Religion, Politics, Revenge: The Dead in Renaissance Drama
Thomas Rist
University of Aberdeen

Rist, Thomas. "Religion, Politics, Revenge: The Dead in Renaissance Drama." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 4.1-20 <URL:

  1. In the history of criticism, studies of the dead in Renaissance drama - until and including Stephen Greenblatt's Hamlet in Purgatory (2001) [1] - have more or less exclusively focused on Hamlet, taking their cue in particular from the Ghost's self-introduction:

    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.
                                 (Hamlet, I.v.9-13)

    The former king's punishment is only "for a certain term": in the traditional Christian geography of the afterlife, that implies that he is from Purgatory. Such implication is emphasised in the Ghost's claim that his punishment will last until his "foul crimes" are "burnt and purg'd away" [my emphasis]. Shakespearean scholars have been struck and perplexed by this because of the particular association of Purgatory with Roman Catholicism in Christian history - which is furthered in the Ghost's detailed reference to Catholic sacraments and practice as well as Hamlet's reference to St. Patrick [2] - and because England's characteristic theology was Calvinist at the time of Hamlet's composition. [3] This article will argue that far from being restricted to Hamlet, such controversial reference is a feature of the genre of Elizabethan and Jacobean Revenge Tragedy: such tragedy regularly reflects and intervenes in the period's religious controversies over the dead.

  2. A question that surrounds the Ghost of Hamlet concerns whether his claims for Purgatory are to be believed. Robert Fleissner and Greenblatt emphasise that searches for an answer to this question are "doomed to inconclusivenss." [4] Yet if attempting to discover the truth of the Ghost's claim about Purgatory is futile, the claim is nevertheless present. Indeed, if the claim is present but cannot be verified, then it invites if not answers, then speculation. [5] And indeed speculation - the raising of questions - is crucial to the Ghost's presentation. Hamlet states that the Ghost comes in "questionable shape" (I.iv.42), and it is as a question that Hamlet formulates his bafflement before the Ghost's apparently indecipherable meaning: [6]

    What may this mean
    That thou, dead corpse, again in complete steel,
    Revisits thus the glimpses of the moon,
    Making night hideous, and we fools of nature
    So horridly to shake our disposition
    With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?

    Hamlet's dilemma here is, like ours, hermeneutical. [7] Indeed, despite Greenblatt's broad view that "Performance kills belief; or rather acknowedging theatricality kills the credibility of the supernatural," Hamlet's question invites us to seek a wider 'meaning' for the significance of the Ghost than, Hamlet suggests, the world of the play can provide. [8] In seeking such wider contexts, we shall note that to some degree even this appeal to contexts is generic.

  3. In John Webster's The White Devil (written between 1609-12), Duke Fransico and Flamineo both apparently see ghosts. This is Francisco's experience:

    FRANCISCO: To fashion my revenge more seriously,
    Let me remember my dead sister's face:
    Call for her picture: no, I'll close my eyes,
    And in a melancholic thought I'll frame
    Her figure 'fore me.

    Enter ISABELLA'S Ghost.

    Now I ha't - how strong
    Imagination works! how she can frame
    Things which are not! methinks she stands afore me;
    And by the quick idea of my mind,
    Were my skill pregnant, I could draw her picture.
    Thought, as a subtle juggler, makes us deem
    Things supernatural, which have cause
    Common as sickness. 'Tis my melancholy, -
    How cam'st thou by thy death? - how idle am I
    To question mine own idleness? did ever
    Man dream awake till now? - remove this object -
    Out of my brain with't: what have I to do
    With tombs or death beds, funerals, or tears,
    That have to meditate upon revenge?
                  (The White Devil, IV.i.98-114) [9]

    Francisco's question "What have I to do / With tombs, or death-beds, funerals, or tears, / That have to meditate upon revenge?" recalls Hamlet's question of meaning. Paraphrased somewhat, it asks: "What is my place in relation to this experience of death?" Or simply: "What is the meaning (to me) of this experience?" Hamlet's dilemma is not only Hamlet's.

