the fikneffe of one vpon an other...he knowes well inough what humor domines moft in anie of vs, and as a fpirite hee can fubtillie walken vp the fame..." (I,V,45). There is every reason to suspect the ghost functions in the manner described. Our analysis of King Hamlet's character demonstrated a self-centered arrogance, "O Hamlet, what a falling off was there. / From me, whose love was of that dignity..." (I,v,47), perhaps sufficiently repulsive to Gertrude to cause her affections to be swayed by the glib and polished Claudius. In any case, when the ghost reflects on his wife's conduct, its language becomes obscene. With the language as a textual given, the reader would be hard pressed to conclude other than that King Hamlet led a life less virtuous than his son supposed. Hamlet of course uses similar language to and about Ophelia, a powerful interlace, Contagion, "the vicious mole," passes from ghost to Hamlet. A related theme dominating these moments is madness. If Hamlet is mad at any time, it is when he struggles with an antidote that may cure his diseased wit-love, but as the angst almost transcends his curative efforts, Hamlet's actions dramatize that, "Frailty, thy name is woman."
James believes witches "...can be-witch and take the life of men or women, by rofting of the Pictures," (II,V,45). Although such does not directly occur in Hamlet, it is interesting to observe that 'picture' imagery functions significantly in the bedroom scene. Hamlet demands Gertrude contrast pictures of Claudius and his father in language recalling the ghost's:
King Hamlet's portrait:
See what a grace was seated on this brow,
Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself,
An eye like Mars to threaten and command,
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on A heaven-kissing hill,
A combination and a form indeed
Where every god did seem to set his seal
To give the world assurance of a man.
Now Claudius' portrait:
This was your husband. Look you...
Here is your husband, like a mildew'd
Blasting his whosesome brother,
Have you eyesl?
Could you on this fair mountain
leave to feed
And batten on this moor?
It is revealing that Hamlet's estimate of his father requires a sustained reiteration of superlatives, whereas his denunciation of Claudius takes only a few lines. Perhaps Hamlet must convince himself that his opinion of the dead king warrants the same conviction, for it is characterize of him to verbalize when he lacks assurance. Nonetheless his summation, occurring immediately before the ghost enters, directly invokes demoniac imagery:
What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?...
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax
And melt in her own fire...
Fire and hell imagery, so integral to the ghost's presence, seems to summon the spirit and the irony of a microcosmic and macrocosmic exemplar is appalling, In effect the pictures serve as a dramatic and moral focal point in the scene. Claudius dramatizes the ghost's command for revenge and Hamlet's revulsion at the marriage. The hatred is directed at Gertrude whom he wishes to save, hoping to rescue her from her own diseased will.
"Pictures" also function metaphorically. Beginning with the ghost's initial dialogue, the image patterns of decay and moral corruption form a motif central to sustaining malevolence. Each image is a verbal "picture" finding its consummation in the pictures shown to Gertrude. King Hamlet's dramatized all past events, and it appears to represent righteousness, at least in Hamlet's mind. Claudius', however, is reality for Hamlet, the reality of stagnation, foulness and corruption that makes Denmark a prison and occasions his bad dreams. The wider, spiritually malevolent implications may escape him.
James continues, arguing they can cause macrocosmic disturbances within Divinely sanctioned limits. (II,v,46), That Shakespeare understood this belief is apparent in Macbeth.. Working at the devil's command, the witches serve to dramatize the intense evil embraced by the protagonist and his wife when they conspire to kill Duncan. In Hamlet, though, Shakespeare dramatized with a subtly that intensifies the horror. The opening scene at midnight is bitter cold, and Francisco is sick at heart, In I,iv, when the ghost appears again, Hamlet notes that, "The air bites shrewdly, it is very cold," (I,iv,i). The macrocosmic storms are conspicuous by their absence-this is not King Lear, but they nonetheless appear in the hearts and minds of the characters, Dramatization is narrated by the flashback to Caesar's death, and Horatio warning Hamlet not to follow the ghost, lest his reason be compromised. Horatio argues conventional Renaissance doctrine that within limits set by God, spirits were permitted to alter matter, the so-called "seeds of time" in Macbeth. Although the kind of storms in Lear or Julius Caesar are absent in Hamlet, the horror is rooted in the correspondence of macrocosmic and microcosm within the castle. Just as the drunken porter in Macbeth envisioned his gates to open hell, so Francisco's heart-sickness invites us to the hell of Hamlet's world, a condition so without referent that the ghost cannot describe it. In fact Shakespeare uses 'confinement' imagery as a motif to dramatize Hamlet's infected consciousness in language implying the correspondence:
Denmark's a prison...
in which there are may confines
wards, and dungeons, Denmark being o'th'
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself a king of infinite space--were it not that I
have had bad dreams.
and prior to the bedroom scene:
'Tis now the very witching time of night
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
Finally, Hamlet's noble heart cracks. A Renaissance playgoer would endorse the correspondence. Hell's contagion in the form of the ghost pollutes the microcosm, nurturing the "vicious mole" and demonstrates that evil objectively exists in the universe, waiting to be unleashed by man's actions, or allowed by God as a test of faith.
