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Ghosts- Do You Believe?

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Ghosts In Elizabethan England

       In Elizabethan England, ghosts and the idea of them, was a common phenomenom. Many people wrote books on these strange happenings, that they couldn't really describe. In 1572 Lewes Lavater wrote "Of Ghostes and Spirites Walking by Nyght". In it he wrote of sudden noises sounding like cracks that were heard just before death, men are seen walking in their homes just after they had died, houses make so much noise that the owners believe they were about to fall down, doors and windows were seen opening when no one was around and footsteps are heard throughout hallways in the dead of the night.
      People who had encounters with the supernatural were not believed to be oddball fanatics or religous cults, they were as normal as could be. In todays society people who believe in these things are said to be "dreaming" or "crazy", but not back then.
      One of the most famous people to believe and include the supernatural in their everyday work was William Shakespeare. At the time he wrote Hamlet, a debate raged in England about the nature of ghosts. It was agreed that if spirits and apparitions exist, they must also exist in everyday life. Shakespeare's plays do an excellent job of telling the fascination with ghosts during this time in history.

The Senecan Prologue Ghost
The Senecan Tragedy was modeled after the Greek tragedy's where ghosts and witches regularly appear, but gods rarely do. Hamlet is very similar to these plays. By the time Hamlet was written it was a common occurance to have ghosts appear at the beginning of a play and and have the play end with the ghosts revenge.
 
Shakespeare made a change to the Senecan Ghost. Instead of it coming up from the ancient underworld of Tartarus, it came from the christian context which was a spooky English graveyard. This ghost brought on the idea of evil and threat to others, whereas the underworld ghost was just there with no evil. The ghost of King Hamlet is designed to be spooky. Both Marcellus and Horatio speak of their terror. They talk of the "unsholsme night", "planets in rebellion", "whitches, powers and charms", and the "absence of God's grace".
 
 
 
Catholic and Protestant Beliefs
 
Catholic: The Catholic people believed in a place called pergutory, which was kind of like a waiting room between heaven and hell where souls can reside. They believed that ghosts are the wandering souls of those who have recently died.
 
Protestant: The Protestants believed that the dead are either sent to Heaven or Hell, nothing in between. When it came to ghosts, it was a split decision. The Conservative Reformers thought that spirits occupy the bodies of the dead, or spirits create forms to inhabit. The Progressive Reformers believed that all creation is the domain of God alone, but spirits can create convincing illusions of ghosts in the minds of men.
 
William Shakespeare & The Supernatural
 
It is not clear whether Shakespeare himself believed in the ghosts that played such vital roles in his plays. He did however find them very useful as dramatic devices.
 
 

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