  4. Like Hamlet's question, moreover, Francisco's question also looks beyond the immediate world of the play. The passage presents three immediate answers to Francisco's question - which we may categorise 'conventional,' 'expository' and 'psychological'. In the first category Webster inverts the Senecan commonplace by which (as in Hamlet) a ghost demands revenge to show that it is the human Francisco, not the figure of the ghost, with whom responsibility for the revenge-outcome lies. In this perspective, Francisco is the artist of revenge, who self-consciously closes his eyes, "frames" (IV.i.101; 104) the dead figure of Isabella before him and considers "how strong / Imagination works! ... / Were my skill pregnant, I could draw her picture" (IV.i.102-6). In the second, 'expository' category, Francisco may be considered to be dismissing what he considers irrelevent thoughts. The question "What have I to do / With tombs or death beds, funerals or tears?" is rhetorical: the answer is "nothing," and the soliloquy can proceed. Thirdly, and 'psychologically,' the moment suggests a human side to Francisco: his commemoration of Isabella - albeit brief - implies a moment of regret.

  5. But Francisco's question also insinuates a hidden premise: that the motivations of revenge - and so Revenge Tragedy - have to do not just with death, but with the ways we commemorate death ("tombs, funerals, tears") and, indeed, with the bizarre and wider phenomenon of ghosts appearing on the English Renaissance stage. The immediate answers to Francisco's question the passage present, however, relate to Fransico personally: they do not address the wider and generic question of meaning. And that question is larger. Francisco's exclamation at how imagination frames "Things which are not" (IV.i.104) illustrates a regular perceptual dilemma of Renaissance tragedy in which the audience is presented with visible 'proof' of the actual presence of the ghost which at least some of the characters on stage do not recognise. Setting the precedent, in The Spanish Tragedy, the figure of Revenge concludes the Induction by telling the ghost of Andrea "Here sit we down to see the mystery" (Induction, 91): [10] the two remain, unobserved by the other characters of the play but present to the audience, until the close. In Antonio's Revenge two ghosts appear to Antonio in "horrid dreames" (I.i.114), but the twenty-one lines in which he details those dreams are so vivid - and the conventions of Revenge Tragedy so clearly suggest that we should expect ghosts - that one senses what the appearance of Andrugio's ghost later seems to confirm: that there is substance to Antonio's dreams; that the ghosts were present. [11] In Hamlet (III.iv), Hamlet believes he sees his father's ghost but his mother - the only other character present - thinks he is mad. Indeed, the opening scene of the play specifically addresses the issue of whether or not we should believe in the ghost of King Hamlet, with the sceptical and (like Luther) Wittenberg scholar Horatio called in to give a 'verdict.' Hamlet's and Francisco's questions, then, are not new to Revenge Tragedy, but rather voice dilemnas that are regularly implicit. Indeed, similar peceptual questions relating to ghosts recurr in Renaissance plays both within and without the revenge tradition: in Macbeth, for example - not obviously a Revenge Tragedy - the question of whether Macbeth actually sees the ghost of Banquo - and of how that scene should be presented - is controversial. [12]

  6. Such regular dramatic dilemmas are well-known, but their controversial and religio-political import has received little attention. The dramatic dilemmas reflect the age's religious dilemmas - as a sketch of the period's religious developments in regard to the dead will illustrate. In R.A. Bowyer's words, "The medieval church conceived of itself as a great triangle of inter-dependent groups" in which "[t]he church on earth supplied the membership of the church in purgatory and in heaven, and relied on the help and intercession of the latter, while the souls in purgatory looked to the church on earth for prayers and masses to expedite their promotion to heaven, whence they would offer assistance to the church on earth." [13] Moreover, as Eamon Duffy points out, such theoretical thinking manifested itself at the popular level of the man or woman on the street. For late-medieval parishioners, funerals were "intensely concerned with the notion of ... a community in which the living and the dead were not separated," while the week-by-week recitation of the bede-role at parish Masses reflect, as well as reinforced, a mentality in which the dead remained "part of the communities they had once lived in." [14]