Another reference from the Daemonologie touches on one of Hamlet's most controversial themes: madness. James writes that spirits can, "...make folkes to becom phrenticque or Maniacque, which likewife is very poffible to their mafter to do..." (I,V,47). The question poses significant complications and if an answer is to be found the classic Renaissance study of 'psychology,' or 'psycho-theology' must be examined: Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Decidedly antidotal, its profusion of sections and subsections offers a fascinating glimpse of the seventeenth Century mind.... Despite its theocentric perspective, The Anatomy offers much to the contemporary reader as well as those interested in its Shakespearean applications. (41)
Burton places man, "...the most excellent and noble creature of the world..." in a theocentric universe and blames his woes -in the words of Chaucer's Monk-on Adam's fall from "heigh degree," whereapon his excellence substantially changed:
O pitiful change! is fallen from that he was, and forfeited
his estate, become miserabilis homuncio a cast-away, a caitiff
one of the most miserable creatures of the world, if he be
considered in his own nature, an unregenerate man, and so much
obscured by his fall that...he is inferior to a beast. (41).
His disobedience, pride, ambition, intemperance, incredulity,
curiosity; from whence proceeded original sin, and that general
corruption (42) of mankind, as from a fountain flowed all bad in-
clinations...inflicted upon us for our sins. (43)
(Vol. 1, Mem. 1. subs. 1, 174-175)
This theological definition of madness echoes the theme passage, and Hamlet's view of man:
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express
and admirable, in action how like an Angel, in apprehension
how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of
animals-and yet, to ne, what is this quintessence of
Burton though outlines a medical definition of madness that refines the theological one:
Madness...is defined to be a vehement dotage, (44) or raving
without a fever, far more violent than melancholy, full of
anger and clamour, horrible looks, actions, gestures,
troubling the patients with far greater vehemency both
of body and mind, without all fear and sorrow, with such
impetuous force and boldness, that sometimes three or
four men cannot hold them.
(Vol. 1, Mem. 1, subs 4, 187)
The confrontation between Hamlet and Ophelia and Gertrude fits this definition, but whether it proves madness remains open, since Hamlet vows to "...put an antic disposition On..." Is the madness actual?
When Hamlet refers to his "wit" as diseased, he refers to its relationship to understanding, that aspect of the rational soul which is man's apprehending power, Understanding examines fantasy, common sense, and memory, thereby providing wisdom needed by the will to make ethical decisions. Because of Adam's sin, however, the will's harmony with reason falters, and passion reigns unchecked, ravaging the microcosm and, as Ulysses' "universal wolf," the macrocosm alike. Wit, actively involved as a regulator, is defined by Burton as,
...acumen, or subtilty, sharpness of invention, when he
[a man] doth invent of himself without a teacher, or learns
anew, which abstracts those intelLigible species from the
fantasy, and transfers them to the passive understanding.
(Vol. 1, Part I Sec. 1, Mem.2 subs. X, 220)
Continuing, Burton sees wit as a doctor or teacher who instructs those habits and actions committed to his charge. The passage explains a metaphor in Hamlet that some directors have found perplexing when staging the play. Hamlet dedicates himself to revenge and vows:
Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee?
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'11 wipe away all trivial fond records...
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain.
Hamlet's wit must teach his understanding the means necessary to execute the ghost's dread command, and an educational metaphor becomes an apt means to express the idea. The degree to which the wit is diseased is the measure of cognitive unfulfillment: execution becomes mitigated, and melancholy affects the Prince's thinking.
Burton's definition validates my contention that Hamlet is not melancholic by nature, or, for example, Ophelia could never have summed his accomplishments as she does. The retrograde dimension of Hamlet's weltanschauung correlates with Burton's explanation of melancholy:
...a kind of dotage, without a fever, having for his
ordinary compasions, fear and sadness, without any
(Vol, 1, Part I Sec, 1, Mem. 3, subs. 1. 225)
To this must be added that Burton believes transitory melancholy affects all men. As a result of Adam's sin, men
...give a way to their passion, voluntary subject and pre
cipitate themselves into a labyrinth of cares, woes, miseries,
and suffer their souls to be overcome by them, cannot arm
themselves with that patience as they ought to do, it falleth
out oftentimes that these dispositions become habits...
(Vol. 1, Part I Sec. 1, Mem. 2. subs, 5. 193-194)
That Shakespeare dramatizes Burton's analysis is evident when recalling Iago's counsels to Roderigo:
...'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus,
Our bodies are gardeners, to the which our wills are
gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow
lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with
one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either
to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry--
why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in
our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale
of reason to pose another of sensuality, the blood and
baseness of our natures would conduct us to most pre
posterous conclusions, But we have reason to call our
raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts...
Garden imagery, of course, is an important motif in Hamlet as well, Here, the will, unencumbered by passion, is free to reach proper decisions, but "carnal stings" and "lusts" corrupt the process which, if occurring too frequently, become habits, engendering melancholy. Ophelia's assessment of Hamlet, his "...most sovereign reason / Like sweet bells jangled...," supports both the need for reason's primacy and the consequences of its abdication; the play's irony involves the ghost's role in the process.
Hamlet's madness reflects Burton's view of aggravated, transitory melancholy, hardened by habit and intense reflection mandated by the ghost's commands. Not melancholic by nature but having the impatience and idealism of youth wedded to a formidable intelligence, Hamlet wants the world made anew at once, If melancholy lacks a specific cause, Hamlet's does not; he knows what he wants, and the passions involved are love and jealousy. What Shakespeare appears to dramatize is not true melancholy but a profound intensification of transitory melancholy occasioned by his father's death, mother's marriage, and especially the ghost's commands. Of course the ghosts wishes Hamlet's condition made permanent. Burton acknowledges the connection:
Sometimes by the devil's help...we hack and hew...born to
consume one another...To come nearer yet, our own parents
by their offenses, indiscretion. and intemperance, are our
mortal enemies, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and
the children's teeth are set on edge," They cause our grief
many times, and put upon us hereditary diseases, inevitable
infirmities; they torment us, and we are ready to injure our
(Vol. 1, Part I Sec. 1, Mem, 1. subs 1. 180)
The Hamlet / Claudius relationship, with its implications for Gertrude and Ophelia, could not be better defined. Further, the passage is a prose explication of Hamlets theme passage: Hamlet's wit so corrupts understanding that the "vicious mole" grows unchecked, harming the will's ability to make proper decisions. As Adam's son, Hamlet inherits melancholy, but the ghost cause it to grow, creating a humor imbalance. And most significantly in terms of that spirit, the devil is instrumental in the process.
