sexta-feira, outubro 02, 2015

Hail All Things Medieval: "Shakespeare's Ghosts"

(William Blake's Ghost in Hamlet)

  "By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me"

Who's there? Anyone? Is anyone listening to me? That is what most of us fear. 

Entering the void and being forgotten. What are we to this world? What do our lives matter if our 80 year life span is only a tiny fraction of a fraction in the immense history of Earth? That is what most of us fall victim to. Many of us live such monotonous lives: Wake up in the morning, go to work, come back home, and maybe switch on the TV for a couple hours before calling it a day only to start the same step by step procedure the next morning. However there is a cure for this life lead by mediocrity. That cure comes from the man we all know as Shakespeare. Through his artful work, Shakespeare brings us out of our narrow mindedness and brings truth to our lives. He talks about the good and the bad, the ups and downs, and truths and lies of human nature. This phenomenon describes my most eye-opening experience with Shakespeare. When I was at the British Council, I read my first Shakespeare play and little did I know that at the time that it would open my eyes to the world I knew very little about. Soon after I have read “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth” (can’t wait to see Fassbender playing The Scottish king), “The Merchant of Venice”, “Julius Caesar”, and “As You Like it”. Since then, Shakespeare has made me realize that being human is more than just surviving. The truth of life comes in every form and is staring at us right in the face. We only have to have the courage to open our eyes and take of our blinders.

As I’ve been reading through the Shakespeare Canon, I am seeing the presence of spirits, fairies, ghost and the supernatural in most of his plays and not just the four plays of Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III and Julius Caesar with five ghosts. Richard III has even eleven ghosts on stage!

I have made a coggle of all the ghost characters and tried to understand why Shakespeare required to have a ghost star in his plays.

The ghost seems to have fascinated Shakespeare already at the outset of his career. In his early love-tragedy, Juliet, after the tidings of Tybalt's death have been brought to her, exclaims:

O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost
                            Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
                            Upon a rapier's point

    Act IV scene III

In Richard III ghosts take their place among the actors in the play. Then of course there is the masterful use of a ghost in Macbeth and Hamlet.

Despite progressing enlightenment of the Renaissance, superstition was rampant among Elizabethan Londoners and belief in astrology was common. It was accepted that witches, ghosts, fairies, elves, goblins, magic and mystical properties of animals and herbs existed. In the year 1665 the great plague devastated London and it proved conducive to superstition.  The Google Ngram Viewer shows that the words fairies, spirits, ghosts was at its peak in the 1600's:

Ghosts, pre-Shakespeare, were a Deus ex Machina, a device to solve a problem, move the story forward. With Shakespeare it is now endowed with personality. The Shakespearean ghost is no longer a phantom roaming around in the cold but a spirit of like intellectual substance with the actors. In making the ghost more human Shakespeare gave it a spiritual significance. The Shakespearean ghost is at once an embodiment of remorseful presentiment and the instrument of divine justice.

Maybe because of the Protestant Reformation Shakespeare adds symbolic interpretation to the ghosts: they go against the normal worldly order, they cause chaos which mirrors the social disorder and political chaos which prevailed during the Elizabethan age.

Shakespeare's audiences and his plays were the products of their culture. Since the validity of any literary work can be judged by it public acceptance and its lasting power it seems that Shakespeare's ghosts and witches are hugely popular.

From the Google Ngram Viewer one can see that ghosts, witches, fairies have petered off in recent years. As the Bard said it so well:

                      "Hell is empty and all the devils are here" 

Reading Shakespeare I've learnt and played

I've seen visions of dragons, castles, knights, fair ladies and brave gentlemen.

I was lost in the storm and I've been saved by the woods

I saw ghosts talking to me and then I fell in love with a mule!

O, I must have been so drunk from the morning dew because when I woke up I saw I had wings so I could fly very high in the sky.

I must have been dreaming the most peculiar dream. I'm sure I saw words, and sentences all spread up in the air that gone with the wind. One line was battling with the other and I couldn't hear what they said

to each other because they were talking so loud I closed my ears as I couldn't understand those words that sounded so strange and poetic.

Words, sentences, lines, quotes whole pages of some old books had filled the sky and had the same signature:

William Shakespeare.

Who was that man I've heard before, I thought, sometimes he was questioning about his life, our life or troubling with the darkest thoughts the mind of a man called Hamlet!

I'm sure I know that I want to be and this is the answer to that question but not to be, why's that I don't want to be?

I never knew the answer till I entered in a church and I saw two young lovely children dead the one with poison the other with a sword or a gun, I'm not that sure about thee.

I travelled through faraway places lost track of time and I was so fascinated with that dream that would end too soon.

Am I a fairy, a Queen, a beautiful maiden, a witch, a butterfly or a cat?

Who am I after all this time that ended so well?

One thing I know, I just don't want to wake up so early.

I want to get on my horse and find my Romeo, he's lost somewhere deep down the woods or he's a slave taken in some unknown island.

I cannot wait sitting here taking to myself I have to find out!

Be gone you foolish lady of the shore, find your man don't waste no more time, and tears, the time is near.

Shakespeare knights and holy ships prepare, I come to thee.

Ghosts of desperation leave my inner thoughts alone!

Adieu, my kindest master your words have been sparkles in my untrusting heart I greet you and your lovely crew!

'Tis was a pleasure!

Oh, spirits and cursed crows let me in peace let me have my share, between those broken mirrors I see a face in two the one is happy the other half is dark, tell me who am I, a wicked spider or a  beautiful Queen?


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