  7. For theological reasons, during 'the English Reformation' this changed. In Bowyer's words, the English church "formally severed diplomatic relations with the Other World, ceasing to invoke the aid of the saints in heaven, and ceasing to recognise its responsibility towards the souls of the dead in purgatory." [15] England's sixteenth-century journey from Catholicism, through Lutheranism to Calvinism - according to Nicholas Tyacke the characteristic theology of the English Church by 1600 [16] - destroyed the idea that the living and the dead were an inter-dependent community, Calvinism's doctrine of double predestination in particular rendering the idea of praying for the dead redundant. Nor were such changes limited to theory: in the Prayer Book of 1549 - to be used by church-goers in their weekly attendance at service - congregations continued to speak to the dead directly, but in the Prayer Book of 1552 all communication between the living and the dead had disappeared. As Duffy puts it, "There is nothing that could even be mistaken for a prayer for the dead in the 1552 rite." [17] Though the Marian interval saw a brief reversal of such trends, in Philip Morgan's stark phrase, from 1552 "The dead, it seemed, must shift for themselves." [18]

  8. To adapt Alan Sinfield's term, 1552 was a major 'faultline' of English Renaissance history. Prior to that point, the dead and the living officially inhabited the same community; after it the dead were officially 'beyond the grave.' This faultline is even seen reflected in the divided mentalities of individuals. As late as 1642, Thomas Browne could write that in younger days he had been tempted by a heresy "which I did never positively maintain or practice, but have often wished ... had been consonant with truth, and not offensive to my religion, and that is the Prayer for the dead." Moreover, though he never "positively" practised such prayer, Browne adds that he could "scarce contain my prayers for a friend at the ringing of a bell," or even "behold a corpse without an orison for his soul." [19]

  9. What Browne's example illustrates is that however it was reppressed, the originally medieval and Catholic view that the dead might remain part of the community of the living continued in England - albeit as a social undertone - well into the seventeenth century: if England's official religion no longer recognised the community of the dead as its own, individuals - even Protestant individuals - still to some extent did. Notice, moreover, how by reflecting acts of public suppression such private acts of repression imply the period's religious controversies: in 1629, for example, the Bishop of Carlisle was still trying to eradicate "praying for the dead at crosses ... or any other superstitious use of crosses, with towels, palms ... or other memories of idolatory at burials." [20] Similarly Browne refrains from traditional impulses toward the dead because - as he is conscious - they are "offensive to my religion."

  10. Such religious sensitivity and controversy requires elucidation. Browne is responding specifically to the rise of an Anglican 'Via Media' and therefore to particularly Protestant influences, but the Via Media itself represents an attempt to create a Protestantism closer to (though by no means identical with) Roman Catholicism. As Christopher Haigh pointes out, such movement and figures were widely perceived by less moderate sections of the populace to be 'popish.' Indeed, the frequency with which that term was bandied around in the period is further evidence of contemporary Protestant concern with the insidious effects of such persistent 'Catholic' beliefs. Even Elizabeth's Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift - a clearly Protestant figure - could be popularly referred to as "the Pope of Lambeth." [21]

  11. By repeatedly staging the dead on earth - and by inviting audiences to wonder at their reality and meaning - English Renaissance ghost plays, and particularly Revenge tragedies - so often set in continental, and so ostensibly Catholic, Europe - thus reflect on and intervene in the period's personally felt and key religious controversies over the dead. We do not need to know whether in Hamlet the ghost is telling the truth about Purgatory: by merely suggesting that the dead remained close to the community of the living, plays like Hamlet engaged with a central difference between Catholics and Protestants - as, derivatively, between Protestants - and the means by which they did so suggest the uncertainties and ideological differences of their authors. This broad picture of a considerable body of English Renaissance drama as enacted controversy is also illustrated in the detail of plays like The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi.

  12. In Act Four, Scene One of The White Devil, then, there is a sense that Francisco, the artist of revenge, creates the ghost of Isabella: that she is a figment of his imagination. However, Francisco's wonder at, and enquiry into, the nature of the apparition also leads to Protestant-sounding conclusions:

    Thought, as a subtle juggler, makes us deem
    Things supernatural, which have cause
    Common as sickness. 'Tis my melancholy...
                      (The White Devil, IV.i.107-9)

    This challenge to the 'presence' of the ghost in the theatre reflects Protestant challenges to the dead as of the human community. Yet that Protestant perspective is not fully vindicated: there is controversy created in the gap between what Francisco says and what we see.