We noted Hamlet's revulsion for sexual situations, and the matter has no small relationship to the madness question. Burton's Third Partition, treating love melancholy and jealousy, examines the particulars. Of the many definitions of love he includes, Burton views the passion as an intense desire for some good, be it "...a good servant, a good horse, a good son, a good friend, a good neighbor, a good wife." (Vol, II, Part III Sec.1, Mem. 1. subs 2, 431). Generally, love directed toward God and man, if not abused, offers the charitable man happiness here and in heaven, but abuse causes melancholy.
Hamlet dramatizes love's abuse, affecting appetite's relation to reason. Such abuse apparently began prior to Hamlet's father's murder when his faith in parental loved waned. As Hamlet reminds Gertrude in the bedroom scene:
The heydey of the bood is tame, it's humble
And waits upon the judgment, and what judgment
Would step from this [King Hamlet] to this [Claudius]...
That thus has cozen'd you...
Burton strongly suggests such treachery:
...love of parents may not be concealed, 'tis natural
descends, and that they are inhuman in this kind, are
unworthy of that air they breathe, and of the four elements;...
(Vol. II, Part III Sec. 1, Mem. subs 2,. 446)
When the "descent" of parental love terminates as Hamlet believes it does, horrid evil results, and Burton's list reads like a summary of Hamlet's plot:
We do...contemn, consult, vex, torture, molest...rail, scoff
calumniate, challenge, hate, abuse...to satisfy our lust....
spread ourselves, goods, friends, fortunes, to be revenged
on our adversary...with such eagerness and bitterness, with
such rancour, malice, rage, and fury, we prosecute our intended
designs, that neither affinity or consanguinity, love or
fear of God or man can contain us...
(Vol. II, Part III, Sec. 1, Mem. 8. 460)
Burton adds that under such conditions, one cannot triumph over the devil, but ironically he may be the one "cozen'd." Hamlet's "lust" must be satisfied. As manifestations of a humiliated and wracked ego, it seeks revenge on those deemed responsible and predicts the impossibility of his own successful union with Ophelia. We know Hamlet predicates his future on Gertrude's salvation; wlthout it not much else matters including the ghost's command. Enslaved by his own passion and strength of moral purpose, he ruthlessly crushes anyone who would deny his mission. Such is the youthful spirit that demands a dialectical resolution, but is the process controlled by supernatural forces he was warned by Horatio to avoid?
Undoubtly Hamlet would have accepted Burton's definition of a good wife Paraphrasing Plutarch, he notes she,
...should be as a looking-glass to represent her husband's
face and passion; if he be pleasant, she should be merry; if
he laugh, she should smile; if he look sad, she should
participate of his sorrow, and bear a part with him,
and so they should continue in mutual love one towards
(Vol. III, Part III Sec. 1, Mem. 1. subs 2. 21)
I said accepted insofar as Gertrude's relationship to King Hamlet was defined by the Prince in precisely that manner, but ironically in a manner feminist criticism seeks to deconstruct, Not doing so precipitates the very moral crisis in her Hamlet seeks to rectify in that she is denied the self-expression needed for moral rectitude. He thus tells his mother:
Come, come, and sit you down, you shall not budge.
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
Father and mother is man and wife,
man and wife is one flesh; so my mother.
With the murder of King Hamlet and Gertrude's incest, however, the microcosm riots, and Ophelia is Hamlet's victim. Burton explains; his "it" is love:
It will not contain itself within the union of marriage,
or apply to one object, but if, a wandering, extravagant,
a domineering, a boundless, an irrefragable, a destructive
passion; sometimes this burning lust rageth after marriage,
and then it is properly called jealousy; sometimes before,
and then it is called heroical melancholy:...it begets, rapes,
(Sec. 2. Mem. 1. subs. 2, p. 21)
Two interpretations are possible. Nominalistically, Hamlet experiences "herocical melancholy:" he is not married, but realistically jealousy better describes his feelings for as an idealist, he wants to be married, and the dialectic generated by a self-imposed denial focuses on Ophelia:
If thou dost marry, I'11 give thee this plague for
thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice. as pure as snow,
thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nun-
nary, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry
a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters
you make of them. To a nunnery, go--and quickly
And Hamlet will be made a fool of no longer, but the paradox is cruel. If he believes he can never attain that which he lost, a loving home, then his words are clear: to marry is folly, but as embittered idealism taints his mood; he longs for the very union he professes to loathe. Thus:
...the power of beauty will sooner transfer honesty
from what is was to a bawd than the force of honesty
can translate beauty into his likeness. This was
sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.
I did love you once.
