Catalogue


Hamlet in purgatory /
Stephen Greenblatt.
imprint
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2001.
description
xii, 322 p. : ill. (some col.)
ISBN
0691058733 (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2001.
isbn
0691058733 (alk. paper)
catalogue key
4348407
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Stephen Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor at Harvard University, where he teaches English and chairs the Concentration in History and Literature
Excerpts
Flap Copy
"Beyond its brilliant illumination of Hamlet , Stephen Greenblatt's book uses historical evidence to probe the nature of human memory--by nature insistent, contradictory, in every sense haunted--as it copes with the stark, yet mysterious reality of death. With a rare combination of learning, imagination and grace Greenblatt has created an exciting work of scholarship, alert to the ways a great work of art can both resemble and transform other modes of discourse and perception."-- Robert Pinsky " Hamlet in Purgatory is a virtuoso exercise in untangling the interwoven threads of feeling and belief in early-seventeenth-century England . . . In this bold and brilliant book, Greenblatt demonstrates utterly compellingly why Hamlet can still hold our spiritual attention today."-- Lisa Jardine "My understanding of the traditions concerning Purgatory , both learned and popular, has been gratifyingly deepened by the rich detail of Greenblatt's study. . . . The nature of the ghost of Hamlet's father is an old scholarly puzzle, but Greenblatt's book raises the discussion to a new level, and does so without dogmatism, rather with a subtle acceptance of the ambiguities inherent not only in the Ghost but in the great play as a whole. The book will be welcomed by all who care about the subject, and for the insights already known to abound in this scholar's work."-- Frank Kermode "Stephen Greenblatt is a famously beguiling writer. That power of enchantment does not fail him here. His skill as a storyteller is constantly on display. But so too is his no less renowned skill as a skeptically demystifying cultural critic. The result is a book whose remarkable energy derives, as does that of Hamlet itself, from the mutually contradictory impulses it so tellingly expresses."-- Richard Helgerson, University of California, Santa Barbara "This book is a brilliant essay on memory. Although it serves as a learned history of the idea of Purgatory and a subtle reading of Hamlet, it is primarily a book about how a culture faces loss, one that is gracefully, even movingly, written and one which reveals, as always, Greenblatt to be an unusually sensitive critic and thinker."-- David Scott Kastan, Columbia University "A brilliant treatment of the history of Purgatory in England and its survivals and echoes throughout Shakespeare's plays, above all Hamlet."-- Carol Zaleski, First Things
Flap Copy
"Beyond its brilliant illumination ofHamlet, Stephen Greenblatt's book uses historical evidence to probe the nature of human memory--by nature insistent, contradictory, in every sense haunted--as it copes with the stark, yet mysterious reality of death. With a rare combination of learning, imagination and grace Greenblatt has created an exciting work of scholarship, alert to the ways a great work of art can both resemble and transform other modes of discourse and perception."--Robert Pinsky "Hamlet in Purgatoryis a virtuoso exercise in untangling the interwoven threads of feeling and belief in early-seventeenth-century England . . . In this bold and brilliant book, Greenblatt demonstrates utterly compellingly why Hamlet can still hold our spiritual attention today."--Lisa Jardine "My understanding of the traditions concerningPurgatory, both learned and popular, has been gratifyingly deepened by the rich detail of Greenblatt's study. . . . The nature of the ghost of Hamlet's father is an old scholarly puzzle, but Greenblatt's book raises the discussion to a new level, and does so without dogmatism, rather with a subtle acceptance of the ambiguities inherent not only in the Ghost but in the great play as a whole. The book will be welcomed by all who care about the subject, and for the insights already known to abound in this scholar's work."--Frank Kermode "Stephen Greenblatt is a famously beguiling writer. That power of enchantment does not fail him here. His skill as a storyteller is constantly on display. But so too is his no less renowned skill as a skeptically demystifying cultural critic. The result is a book whose remarkable energy derives, as does that of Hamlet itself, from the mutually contradictory impulses it so tellingly expresses."--Richard Helgerson, University of California, Santa Barbara "This book is a brilliant essay on memory. Although it serves as a learned history of the idea of Purgatory and a subtle reading of Hamlet, it is primarily a book about how a culture faces loss, one that is gracefully, even movingly, written and one which reveals, as always, Greenblatt to be an unusually sensitive critic and thinker."--David Scott Kastan, Columbia University "A brilliant treatment of the history of Purgatory in England and its survivals and echoes throughout Shakespeare's plays, above all Hamlet."--Carol Zaleski,First Things