  13. This controversy re-surfaces in Flamineo's assertion that he will speak to the murdered Bracciano in Act Five, Scene Three. Francisco's surprised response "Now he's dead?" (V.iii.207) offers comic subversion, but for Flamineo there is no unlikelihood in meeting the dead on earth: "I cannot conjure; but if prayers or oaths / Will get to th' speech of him .../ ...I'll speak to him, and shake him by the hand" (V.iii.208-12). However negatively represented in Flamineo's speech, Webster here suggests the possibility of communication with the dead through prayers and, indeed, in Flamineo's air of certainty, the view that the living and the dead are of the same community.

  14. Moreover, Flamineo - who in more confident mood enjoys the "ridiculous purgatory" of Lucian's Menippos (V.vi.106) - is not the most obvious 'anti-Calvinist' of the play. In Act Five, Scene Two, Hortensio tells Cornelia, who is weeping for her dead son, that 'Your kindest office is to pray for him' (V.ii.42). His view that prayers for the dead effect one's existence in the afterlife flies directly in the face of Calvin's doctrine of double predestination - and, also, suggests his belief in the existence of Purgatory. With regard to the dead, then, Francisco, Hortensio and Flamineo represent three differing religious positions of the time: Calvinist (or possibly atheist), anti-Calvinist (probably Roman Catholic) and waverer in between. [22]

  15. In contrast to the representation of Isabella's ghost in Act Four, Scene One, the appearance of the ghost of Bracciano in Act Five, Scene Four seems to substantiate Flamineo's sense that the dead and the living are of the same community. Arguably, at this point, audience-belief in the appearance of ghosts on earth has been undercut by Francisco's demystification, but that explanation is questionable and other readings remain possible. Once again, the ghost is represented as physically present on stage - a closeness of the dead to the living further emphasised in Flamineo's observation that ghosts "still like some great men / Only walk like shadows up and down" (V.iv.134-5). Moreover, Flamineo's question "what religion's best / For a man to die in?" (V.iv.129-30) highlights the controversial suggestiveness of the scene, and he goes on to dwell on religious themes:

    our Italian churchmen
    Make us believe dead men hold conference
    With their familiars, and many times
    Will come to bed to them, and eat with them.
                      (The White Devil, V.v.138-42)

    Though the description parodies the Catholic view of the relationship of the dead to the living, it is specifically Italian churchmen - i.e. Roman Catholics - who believe that the living and the dead maintain conference: in other words, the alternative religions "best to die in" that Flamineo has in mind are Protestant or Roman Catholic. Nor can we explain the scene away - in the style of Francisco - as the halucinations of melancholia. In Flamineo's words, "This is beyond melancholy" (V.iv.144).

  16. In answer to Fransisco's generic question "What have I to do / With tombs, or death-beds, funerals, or tears…?" it seems that in a tragedy like The White Devil - which exploits the drama of excommunication, of the seal of confession, papal election and, indeed, of a comically poisonous "extreme unction" (V.iii.38) - what a Hamlet or a Francisco have to do with commemorations of the dead is represent them and wonder at them: to draw the audience's questioning attention to a key difference between Italian Catholicism and official, English Protestantism that continued to create difficulties for English Protestants. And if Francisco or Hamlet are assumed not to know this, their unawareness belies authorial manipulation of their characters to controversial, religio-political ends. For self-conscious and deliberate 'manipulation' of the figure of the ghost in Revenge Tragedy seems also to be at stake - as Webster's significantly different description of the dead in The Duchess of Malfi (written 1612-13) will illustrate.