Beauty ironically corrupts and is more potent than honesty's redemptive efforts. Hamlet's deseased wit unravels the paradox, but without sufficient potency to nullify the pathos of the last line. He did love her once and still does, for to admit the possibility, and he must remember it did / does exist-further tortures his already agonized soul. Cannot the following, from Burton's lengthy list of love's symptoms, apply to Hamlet's love for Gertrude and Ophelia:
...he can do nothing, think of nothing but
her; desire hath no rest. she is his cynosure,...
his morning and evening star, his
goddess, his mistress, his life, his soul,
(Vol. III, Part III, Sec. 2 Mem Sec. 2. Mem. 1. 139)
Were the correlation untrue, Shakespeare would not have written the bedroom scene, the clashes with Ophelia, her assessment of his moral and intellectual worth, and especially the ghost's injunction to leave Gertrude to heaven.
Madness need not always be feigned; it grows nurtured by memory and sustained by a future devoid of hope. Enough has been said to warrant that Hamlet misses the irony of his "antic disposition," perhaps because he is too close to the situation. Burton acknowledges the consequences:
Love and Bacchus are so violent gods, so furiously rage
in our minds, that they make us forget all honesty, shame,
and common civility. For such men ordinarily, as are
thoroughly possessed with this humor, become incensati
et insani...no better than beasts...void of fear of God
or men, the frequently forswear themselves, spend, steal
commit incests, rapes, adultcries, murders, depopulate
towns, cities, countries, to satisfy their lust.
(VoL. III, Part III Sec. 2. Mem. 4. 189)
The correspondence to Hamlet fascinates. Hamlet openly insults Claudius and Gertrude, berates Ophelia, attaches himself unnaturally to Gertrude, murders Polonius, uses obscene language, and sees man as little more than a beast. He festers in a world largely not of his own making, and perhaps one definition of his madness is the growing realization of his own impotence to right it, especially after the murder of Polonius: the ghost works wonderfully well.
Hamlet is not without jealousy, defined by Burton as suspicion that the beloved be "enamoured of another" occasioning., "...a fear or doubt, lest any foreigner should participate or share with him in his love." Characterized is the Hamlet-Gertrude-Claudius relationship. Without implying a Freudian interpretation, the latter's intrusion in Hamlet's family unit is profoundly revolting. Hamlet tells Gertrude:
Here is your husband, like a mildwe'd ear
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed
And batten on this moor?
Certainly Claudius is foreign to everything his 'son' believes sacred, and further the horror explains Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia:
Hamlet: Ha!, ha!l Are you honest?
Hamlet: Are you fair?
...he begins presently to suspect, that wherein
he is defective, she will satisfy herself, she
will be pleased by some other means.
(Vol. III, Part III Sec. 3 Mem. 1 subs. 2. 29)
Burton's conclusion is Hamlet's:
...they pretend love, honour, chastity, and seem
to respect them before all men living, saints in
show...they will not so much as look upon
another man in his presence...
(Vol. III, Part III Sec. 3. Mem. 1 subs. 2. 303)
...and from Hamlet:
Must I remember? Why she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on; and yet within a month
Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman...
The result argues Burton is madness and jealousy due to love melancholy, and the victim's conduct outlined in The Anatomy virtually parallels Hamlet's:
He will sometimes sigh, weep, sob for anger...
slander any man, curse, threaten, brawl, scold.
fight; and sometimes again flatter and speak fair,
ask forgiveness...and then...rave, roar, and lay
about him like a madman...he will be divorced
forthwith, she is n whore &c., and by and by with
all submission compliment, entreat her fair, and
bring her in again; he loves her dearly...so he
continues on and on...
(Vol. III, Part III Sec. 3 Mem. 2. 308-309)
and from Hamlet:
Ophelia: My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbrac'd...
And with a look so piteous in purport
AS if he had been loosed out of hell
To speak of horrors, he comes before me
Polonius: Mad for thy love?
Ophelia: My lord , I do not know,
But truly I do fear it...
Ophelia's simile contains more truth than the times allowed her to express, but we must substantiate by verifying the extent to which the ghost aggravates Hamlet's wit, alleged madness, jealousy and love melancholy.
As noted, James believes in the possibility of demons causing madness, and Burton considers the question by asking if spirits and devils have the power to cause melancholy. He disclaims devils as only being the souls of men departed, and he argues for an objective, independent existence, often though not exclusively, of demons being seen by melancholics. Further even the "most illiterate devil" transcends human potential, and
...can produce marvelous alterations in the air, and
most wonderful effects, conquer armies, give victories,
help, further, hurt, cross...human attempts and
projects (Dei permissu) as they see good themselves...
But that...they can tell the secrets of a man's heart is
(Vol. I. Part I. Sec. 2. Mem. 1. subs. 2. 247)
As does Augustine and Lavater, Burton agrees that although formidable, devils cannot contravene Divine will and many only operate below the moon with God's permission, and with clearly defined limitations. Nonetheless their tactical expertise formidably challenges as expressed by burton in a manner not unlike Hamlet's ghost. The devil
...studies our overthrow, and generally seeks our
destruction: and although he pretend many times human
good, and vindicate himself for a god by curing of
several diseases...pretend their happiness, yet...
nothing so pernicious, as may well appear by their
tyrannical and bloody sacrifices of men...
(Vol. I. Part I. Sec. 2. Mem 1, subs. 2, 261)
The explication thus far has demonstrated a correlation between Burton's judgment and the ghost which appears to "cure" Hamlet, but instead plunges him into a nightmare which he must examine dialectically insofar as the ghost forbids aid to Gertrude. Horatio's metaphor comparing Caesar's Rome to Denmark foreshadows ghostly malevolence. Very significantly, he is interrupted by the ghost which would not want those comparisons to continue.
