Hamlet in Purgatory (Magill Book Reviews)
In Hamlet In Purgatory Stephen Greenblatt tells his interesting story in five chapters. “A Poet’s Fable” analyzes A Supplication for Beggars, a tract published in 1529 by Simon Fish, a London lawyer. Fish laments that money that could benefit the poor is going instead to the “bloodsuppers” of the Church, who are bleeding people for alms to shorten the stay of souls in Purgatory. Fish asks why priests cannot give pardons freely, and he urges the king to stamp out the exploitation practiced by the corrupt monks and friars. William Tyndale, another doubter, called Purgatory “a poet’s fable.”
“Imagining Purgatory” summarizes some of the prominent accounts of Purgatory, including the twelfth century Vision of Tondale and the twelfth century Latin prose work Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, by the Anglo-Norman monk H. of Sawtry.
“The Rights of Memory” explicates the Middle English The Gast of Gy, the narrative of a recently widowed French woman who is tormented by her late husband’s evening visits to her bedroom. The story of the haunting survives in a report for Pope John XXII written by a Dominican prior in the form of a debate between himself and the specter, and Greenblatt’s account is one of the high points of his study.
A chapter on “Staging Ghosts” prepares for Greenblatt’s superb insights in “Remember Me” (“Adieu, adieu, Hamlet. Remember me”) into...
(The entire section is 288 words.)
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Hamlet in Purgatory (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Stephen Greenblatt begins Hamlet in Purgatory with a personal anecdote. The Greenblatt family are Jews, and when his father died at age eighty-seven Greenblatt learned that he had left money to an organization that would say kaddish—the Aramaic prayer for the dead—for him. Since the prayer is usually said by a close family member, Greenbatt surmised his father did not trust either him or his brother with the duty, and this realization determined Greenblatt to recite the prayer after all. The experience taught him much about Judaism’s conception of the afterlife, a belief with only a slight Biblical basis, and he concluded—with evidence from one of John Donne’s sermons—that the Jewish practice of saying prayers for the dead was quite possibly adopted from Christians. Donne himself traced the origins of Purgatory to Plato. Greenblatt also cites New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier’s observation that the practice of saying kaddish began in the thirteenth century at just about the time that Christians began praying for souls in Purgatory, but he scoffs at Wieseltier’s claim of mere coincidence at work, imagining a “long, twisting path that leads back from my father and forefathers [and] passes through the Christianity that seemed to them the very embodiment of otherness.” This is Greenblatt’s “personal starting point” for his book.
In 1529, the London lawyer Simon Fish addressed an anonymous tract to Henry...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)