  17. In the last scene of The Duchess of Malfi, Webster again turns his attention to the dead on earth. Considered in terms of the Revenge tradition, however, what is most striking is how the visibility of the ghost is reduced to an echo from the Duchess' grave as Webster conforms more fully to the dominant Protestant orthodoxy. Emphasising the religious connotations of the action, Webster sets the scene in the graveyard of a former abbey, now a fortification, a setting which Antonio brings to the fore:

    I do love these ancient ruins:
    We never tread upon them but we set
    Our foot upon some reverend history;
    And, questionless, here in this open court,
    Which now lies naked to the injuries,
    Of stormy weather, some men lie inter'd
    Lov'd the church so well, and gave so largely to't,
    That thought it should havev canopi'd their bones
    Till doomsday. But all thing have their end:
    Churches and cities, which have diseases like to men,
    Must have like death that we have.
                      (The Duchess of Malfi, V.iii.9-19)

    Anticipating Philip Larkin's Church-Going, Antonio reverences the religious setting while recognising its subjectivity to time. There is nothing 'eternal' about this church: Antonio reveres it because it reverberates with a sense of history - though here it is particularly the histories of the dead that echo in Antonio's mind. [23] Indeed, the concept of echoing - or of reverberation - is key to the scene: the stage-direction states "there is an ECHO from the DUCHESS grave." By using the device of the echo, Webster conveys a parody of the dead speaking (and hence of the presence of the dead) while simultaneously making it clear that no dead person is present.

  18. The essential disembodiedness of echoes is questioned in the Echo's spooky sense of character:

    Antonio: Churches and cities, which have diseases like to men
    Must have like death that we have.
    Echo:                             Like death that we have.
    Delio: Now the echo hath caught you.
    Antonio:                It groaned, methought, and gave
    A very deadly accent!
    Echo:                       Deadly accent.
    Delio: I told you 'twas a pretty one. You may make it
    A huntsman, or a falconer, a musician
    Or a thing of sorrow.
    Echo:                     A thing of sorrow.
                              (The Duchess of Malfi, V.iii.19-25)

    The Echo does not seem wholly disembodied. Indeed, it seems to announce the personna that suits it best: "A thing of sorrow." Emphasising its apparently personal nature, moreover, the 'Echo' gives the impression of choosing its phrases, as if a voice spoke from the grave:

    Antonio: 'Tis very like my wife's voice.
    Echo:                                   Ay, wife's voice.
    Delio: Come: let's walk further from't:
    I would not have you go to th' Cardinal's tonight:
    Do not.
    Echo: Do not.
    Delio: Wisdom doth not more moderate wasting sorrow
    Than time: take time for't: be mindful of thy safety.
    Echo: Be mindful of thy safety.
    Antonio:                        Necessity compels me:
    Make scrutiny throughout the passages
    Of your own life; you'll find it impossible
    To fly your fate.
    Echo:                O fly your fate.
                                       (The Duchess of Malfi, V.iv.26-35)

    In particular the Echo's alterations of "my wife's voice" and "To fly your fate" to "Ay, wife's voice" and "O fly your fate" suggest personality. Indeed, Antonio is aware of the apparent intelligence of the echo. As he says, "Echo, I will not talk with thee; / For thou art a dead thing" (V.iv.37-8; my emphasis) - to which the Echo prophetically 'replies', "Thou art a dead thing" (V.iv.38).

  19. There is a simultaneous presence and absence of the dead in the scene, then, that is nevertheless not ambiguity: we are hearing an echo, not a ghost. Moreover, Webster's manipulation of the conventional ghost of Revenge Tragedy - and the resultant sense of dramatic ingenuity - also suggest the dramatist's artifice and, thence, heavy intervention: Webster implies with apparent objectivity what in The White Devil Francisco only suggests as a point of view. And such self-conscious intervention is present in the dying Bosola's words: "We are only like dead walls, or vaulted graves / That ruin'd, yields no echo" (V.v.97-8; my emphasis). In reality nothing, the final scene of The Duchess of Malfi affirms, returns from the grave.