Burton also implies the microcosmic-macrocosmic correspondence insofar as devils and spirits influence many human activities including rewards and punishments, and losses and preferments. Each of course correlates with Hamlet. The Prince wonders for example if he ever will be king (preferment), suffers the murder of his father (loss), endures gertrude's marriage (wedding), kills Polonius (death), enjoys the friendship of Horatio (reward), and now serves as God's minister and scourge (reward / punishment).
Yet does God allows the devil to cause madness. Burton affirms the possibility:
1...he can infect the bodies, and hinder the operations
of the bowels, though we perceive it not, closely creep-
ing into them...and so crucify our souls...
2...he struggles with our spirits...and suggests...envy, lust
anger,&c as he sees men inclined.
3. He begins first with the fantasy, and moves that so strongly
that no reason is able to resist. Now the fantasy he moves
by meditation of humors; although many physicians are of
opinion , that the devil can alter the mind...
4...the devil...can...terrify our souls with fearful dreams, and
shake our minds with furies.
(Vol. I. Sec. 2. Mem. 1. subs. 2. 264-265)
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself a king of infinite space-were it not that I
have bad dreams...A dream itself is but a shadow.
implies an appalling irony, especially when recalling Horatio's words to the ghost: "Stay, illusion." (I,i,130). Is it?
According to Burton, those driven to madness by the devil are inclined to melancholy, and we have demonstrated that Hamlet probably suffers from an intensification of its most acute form: love melancholy (passionate jealously). Insofar as Hamlet's consciousness exhibits this humor imbalance, then a case for demoniac influence exists. The "vicious mole" dramatizes such corruption in terms of Burton's third reason in that Hamlet (since his mother's marriage) is prone to see the macrocosm polluted. If not, then why does he respond to the ghost's revelations with, "O my prophetic soul! My uncle!" (I,v,40) Further, Hamlet's relationship to Gertrude certainly involves envy, lust and anger, and these passions--intensified by the ghost-occasion Ophelia's treatment and Polonius' death, We know his attitude toward sex,.
Spirits corrupt the fantasy, destroying reason, In the theme passage, Hamlet notes the "...o'rgrowth of some complextion / Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason..." (I,v,27-28), and Horatio directly implies the connection to Hamlet:
What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness?
The devil uses fantasy as his instrument to cause a humor ("complexion") imbalance, Fantasy says Burton,
...is an inner sense which doth more fully examine the
species perceived by common sense, of things present or
absent, and keeps them longer, recalling them to mind again,
or making new of his own. In time of sleep this faculty is
free, and many times conceives strange, stupend, absurd
shapes,..his objects all the species communicated to him
by the common sense, by comparison of which he feigns
infinite other unto himself. In melancholy men this faculty
is most powerful and strong, and often hurts, producing
many monsterous and prodigious things, especially if it be
stirred up by some terrible object, presented to it from common
sense or memory. In poets and painters imagination forcibly
works...in men it is subjected and governed by reason, or at
least should be...
(Vol. I. Part I. Sec. 1. Mem. 2. subs, 2. Memb. VII, 212)
There is much to consider. Hamlet's gradual corruption by (love) melancholy makes him ripe for fantasy's aberrations. His father's death and mother's marriage are memory's content, "stirred up by some terrible object," the ghost and its command, and his response dramatizes the effect and future intent: "I'l1 wipe away all trivial fond records..." (I,v,99)
Purged of all thoughts, his mind--i.e, understanding considered by Burton as passive is ripe for fantasy's work. How that occurs, Shakespeare explains in A Midsummer's Night Dream:
...as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Hamlet does precisely this. As poet, he appears not without qualifications, both advising the players or stagecraft, rewriting part of their performance-highly significant in the present context, and sending love letters to Ophelia. His fantasy "bodies forth" ideas not yet known in the world of sensory experience: the dialogue and letter's content, and "gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name," the palace stage for the mousetrap and the letters Ophelia receives. And elsewhere Shakespeare dramatizes Hamlet's disposition for imaginative activity and fearful dreams, the content of which finds reality in Ophelia's persecution, Gertrude's conversion, and the mousetrap,
Following Hamlet's request to the players that he alter the dialogue, he reflects in soliloquy:
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd...
And all for nothing!
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing-no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. But am I a coward?
Hamlet is not a coward, but a victim of love melancholy, intensified by a corrupted fantasy; thus "John-a-dreams." The soliloquy confirms this in two ways. First, the fact that Hamlet cannot find a 'rational' answer to his paralysis of will indicates the degree to which the ghost has allowed fantasy to sully reason, and secondly his conclusion, lacks certitude. If it did not, the dialectic would not be necessary:
The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath power
T'assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
And he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me, I'11 have grounds
More relative than this The play's the thing
Wherein I'11 catch the conscience of the king.
More than virtually anywhere else, these lines absolutely confirm Burton's thesis. Hamlet is 'mad' to the degree he specifies in his own soliloquy, but ironically his reason reduces the cause to a supposition: ",...may be a devil," hence the need for testing.