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-03-19:
Greenblatt has made a name for himself both as a preeminent Shakespeare scholar and as one of the founders of the "New Historicist" approach to literary criticism. Central to his approach is the notion that not only does history affect literature, but literature itself informs history, a claim its critics have generally either pursued without conviction or nervously sought to evade. Greenblatt's newest work is a fine example of his method's considerable appeal; what could be a narrow treatise on the theme of purgatory in Hamlet rapidly unfolds into an absorbing investigation of religious persecution, spectral haunting and the memory of the dead. Purgatory, Greenblatt contends, occupied the center of theological warfare in Shakespeare's time, derided by Protestants as a cynical source of papal revenue (from pardons and indulgences), a baroque work of the Catholic imagination and a "poet's fable." Pursuing the purgatorial mind-set through its visual and textual incarnations, Greenblatt finds its suppressed traces in the form of medieval and Elizabethan ghost stories, theatrical works and dreams His increasingly occult investigation culminates in a compelling portrait of Shakespeare's Hamlet as a political, psychological, spiritual animal haunted by the ghost of his father and bearing a secret authorial agenda. Greenblatt's fascination with ghostly texts is contagious, and he is virtually unequaled among literary critics as a prose stylist. Though the book occasionally labors under the weight of its own evidence, it greatly succeeds in bringing alive the powerful complex of fear and longing Shakespeare so deftly deployed. Required reading for those who study Shakespeare, this graceful analysis should also give considerable pleasure to those who merely enjoy him. 8 color, 10 b&w illus. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2001-07-01:
"The power of Shakespeare's theater," writes Greenblatt (Harvard), "is frequently linked to its appropriation of weakened or damaged institutional structures." In Shakespearean Negotiations (CH, May'88), Greenblatt revealed how in King Lear Shakespeare appropriated the discredited structures of the exorcism ceremony for a Protestant audience, which experienced aesthetic and intellectual delight through the revelation of the theatrical and poetical resources of the exorcism ritual. Here Greenblatt turns to Shakespeare's reinvention in Hamlet of the discredited structures of the myth of purgatory. Following those who have chronicled the relatively recent (c.1270) invention of the idea of purgatory, Greenblatt shows how Shakespeare took what appeared in Catholic culture as a theological and ontological issue and turned it into a functional psychological structure through which he illuminated the immanent division of early modern subjectivity. Whereas Anglicans ridiculed the idea of purgatory and the profitable economics of selling indulgences, Greenblatt reveals how Shakespeare turned the Anglican assault on the idea of purgatory as mere poetry into an indispensable poetic resource. In addition to this decisive repositioning of Hamlet's place in modern culture, Greenblatt provides extraordinary readings of little-known works (e.g., the Middle English prose tract The Gast of Gy and Simon Fish's A Supplication for the Beggars, 1529). A major work of contemporary scholarship. N. Lukacher University of Illinois at Chicago
Reviews
Review Quotes
This book is a brilliant essay on memory. Although it serves as a learned history of the idea of Purgatory and a subtle reading of Hamlet, it is primarily a book about how a culture faces loss, one that is gracefully, even movingly, written and one which reveals, as always, Greenblatt to be an unusually sensitive critic and thinker.
Stephen Greenblatt is a famously beguiling writer. That power of enchantment does not fail him here. His skill as a storyteller is constantly on display. But so too is his no less renowned skill as a skeptically demystifying cultural critic. The result is a book whose remarkable energy derives, as does that of Hamlet itself, from the mutually contradictory impulses it so tellingly expresses.
Hamlet in Purgatoryis a virtuoso exercise in untangling the interwoven threads of feeling and belief in early-seventeenth-century England . . . In this bold and brilliant book, Greenblatt demonstrates utterly compellingly why Hamlet can still hold our spiritual attention today.
My understanding of the traditions concerningPurgatory, both learned and popular, has been gratifyingly deepened by the rich detail of Greenblatt's study. . . . The nature of the ghost of Hamlet's father is an old scholarly puzzle, but Greenblatt's book raises the discussion to a new level, and does so without dogmatism, rather with a subtle acceptance of the ambiguities inherent not only in the Ghost but in the great play as a whole. The book will be welcomed by all who care about the subject, and for the insights already known to abound in this scholar's work.