  20. Such deliberate distancing of the dead from the living contrasts interestingly with Shakespeare's Hamlet - suggesting in regard to the dead not only controversy within dramas (as in The White Devil), the development and refinement of dramatic attitudes (as between The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi), but also controversy between dramatists. Surprisingly, in view both of the stir it creates at the play's opening and of its influence on the drama more widely, the person of the ghost is also absent at the close of Hamlet, and the dying Hamlet tells us that "The rest is silence." This may be construed as evidence of Hamlet's own dying secularity, [24] yet the scene suggests not only that death may be a terminus, but also how it became one. The closing scene emphasises its own narrative silences. Hamlet tells those "That are but mutes or audience to this act" (V.ii.287) that "Had I but time - as this fell sergeant Death / Is strict in his arrest - O I could tell you - / But let it be..." (V.ii.288-90): the lines show him breaking off about to impart information that is never communicated. He later returns to the theme in instructing Horatio that "things standing thus unknown" to "tell my story" (V.ii.297; 301). In turn, Horatio anticipates how he will tell

    Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
    Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters,
    Of death put on by cunning and forc'd cause,
    And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
    Fall'n on th' inventors' heads
                               (Hamlet, V.ii.386-90)

    but never actually does so. Such pointers to what the close does not say invite us to examine what the scene omits - and this includes all sign of the Ghost. Horatio's account in particular is noteworthy: Anne Barton derides it for "reducing all that is distinctive about this play to a plot stereotype," [25] yet Horatio appears not even to remember completely the plot. In the drama's wider account, future 'history' will be noteably incomplete with regard to a dead who - as the play charts from the Ghost's appearance to a variety of persons in Act One, its visibility only to Hamlet in Act Three and its pointed invisibility in the closing scene [26] - were a diminished presence in the period. If The White Devil challenges inconclusively the community of the dead and living, and the The Duchess of Malfi consciously writes off such community, Hamlet anticipates such challenges, presenting them as omissions and failures of memory. Such perspective interestingly suggests recently-renewed critical emphasis on Shakespeare's Catholic sympathies. [27] More generally, considering the dead in Renaissance drama emphasises the drama's close connection to important and controversial religious change of the period; it illustrates how the drama could be used both to invite and manipulate controversial speculation in regard to such change; and it suggests how dramatists responded - both to one another and to wider religio-political changes of the period - to assert and debate their own religio-political and controversial perspectives.


1. Hamlet in Purgatory makes much of pre-Reformation ghost-beliefs and indeed considers a number of plays containing ghosts besides Hamlet. However, Greenblatt argues (largely by deploying decontextualised readings) that the ghosts of these latter plays have little to do with pre-Reformation beliefs; the issue of the relevance of these beliefs to Shakespeare thus comes to depend almost solely on Hamlet. See Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2001).

2. The Ghost says he was "Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhouseled, dis-appointed, unanealed, / No reckoning made, but sent to my account / With all my imperfections on my head" (I.v.76-9); for reference to St. Patrick see I.v.91; for an example of St. Patrick's particular association with Purgatory see Greenblatt, 73.

3. See for example, Roy Battenhouse, "The Ghost in Hamlet: A Catholic 'Linchpin?'" Studies in Philology 68 (1951); Miriam Joseph, "Discerning the Ghost in Hamlet," PMLA 76 (1961), 302; Christopher Devlin, Hamlet's Divinity (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1963); Miriam Joseph, "Hamlet: A Christian Tragedy," in Studies in Philology 59 (1962): 119-40; Eleanor Prosser, Hamlet and Revenge (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1967); Roland Mushat Frye, The Renaissance "Hamlet": Issues and Responses in 1600 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984), 11-24); and Peter Milward, The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays (Southampton: The Austen P, 1997).

4. See Robert F. Fleissner, "Subjectivity as an Occupational Hazard of 'Hamlet Ghost' Critics," in Hamlet Studies 1. The phrase "doomed to inconclusiveness" is Greenblatt's (Hamlet in Purgatory, 239).

5. Thus "subjectivity" is not so much an "occupational hazard" as a pointer toward controversy.

6. In this respect Harold Jenkins' suggestion in 1982 that Hamlet "seems always to be asking questions much bigger and more searching than those we ask of him" continues to be relevant. See William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (London and New York: Routledge, 1982), 125.

7. For relevant discussion see Walter N. King, Hamlet's Search for Meaning (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1982), 22-40.