The validity of the Burton / Hamlet evidence may be enhanced by examining attitudes of those who evaluate Hamlet and certain language clues. Virtually every character has something to say about Hamlet. Although Gertrude has reason to suspect a complexion imbalance, both she and Claudius think they understand the cause. Claudius fears Hamlet's retribution and the love of Hamlet's subjects, and Gertrude cannot abide close scrutiny. Interestingly two who appear somewhat less competent to judge, Polonius and Guildenstern, come near the mark, Polonius suspects "method" to Hamlet's madness, and Guildenstern speaks of "crafty madness." Yet, it is Horatio's beliefs that count because of his intimate knowledge of Hamlet, and thus he may be better able to discern the difference between "crafty madness" and madness' substance. He warns for instance that Hamlet might be driven mad by the ghost and upon the advice being ignored, states. "He waxes desperate with imagination. (I,v,87) As 'objective' observer, Hamlet's closest friend echoes Burton's analysis. Elsewhere too, Shakespeare uses "imagination" in a similar although humorous, context. In
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Page converses with the suspicious Ford who thinks Falstaff is in his home. Page warns: "What spirit, what devil suggests / this imagination? (III,iii,230-231)
The context reflects the far more tragic correspondence in Hamlet, and it does demonstrate Shakespeare's familiarity with Burton's theories, Likewise, in II Henry IV, Lord Bardolph's reflections on Hotspur's prowess at Shrewsbury unite madmen with imaginative excess: "And so, with great imagination / Proper to madmen, [Hotspur] led his powers to death..." (I,iii,31-32). It would be interesting to compare Hamlet before the tragedies to Hotspur as Bloom does with Falstaff: both men share a zest for life born of youthful idealism, but in any event, Shakespeare again associates imaginative excess with a madman's activity.
Several Hamlet correlations emerge from Dr. Bright's conclusion that melancholic souls suffer purturbat-
ions of the mind that would render susceptibility to evil spirits acute:
1. Horatio worns Hamlet that the ghost could prey on his fantasy.
2. Hamlet lauds Horatio for not being passion's slave; for his rational perspective
3. As noted above, Hamlet is well aware of the relationship between spirits and melancholy:
The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath power
T'assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
And he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me, I'11 have grounds
More relative than this The play's the thing
Wherein I'11 catch the conscience of the king.
Bright's thesis offers a more clinical perspective that the more theocentric sources examined in this Chapter did not necessarily provide, and therefore is a transition work anticipating what modern psychiatry would eventually conclude--that one's mental stability had more to do with an improper diet and little to do with visits from beyond the grave unless the subject believed in the latter. Shakespeare of course allows for both possibilities. If one is not paranoid when really being chased by villains, then if one believes evil spirits influence behavior, then for that person they do. We have noted in this study that contemporary observers like Scot and modern commentators like Greg have taken similar positions.
Such is the dialectical process we have been investigation and which Hamlet must apply to determine if spiritual malignancy applies. Hamlet describes additional perturbations occurring when a diseased fantasy interlaces with love melancholy and / or madness, When Hamlet tells Ophelia,
I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, im-
agination to give them shape, or time to act them in.
he associates the imagination's creative urges with the disease and corruption motif of the theme passage, What might have been the kind of purposeful creative energy implied by Ophelia has become the converse: "things rank and gross in nature," or macrocosmic / microcosmic turmoil have taken their bitter toll,
Earlier was cited Shakespeare's synopsis of the creative process from MND. The lines introducing that passage apply to Ophelia's evaluation of Hamlet's sanity:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact,
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold.
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt,
The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to
Anyone familiar with the magnificence of Act III, scene ii of Lear, the storm scene, recognizes the correspondence with Theseus' beliefs. In Hamlet, the "shaping fantasies" embrace the grotesque:
'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now I could drink hot blood...
Polonius provides a glimpse of Hamlet as lover and poet as he reads Hamlet's letter:
To the celestlal and my soul's idol, the most beautiful Ophelia...
these; in her excellent white bosom, these, &c.
Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
O dear Ophelia, I am ill at all these numbers. I have nor art to
reckon my groans. But that I love them best. O most best,
believe it, Adieu.
Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this
machine is to him,
The paralysis of Hamlet's imagination is in evidence, here caused by the beginnings of love melancholy, with its resulting madness. Two lines require comment. "Doubt truth to be a liar" personifies the paradox of Hamlet's ambivalent love / hate relationship, an equivocation he cannot endure, for even he lacks the "art to reckon" his groans. Groans suggests mental anguish and sexual unfulfillment, interlacing therefore with the theme passage, "fishmonger" scene, and the more 'cerebral' moments including the "To be" soliloquy. The mole's poison grows according to a process first suggested by Friar Laurence in his play's theme passage:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometimes by action dignified,
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence...
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.
Hamlet's "flower" of love, corrupted by the "rude will's" infection will fall prey to "canker death," The initial lines cited foreshadow how Shakespeare will write the great tragedies, and in Hamlet neatly summarizes the ghost's tactics (1.ii) and their results for Hamlet (1. iii).
All of this starkly contrasts with Hamlet's essential nature. As student, lover, athlete, poet and heir to the throne, his prospects could not have been more promising. Even Claudius acknowledges how the people love him, and given the King's understandable revulsion at the mere thought of it, the Prince before the murder and ghost must have been a prototype Renaissance man. But his wit is diseased. Circumstances have changed and apprehended joys have given way to "...the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to." Henceforth this Renaissance man must also think of his nature as dust. He is negatively Romantic, still capable of imagining, but the poet is now mad, That is why he tells Horatio,
Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart
As I do thee.
Hamlet, perhaps more than any other Shakespearean tragedy, is a play of what might have been. Of course death dominates the final moments of the play, In the graveyard scene, an appropriate enough metaphor, Hamlet refers to his imagination:
Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy, He hath
bore me on his back a thousand times, and now-how
abhorred in my imagination it is. My gorge rise...