Winner of the 2002 Erasmus Institute Book Prize One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2001
A brilliant treatment of the history of Purgatory in England and its survivals and echoes throughout Shakespeare's plays, above all Hamlet.
This is an interesting book on a grave matter . . . We marvel that the author can make so much out of a slender theme, but it is the device of the good academic writer to make small amounts of material yield golden insights.
"This is an interesting book on a grave matter . . . We marvel that the author can make so much out of a slender theme, but it is the device of the good academic writer to make small amounts of material yield golden insights."-- Peter Ackroyd, The Times of London
" Hamlet in Purgatory neither pretends to solve the mysteries of the play nor indulges in fruitless speculation about Shakespeare's own sectarian allegiances. Instead, it offers masterly accounts first of the history of the idea of Purgatory and its decline, then of the importance of ghosts and related apparitions in the whole range of Shakespeare's plays. . . . Profoundly original."-- Jonathan Bate, The Sunday Telegraph
"Greenblatt's mode of analysis has always been to leap the gulf between the early modern past and the present. . . . Hamlet in Purgatory , his finest book in years, is a magnificent extended commentary on the otherness of the work in which Hamlet's father's ghost walked on stage. Greenblatt leaves it to us to find the spaces that it now haunts within the family or the world of politics, in the bedroom or on the battlements."-- Peter Holland, New York Review of Books
Hamlet in Purgatoryneither pretends to solve the mysteries of the play nor indulges in fruitless speculation about Shakespeare's own sectarian allegiances. Instead, it offers masterly accounts first of the history of the idea of Purgatory and its decline, then of the importance of ghosts and related apparitions in the whole range of Shakespeare's plays. . . . Profoundly original.
"Greenblatt's fascination with ghostly texts is contagious, and he is virtually unequaled among literary critics as a prose stylist. . . . [ Hamlet in Purgatory ] greatly succeeds in bringing alive the powerful complex of fear and longing Shakespeare so deftly deployed. Required reading for those who study Shakespeare, this graceful analysis should also give considerable pleasure to those who merely enjoy him."-- Publishers Weekly
Greenblatt's is not by any means nostalgic reading. The book gains its energy from an ongoing tension between the author's intellectual openness to apparently bizarre religious practices and his sharp skepticism. . . . To have explicated new aspects of a play that has probably been more intensely studied than any other work of literature is a remarkable achievement that triumphantly vindicates the book's method. . . . Enthralling reading. . . . Greenblatt has offered genuinely new insights that make the familiar words seem strange and new, and that will speak powerfully to a new generation uneasy about its own unease with an earlier generation's religious beliefs.
Greenblatt's mode of analysis has always been to leap the gulf between the early modern past and the present. . . . Hamlet in Purgatory, his finest book in years, is a magnificent extended commentary on the otherness of the work in which Hamlet's father's ghost walked on stage. Greenblatt leaves it to us to find the spaces that it now haunts within the family or the world of politics, in the bedroom or on the battlements.
"Greenblatt reveals how Shakespeare turned the Anglican assault on the idea of purgatory as mere poetry into an indispensable poetic resource. In addition to this decisive repositioning of Hamlet's place in modern culture, Greenblatt provides extraordinary readings of little-know works. . . . A major work of contemporary scholarship."-- Choice
Greenblatt's fascination with ghostly texts is contagious, and he is virtually unequaled among literary critics as a prose stylist. . . . [Hamlet in Purgatory] greatly succeeds in bringing alive the powerful complex of fear and longing Shakespeare so deftly deployed. Required reading for those who study Shakespeare, this graceful analysis should also give considerable pleasure to those who merely enjoy him.
"Greenblatt has shown beautifully what compellingly affective, even ethical, 'claims' Shakespeare's imaginary characters can make on modern readers, rewarding us with some of his liveliest and most original critical writing to date."-- Katherine Duncan-Jones, Times Literary Supplement
Greenblatt reveals how Shakespeare turned the Anglican assault on the idea of purgatory as mere poetry into an indispensable poetic resource. In addition to this decisive repositioning of Hamlet's place in modern culture, Greenblatt provides extraordinary readings of little-know works. . . . A major work of contemporary scholarship.
Greenblatt has shown beautifully what compellingly affective, even ethical, 'claims' Shakespeare's imaginary characters can make on modern readers, rewarding us with some of his liveliest and most original critical writing to date.
