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Hamlet in Purgatory

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  263 ratings  ·  31 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.< ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published September 15th 2002 by Princeton University Press (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  263 ratings  ·  31 reviews

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Dec 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Matt McCormick
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. There are certain writers with whom I am particularly partial such as Robert Caro, Jorge Louis Borges, A. J. Liebling and Stephen Greenblatt. I always get more from their writing than I expected when I picked up their book, essay or critical review. My experience with Greenblatt’s Hamlet in Purgatory was no exception.

What some reviewers found frustrating I found enjoyed. I liked the background on purgatory itself and appreciated how he placed the creation
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Hamlet in Purgatory, a New Historicist book, in brief, deals with the history of the much-contested idea of Purgatory as it must have been inherited in Renaissance England by Shakespeare in whose plays (not just in Hamlet, but especially in it) it seeps in, the poetical replacing the theological as a way to grapple with the thin boundary between life and death and the grief that accompanies death. Greenblatt’s writing is not overly dense and his arguments are both brilliant and wonderfully tied ...more
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
стівен грінблатт починає розповідь про гамлета-старшого в чистилищі здалеку і рухається без поспіху: щоб зрозуміти, наскільки несподівано круту річ робить шекспір, потрібно трошки дізнатися про життя і пригоди чистилища в англійській культурі. тому ми стартуємо з дванадцятого століття – чи навіть іще раніше, із восьмого, коли це місце ще ніяк не називали, тільки думали, що ж має існувати якийсь простір, де ще не зовсім достойні небес душі можуть посидіти до повної готовності.
оця штука з до
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shakespeare, history
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
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012-reads
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
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 29, 2013 rated it liked 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
Brian Collins
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A surprisingly entertaining read if you're interested in Hamlet and/or purgatory. Stephen Greenblatt got me with both. The Hamlet in question is the King, as he's the only dead Hamlet while the play takes place. Junior gets his share of ink in response to his dad - but then, that's the whole play, isn't it? Responding to dad? Fascinating the parsing of stanzas, lines, and words, but like many studies I believe most of the conceits are those of the scholar rather than the author. I have a feeling ...more
David C Ward
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Never uninteresting, I thought Greenblatt’s argument here a little forced and mechanistic; the details in the initial section on the rise and fall of purgatory (it takes a long time to get to Hamlet!) aren’t actually necessary for the discussion of Hamlet - the lengthy readings of ghost stories for instance or More’s polemic in defense of purgatory are extraneous. The key points on religion could be dealt with more pointedly and sharper; I had a sense that Greenblatt was unloading all his semina ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb! Greenblatt has done an excellent job here. It's completely changed how I understand Hamlet. Although he takes about 200 pages to actually starting discussing Hamlet, it's absolutely worth it. He covers the history of purgatory so well that by the time we get onto Hamlet, the revealment of the hybridisation of Senecan revenge ghost with the ghost from purgatory hits you like an ice-cold salmon across the face on a frosty winter morning. Suddenly, all I'm interested in is the ghost. It's a ...more
Jim Collett
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating study of the idea of Purgatory and its possible relation to the ghost in Hamlet. I think it requires a good background in the play and probably some knowledge of the Elizabethan era. Provocative reading.
Kirk Johnson
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
More a study of purgatory than of Hamlet, but still worthy of its title, this book doesn't have an uninteresting page. Get the hardcover version if you can, as the plates are in color and the typeface is notably more readable.
Not quite as riveting as the Swerve but doggone if I didn't learn a ton about Purgatory and its echoes through the 17th century. All those lost spirits, wandering.
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
audio, I don't love the reader but the story is good
Alan Lindsay
Well researched and written--but an awful lot of reading for a few decent insights into Hamlet. The title is misleading. And that point about theater and purgatory, either it's never clearly formulated, or I missed it.
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 r
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was published in 2001, so obviously I'm a bit behind in my highly academic Shakespeare scholarship. I have, however, done my fair share of it in the past, and never EVER has an academic reading of Hamlet brought me to tears, this extremely moving double-death of the King in Hamlet's final moments: "O,O,O,O.... I am dead" (229). Never mind that the actual text of the play isn't mentioned until page 157, the process that Greenblatt walks the reader through from a thorough recounting of t ...more
Ben De Bono
Despite a few significant flaws along the way, this is a fascinating read for fans of either Hamlet or medieval thought.

There are two big problems I have with the book: 1. Anytime the author wanders onto theological ground it becomes quickly apparent he is out of his element. He repeats several times that purgatory didn't exist in Christian thought until the 13th century. Wrong. The word purgatory wasn't used then, but the concept goes back to the Patristics or, if we want to be really technica
Sep 22, 2013 rated it liked it
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 pe
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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: pr
Apr 18, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Valarie Smith
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
If you're looking for a book on purgatory in Renaissance literature, I'm sure this book would be great. If, however, you're looking for a book that focuses on Hamlet, be forewarned that the discussion on Hamlet doesn't even BEGIN until page 205. Ultimately, only 56pp of Hamlet in Purgatory are ultimately devoted to Hamlet itself.
Aug 21, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Feb 07, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Miche Lemmens
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
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.
Gustav Klimt
Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
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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 the New World; Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture; a ...more