Now Hamlet recalls a childhood when he admired a friend for his uncorrupted imagination, and when his flourished. But Yorick has become a macabre personification of a diseased and corrupted imagination. He must remember past joys with a fancy that abhors its own degeneration, Epistemologically, Yorick dramatizes Hamlet's earlier words to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:...there is nothing / either good or bad but thinking makes it so." (II,ii,249-250). We know what determines Hamlet's thinking, and by demonstrating the correlation between the motifs of imagination and the theme passage's disease imagery , we have found the criteria by which Hamlet's insanity may be measured. That same imagery strongly implicates the ghost.
In Chapter VI, Book II, King James writes of the imaginative predispositions necessary before the devil will appear:
...if he finde them in anie comfort, to fill them more
and more with the vaine hope of fome maner of reliefe:
or elfe if hee finde them in a deepe difpaire, by all
meanes to augment the fame, and to perfwade them by fome
extraordinaire meanes to put themfelues downe, which
verie commonlie they doe.
Before the ghost appears, the depth of Hamlet's torment is self-evident, and this study has implied the apparition knows exactly how to intensify it to actual madness. Its relevant lines are:
But howsomever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive
Against they mother aught. Leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
To prick and sting her.
Hamlet of course cannot stand Gertrude's suffering anywhere: earth, heaven, or "...in her bosom," and because the ghost knows it, he orders restraint, something Hamlet finds impossible, Dialectically, the ghost's orders conflict, and Hamlet's inability to reconcile them to his satisfaction causes madness; thus for him the time is out of joint, but likewise we cannot forget Bloom's hypothesis that Hamlet's intellect is so prodigious that his madness may come from the very inability to deal with individuals so much his inferior intellectually and morally.
Q1 reads "heart" for "soul" and is the better sense, Hamlet must "contrive" against his mother (force her to reason dialectically; to treat her principles as assumptions). Thus 'heart" more aptly dramatizes Hamlet's love melancholy, here occasioned by Gertrude's incestuous sundering of his home. As with most youths, Hamlet wants his heaven on earth immediately; small wonder then that Keats found Shakespeare so inspirational.
Taking the above interpretation, the ghost's admonition may be paraphrased: " I know you have the strongest feelings of love for your mother, but you will have to let heaven deal with her; revenge my murder. everything must wait." Using the heart metaphor I prefer, Hamlet immediately agrees:
...Hold, hold, my heart,
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up.
But Hamlet's heart will not hold. As he reflects on the ghostly command, the enormity of what he must not do shadows what he must. In James' words the despair is augmented because liaison with Gertrude is forbidden, and Hamlet is jealous and mad.
James' "Thirde Booke" of Daenonologie concludes the dialogue with a description of what can trouble men or woman, Of significance is the contention that the devil can appear, "..in the fhaddow of a perfon newlie dead, or to die, to his friendes," to,
...make them beleeue that it that was fome good fpirite
that appeared to them, ether to forewarne them of
the death of their friend; or elfe to difcouer vnto
them, the will of the defunct...
These spirits James classifies as Wraithes, capable of deceiving ignorant and unlearned Christians. Apparently, either the faithful or unfaithful dead may be used for such purposes since the soul's departure precludes any consequent harm to it. This ambiguity parallels the spiritual activity in Hamlet. There are thus two possibilities, depending on Hamlet's soul at the moment he died. The context, though, suggests a deception sanctioned by God, meant to plague the guilty or to test the zeal of the faithful. As there is no textual justification to assume Hamlet is guilty of anything damnable prior to the play's opening, we must believe the visitation's purpose is to test the Prince's willingness to forsake revenge and concentrate on saving his mother from her incestuous liaison with Claudius. If such be the case and with the ghost advising the converse, then the death of Polonius may be cited as a partial failure, a fact the scourge and minister line tends to support. The ultimate nature of the failure will be examined later, but the Appendix to Scot's Discoverie is next.
(1)T.A. Spalding. Elizabethan Daemonologie. London: Chatto and Windus, 1880.
(2) Lavater. Of ghofts and fpirits walking by nyght. Translated by R.H. London: Henry Benneyman for Richard 1572. The Shakespeare Association reprint by Oxford University Press, 1929, contains the important article by J, Dover Wilson and Mary Yardley, "The Ghost Scenes in Hamlet in Light of Elizabethan Daemonology"
(5) Reginald Scot. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. New York: Dover, 1972. This edition does not contain the Appendix, "A Discourse of Devils and Spirits" by Scot or the anonymous author's commentary on it. These may be found in the 1973 reprint edited by Brinsley Nicholson, M.D., published in England by EP Publishing, Limited.
(6) Eleanor Prosser. Hamlet and Revenge. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971.
(7) Stephen Greenblatt. Hamlet and Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
(8) W.C. Curry. Shakespeare's Philosophical Patterns, (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1968), p. ix
(9) Saint Augustine. The City of God. I New York: Everyman's Library, 1973, p. 241. To avoid burdening the reader with excessive footnoting, only the initial citation for each author will provide full bibliographical data. Subsequent references will follow in parentheses. Throughout this chapter, the absence of quotation marks indicates my paraphrase of the source. Direct quotations are offset with quotation marks.
(10) See Iago's stipulation: 'When devils will the blackest sins put on / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows..." (II,i,357-358). A comparison of Augustine with Shakespeare exemplifies how influence operates in this Chapter.
(11) St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica ( I ) New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947. Citations refer to Parts, Questions and Articles. The edition is in three volumes translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.