"A magisterial study containing impeccable scholarship, interesting narratives, incisive analyses of specific passages, cogent generalizations based upon a number of disciplines, seamless utilization of appropriate quotations, and, finally, a compelling sensitivity to the effects of literature on its past and present audiences."-- Frank Ardolino, Sixteenth Century Journal
[An] astonishing work of historical reconstruction. . . . [Greenblatt] has taken on the challenge of defamiliarizing the most famous play in Western literature by placing it in its proper theological setting. . . . [W]hile he must definitely rank as the most influential and knowledgeable of all the New Historicists he now shows himself in this book as something more, much more.
"[An] astonishing work of historical reconstruction. . . . [Greenblatt] has taken on the challenge of defamiliarizing the most famous play in Western literature by placing it in its proper theological setting. . . . [W]hile he must definitely rank as the most influential and knowledgeable of all the New Historicists he now shows himself in this book as something more, much more."-- Edward T. Oakes, Commonweal
Greenblatt . . . argues with great elegance and ingenuity . . . [He] offers masterly accounts first of the history of the idea of Purgatory and its decline, then of the importance of ghosts and related apparitions in the whole range of Shakespeare's plays.
"Greenblatt . . . argues with great elegance and ingenuity . . . [He] offers masterly accounts first of the history of the idea of Purgatory and its decline, then of the importance of ghosts and related apparitions in the whole range of Shakespeare's plays."-- Jonathan Bate, Sunday Telegraph
A magisterial study containing impeccable scholarship, interesting narratives, incisive analyses of specific passages, cogent generalizations based upon a number of disciplines, seamless utilization of appropriate quotations, and, finally, a compelling sensitivity to the effects of literature on its past and present audiences.
A learned and persuasive book.
"A learned and persuasive book."-- John Bossy, London Review of Books
"[A] highly instructive investigation of the role of spirits from the other world in Shakespeare. [Greenblatt's] writing here is poised, precise, and . . . eloquent. . . . Hamlet in Purgatory is an exemplary work of historically informed literary interpretation."-- Robert Alter, New York Times Book Review
[A] highly instructive investigation of the role of spirits from the other world in Shakespeare. [Greenblatt's] writing here is poised, precise, and . . . eloquent. . . . Hamlet in Purgatory is an exemplary work of historically informed literary interpretation.
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, March 2001
New York Times Book Review, May 2001
Choice, July 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Publisher Fact Sheet
An account of the rise & fall of the idea of Purgatory as both belief & a lucrative institution--as well as a capacious new reading of the power of Hamlet.
Main Description
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. In the mid-sixteenth century, English authorities abruptly changed the relationship between the living and dead. Declaring that Purgatory was a false "poem," they abolished the institutions and banned the practices that Christians relied on to ease the passage to Heaven for themselves and their dead loved ones. Greenblatt explores the fantastic adventure narratives, ghost stories, pilgrimages, and imagery by which a belief in a grisly "prison house of souls" had been shaped and reinforced in the Middle Ages. He probes the psychological benefits as well as the high costs of this belief and of its demolition. With the doctrine of Purgatory and the elaborate practices that grew up around it, the church had provided a powerful method of negotiating with the dead. The Protestant attack on Purgatory destroyed this method for most people in England, but it did not eradicate the longings and fears that Catholic doctrine had for centuries focused and exploited. In his strikingly original interpretation, Greenblatt argues that the human desires to commune with, assist, and be rid of the dead were transformed by Shakespeare-consummate conjurer that he was-into the substance of several of his plays, above all the weirdly powerful Hamlet. Thus, the space of Purgatory became the stage haunted by literature's most famous ghost. This book constitutes an extraordinary feat that could have been accomplished by only Stephen Greenblatt. It is at once a deeply satisfying reading of medieval religion, an innovative interpretation of the apparitions that trouble Shakespeare's tragic heroes, and an exploration of how a culture can be inhabited by its own spectral leftovers.
Bowker Data Service Summary
Setting out to explain his longtime fascination with the ghost of Hamlet's father, Stephen Greenblatt provides an account of the rise and fall of purgatory as both a belief and a lucrative institution - as well as a new reading of the power of Hamlet.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prologuep. 3
A Poet's Fablep. 10
Imagining Purgatoryp. 47
The Rights of Memoryp. 102
Staging Ghostsp. 151
Remember Mep. 205
Epiloguep. 258
Notesp. 263
Indexp. 315
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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