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Hamlet in Purgatory

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  162 ratings  ·  17 reviews
Stephen Greenblatt sets out to explain his longtime fascination with the ghost of Hamlet's father, and his daring and ultimately gratifying journey takes him through surprising intellectual territory. It yields an extraordinary account of the rise and fall of Purgatory as both a belief and a lucrative institution--as well as a capacious new reading of the power of Hamlet.

Paperback, 344 pages
Published September 15th 2002 by Princeton University Press (first published 2001)
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Greenblatt is a great researcher, a key trait that shines through in the early chapters of Hamlet in Purgatory, but also dims the reader's understanding of his overall goals. Probably this exploration of Purgatory's power and its effect on Hamlet and Greenblatt himself would have been better suited to a series of essays, rather than a five chapter book (it's a broad subject, after all). The whole effort feels very disjointed at times, with the first three chapters explaining Purgatory, its rites ...more
Picture yourself consigned to Purgatory - apparently, somewhere beneath Ireland - for some indefinite term of spiritual cleansing. You stand, perhaps, isolated on a vast desert, swept by hot winds, beneath a demonic sun. Around you, in a perfect circle, burns a ring of flames, which while never quite touching your body still serve to bake out of it the last vestiges of water. Imagine yourself here, dessicating, for a period of some hundred years, and perhaps you'll get something of a feel of the ...more
Hamlet in Purgatory book provides fascinating scholarship regarding the medieval and early modern English ideas of ghosts and Purgatory, and it uses that to inform some insightful readings into Hamlet, and some of Shakespeare's other plays as well.

The book's main point seems to have been that with regards to the memories of the dead in Elizabethan England, a theatrical and poetic understanding of purgatory and ghosts had usurped the role that had previously been played by sincere religious beli
This was an utterly fascinating book. The title is a tad misleading, since he doesn't focus just on Hamlet. We learn a great deal about the murky origins of Purgatory as Catholic doctrine and how it was seemingly eradicated by the Protestant Reformation. Also, we get a tour of the various ghosts in Shakespeare, from the ghost of Caesar to Old Hamlet appearing to his son in armor. This book is a tremendous example of how something that's over 400 years old can be looked at freshly just by bringin ...more
Laura Lee
Let me just say at the outset that my star rating is not meant to be any sort of objective measure of the quality of Greenblatt's scholarship or writing style. It is, rather, an indication of my experience of this book. Hamlet in Purgatory annoyed me. To be fair, it is better to say that the packaging and marketing of this book annoyed me.

The book is called "Hamlet in Purgatory" and the back cover blurb begins "Beyond its brilliant illumination of Hamlet..." As I was in the mood to read differen
I have read this book as part of a FutureLearn MOOC about Hamlet offered by The University of Birmingham and the Shakespeare Institute and I have found it hugely interesting, even if the literary discussion doesnt come in early.
Greenblatt studies the notion of purgatory and its representation in English culture during the middle ages and afterwards during and after the Reformation, prompted by Hamlets ghost. I was raised a Catholic, so I am very familiar with some of religious material: probably
Brian Collins
A Protestant Hamlet just returned from Wittenburg is confronted by his father's purgatorial ghost. This strange happening sets Greenblatt off on a quest to understand the development of purgatory and the Protestant polemic against it. Eventually Greenblatt applies his research to Shakespeare's plays and to Hamlet in particular. The research on purgatory and it's reception history is well done.
p. 156 Finally gets to Shakespeare


p. 157
Each of these stagings [ghosts in a variety of guises oaf from shifting perspectives] has its own distinct and subtle meanings, but there are three fundamental perspectives to which Shakespeare repeatedly returns:
- the ghost as a figure of false surmise,
- the ghost as a figure of history's nightmare, and
- the ghost as a figure of deep psychic disturbance.
Half-hidden in all of these is a fourth perspective:
- the ghost as a figure of theater.

p.165 fn
Sometimes unnecessarily dragging and - although I can see some of the justification for it - a large part of the initial chapters seemed to be labouring a point.

Having said that, it sure takes you on a journey across the workings of culture and literature and how they intermingle. I think my perspective on the topic was definitely enhanced when I finished it.
This is a really interesting read ( I want to give it 3.5 stars). Granted, it takes four chapters to get to Shakespeare and five before Hamlet and his spectral father make an appearance, but the early material on the battle over the concept of Purgatory is engaging enough that you don't hold it against Greenblatt too much. It really is hard to conceive just how high the stakes over a concept like Purgatory were in the early modern period in England, and Greenblatt (who I met once eons ago when h ...more
I'm always a bit sceptical when it comes to New Historicist and Cultural Materialist readings of Shakespeare however, I found Greenblatt's work here both fascinating and enlightening. The first few chapters, which dealt primarily with medieval and Renaissance accounts of purgatory, at times seemed interminable, but once Hamlet became the primary topic of discussion I found I was able to not only power through the remainder of the text, but enjoy it, as well.
I really enjoyed this book. It offered a fascinating look into the history of and the Early Modern period's anxieties about Purgatory. It also offered an excellent look at the way Shakespeare goes about exploiting the nature of Purgatory as a social construct to explore his own questions about the practice of the faith and his regret about the loss of society's death rituals.
Non é male questo saggio, ma io non ero particolarmente interessata alla storia del purgatorio e delle sue varie vicissitudini nel corso dei secoli. Se escludo l'ultimo capitolo, che vedeva appunto Amleto come protagonista ed é quello che ho considerato il piú affascinante, il resto del libro mi ha parechio annoiato.
Gustav Klimt
A wonderful if somewhat limited exploration of the vestigial artifacts of medieval Catholic mysticism in the Renaissance--particularly the doctrine of purgatory. Essential reading for anyone interested in the Reformation or the transition from the middle ages to the Renaissance.
This is a nice exploration of both the history of the doctrine of purgatory that informs Hamlet's ghost and of Shakespeare's exploitation of the theological crises of his day. It portrays the bard as implicitly creating a Buhnenweihfestspiel.
Miche Lemmens
The title of this work by Stephen Greenblatt is a little ill-chosen: only the last chapter of the book (chapter 5) deals with Hamlet. The first four-fifths are an elaborate introduction into the historical perception of purgatory.
Jacki O'donnell
This book is much more academic than his other books I've read, Will in the World and The Swerve. Not being an academic myself, it was a slog. However, if theology is your field this would be a good book.
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  • Shakespeare's Language
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  • Shakespeare the Thinker
  • Shakespeare and Co.: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher and the Other Players in His Story
  • Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?
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  • Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare
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  • The Genius of Shakespeare
  • Northrop Frye on Shakespeare
  • Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
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  • The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
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Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition, he is the author of nine books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Practicing New Historicism; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of t ...more
More about Stephen Greenblatt...
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World Shakespearean Negotiations (New Historicism Studies in Cultural Poetics, #84)

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