(12) Shakespeare dramatizes this in Macbeth. After the third witch prophesies, Banquo exclaims, "Good Sir, why do you start..." (I,iii,51). Since the witches can read the "seeds of time," to them Macbeth's starting would be perfectly logical. They "know" he wishes the crown and will achieve it. Angels, according to Aquinas, "know all things at once." (Pt. 1 Q. 58 Art. 2)
(13) Aquinas does not imply demons negate free will; their effect on the will theologically corresponds to the 'vicious mole's' influence. Their corruption of the imagination in the Renaissance implied madness. See MND, "One sees more devils than vast hell can hold. / That is the madman." (V,i,9-10).
(14) Lady Macbeth's soliloquy "Come you spirits..." (I,v,40) dramatizes the relationship between demons and the souls they wish to possess. She asks for possession, a profoundly blasphemous demand, dramatized by Shakespeare's inversion of her motif: 'milk' imagery. Milk becomes the bitter gal of the crucifixion, and the child thus nurtured would die. Thus, in Act V, her being called a "fiend-like" Queen is apt.
(15) The implications for the ghost's appearance are significant; for example, in I,v,9 ff.
(16) Lavater. Of ghofts and fpirits walking by nyght. London: Oxford University Press Reprint, 1929, p. 8.
(17) Curry, pp. 85-86.
(18) Greenblatt. See especially Chapter 1 and 2, pp. 47., e.g.: "There were some, not surprisingly, who thought it unjust that the wealthy could purchase spiritual benefits denied to the poor." (p.26), and "It [Purgatory] is the invention of the terrorized imagination." (p. 48). This is a strong argument for Purgatory. If hell were eternal and God's judgement final, then what could be done for a soul? However, if the punishment were temporary (the ghost's "term"), then what financial contribution would be too much to end the suffering?
(19) See Macbeth: "What, can the devil speak true?" (I,ii,107)
(20) See Montague Summers' Introduction to The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Dover edition, pp. xvii-xxxii.
(21) Scot. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Montague Summers (ed.). New York: Dover, 1972, p. 31.
(22) Thomas Nashe. The Terrors of the Night, Or A Difcourfe of Apparitions. The Works of Thomas Nashe. Ronald B. McKerrow and F.P. WIlson, (eds.). Volume I. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958, p.347.
(23) James I. Daemonologie. New York and Amsterdam: Da Capo Press and Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1969. Preface, p. 2.
(24) James, p. 3.
(25) Scot. A Discourse of Divels and Spirits. Brinsley Nicholson, M.D. (ed.). London: EP Publishing, p. 413. T.A. Spalding's Elizabethan Daemonologie offers the following classification of spirits: "(1) Devils of the fire, who wander in the region near the moon, (2) Devils of the air, who hover round the earth. (3) Devils of the earth; to whom the fairies are allied, (4) Devils of the water. (5) Submundane devils. (6) Lucifugi." See: pp. 35-36. The classifications are quite logical given Renaissance theories of the four elements.
(26) Burton. Part I, sec. 1. Mem. 1, subs 1., p. 179.
(27) K.R. Eissler. Discourse on Hamlet and Hamlet. New York: International Universities Press, 1971, pp.242-243.
(28) A Difcouse Concerning Devils and Spirits. Appendix II, p. 492.
(29) Moorman states, "...to the 1665 edition of Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft there was added an appendix entitled, 'A Discourse concering Devils and Spirits' dealing at some length with the question of the nature of 'astral spirits.'", pp. 197-198.
(30) J. Dover Wilson. What Happens in Hamlet. New York; Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1976. Appendix E, page 309 ff.
(31) T. Bright. A Treatise of Melancholie (edited by Harden Craig) London: Thomas Vautrollier, 1586. Reprinted Stanford University Press, 1939.
(32) Lily Campbell. "Theories of Revenge in Renaissance England," MP (February, 1931), p. 296.
(33) Bowers, pp. 86-87, citing, "For this same lord / I do repent...", (III,iv,174 ff).
(34) Prosser, P. 136.
(35) Parenthetically, Romeo echoes Hamlet by invoking Providence: "But he that hath the steerage of my course / Direct my sail!" Both characters confront a malevolent universe operated by God's instruments, "fate," and the "ghost." Yet each pay implies a life-affirming denouement, with 'evil' serving the Divine plan. In Romeo, of course, fate is the more crudely developed antecedent of the ghost's 'vicious mole.' The mole introspective psychological-moral dynamic reflects more aptly Shakespeare's mastery of his power to "invent personality," (Bloom's contention).
(36) Greenblatt, p. 230.
(37) "...there arises the important doubt whether the ghost has been a demon to delude him into damning his soul by the murder of an innocent man, or indeed an agent of Heaven appointing him to an act of justice." (Bowers, p. 87).
(38) In What Happens in Hamlet, Dover Wilson (who opts for a Purgatorial spirit!!) notes: "With his [Hamlet's] upbringing , with the possibility of deception by a visitant from Hell...the moment his father's form sinks into the earth beneath his eyes, what is he to think when the spirit behaves exactly like an underground demon?" pp. 82-83.
(39) Greenblatt, p. 253.
(40) Harold Bloom. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998, p. 320.
(41) Thus in Lear we have the horror of the King wishing to "crawl toward death." (I,i,37)
(42) In other words, the "vicious mole."
(43) Included therein is God's allowing ghosts to plague the sinful. In 1 Henry IV, Bolingbroke voices this sentiment to his son as a 'justification' for his misdeeds with Falstaff. The 'ghost' of course is his guilty conscience from the death of Richard II.
(44) Dotage: a generic term used to cover several mental disorders including madness, frenzy, Lycanthropia (wolf-madness), Hydrophobia, Chorus sancti Viti (St. Vitus' dance), and obsession or possession of devils.