8. For Greenblatt's statement of this view see "Shakespeare and the Exorcists," in Shakespearean Negotiations (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1988), 109. Henk Gras and John Cox have since - and apparently independently of one another - suggested the full extent of the assumption here. Gras treats the issue from the point of view of early modern audience-response, Cox treats it in terms of theatrical tradition, but both argue that far from helping to demystify the world, by its associations with the demonic Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre was more likely to encourage 'magical' belief than diminish it. See Henk Gras, Studies in Elizabethan Audience Response to the Theatre: Part 1: How Easy Is A Bush Suppos'd a Bear? Actor and Character in the Elizabethan Viewer's Mind, European University Studies (Frankfurt and Maine: Peter Lang, 1993), 125-74; and John D. Cox, The Devil and the Sacred in English Drama, 1350-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), 150-187. Rather than theatre demystifying the supernatural, indeed, Gras even suggests that demonologists of the period 'found their views on (theatrical) performance' (Gras, 140). In Hamlet in Purgatory, Greenblatt has refined his initial view by citing sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writings that consider the supernatural 'theatre'; it is clear, however, that in our period these writings are both reformist and polemical.

9. This and all subsequent quotations from Webster are from The Selected Plays of John Webster, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983).

10. Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy, in Elizabethan Drama: Eight Plays, ed. John Gassner and William Green (New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1967).

11. See The Selected Plays of John Marston, ed. MacDonald P. Jackson and Michael Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986).

12. As long recognised. See, for example, Cumberland Clark, Shakespeare and the Supernatural (London: Williams and Norgate, 1931), 100-2.

13. R.A. Bowyer, "The Role of the Ghost in Medieval Christianity," in The Folklore of Ghosts, ed. Hilda R. Ellis Davidson and W.H. Russell (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1980), 190.

14. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1992). For details of the history of such communities see Peter C. Jupp and Clare Gittings, eds, Death in England: An Illustrated History (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999); Stephen Bassett, ed., Death in Towns: Urban Responses to the Dying and the Dead, 100-1600 (Leicester: Leicester UP, 1985); and Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshall, eds, The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000).

15. Bowyer, 191.

16. Nicholas Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c.1590-1640 (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1990), 3.

17. Duffy, 475.

18. Philip Morgan, "Of Worms and War: 1380-1558," in Death in England: An Illustrated History, ed. Peter C. Jupp and Clare Gittings (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999), 143.

19. Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici and Other Writings (London: Dent, 1965), 9.

20. Quoted by Clare Gittings in "Sacred and Secular: 1558-1660," in Death in England: An Illustrated History, ed. Peter C. Jupp and Clare Gittings (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999), 153.

21. For reference to Whitgift as "Pope of Lambeth" see Powell Mills Dawley, John Whitgift and the Reformation (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1955), 44. For further discussion of such Protestant concern see also Dawley, 135-46. For Christopher Haigh's more recent discussions see "The Church of England, the Catholics and the People" in The Reign of Elizabeth I, ed. Christopher Haigh (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1984), 195-219; see also Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1993), 289-95. For Tyacke's use of the phrase "anti-calvinists" see Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism.

22. "Possibly atheist" because the atheistic were also demystifiers; "probably Roman Catholic" as suggested in Flamineo's depiction of religious alternatives below.

23. The irony of Larkin's closing line "If only that so many dead lie round" suggests that Larkin's scepticism towards remnants of the religious past is even greater than Antonio's.

24. Though such reading is problematic in view of Hamlet's statements about the "divinity that shapes our ends" and the "special providence in the fall of a sparrow."

25. For recent and detailed critical discussion of Barton's and others' treatment of Horatio's speech see Michael Neill, Issues of Death: Mortality and Identity in English Renaissance Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1997), 240-1.

26. An objector might argue that the Ghost's invisibility at the close is neither pointed nor particularly notable. Yet successive critics have felt the need to 'justify' the absence of the Ghost from the close. Such commentators clearly regard the absence as notable.

27. For a relatively recent and substantial example, see my Shakespeare's Romances and the Politics of Counter-Reformation (Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen P, 1999). Such critical interest gave rise to Lancaster University's large conference on "Lancastrian Shakespeare" (1999) - which has given further impetus to the study.

Works Cited


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).