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The Supernatural in Shakespeare’s Plays
Throwing an unrealistic element into a play that is meant to be performed on a stage does not exactly seem logical. Unless, however, you are William Shakespeare; in that case, you would have complete and total free reign as a playwright. Shakespeare brilliantly incorporates ghosts and spirits into his plays to serve his purposes. Although there are a few unexplained questions about his supernatural choices that will have to remain unanswered, it is possible to speculate about those choices and why they were made.
An obvious supernatural element placed into some of Shakespeare’s plays is his use of ghosts. His ghosts always had a purpose, however, whether or not that purpose was full of good or bad intent may be left to the reader or audience’s discretion. Although he used ghosts as an important factor in some of his works, he was not responsible for actually inventing the ghosts themselves (Smidt 435). They had already been incorporated into many other literary works. Shakespeare’s intent for his ghostly figures was not for them to come and go, but for them to appear and disappear. Portraying this was slightly difficult due to the fact that Shakespeare was, in fact, a playwright. Actors cannot simply just appear and dissipate on and off of the stage. If they could, it would make Shakespeare’s point of the ghosts being ghosts get across a little more obviously. The ghost actors would have been dressed as they were when they were living, with the addition of evidence of how they perished, such as blood on their clothing. For the fact that in Shakespeare’s time plays had to be performed live, sans technology, this seems about the cleverest way to go about insinuating that there were ghosts present on the stage. Out of all of the ghosts in his plays, only one ghost actually comes and goes, and that is Hamlet’s father. The other ghosts Shakespeare uses appear to the living at times when they should be dreaming or they appear to them as supernatural fantasies (Faber 132). This allows the viewer of the play to question whether or not the ghosts were actually ghosts or if they simply apparitions in the actor’s heads being portrayed visually on stage. Shakespeare’s ghosts are not generally the awful or screeching kinds of ghosts that movies use today (Smidt 427). They were usually used to haunt live characters for their past actions. Each ghost has a specific purpose.
The first play that Shakespeare incorporated a ghost was in Richard III (Smidt 427). The first ghosts to appear are to the Duke of Clarence. He is able to clearly relate a vivid dream to his keeper of his ghostly encounter. He does this so well that the readers of the play are able to practically experience the ghosts as he does, whereas in Richard and Richmond’s case, both the viewers and readers literally get to experience the procession of the ghosts (Smidt 428). There was not only one ghost, but many; and they not only appeared to Richard, but also to Richmond. It can be argued that the ghosts Richard sees should have just been a bad dream for him, but their procession across the stage to Richmond is important (Smidt 436). This shows that it was significant for the ghosts to travel from Richard and deliver curses and then to Richmond to deliver good wishes for the battle. The ghosts were used as a foreshadowing tool.
After the ghosts of Richard III are examined, the ghost of Caesar himself from Julius Casear is next to be analyzed. This ghost has an incredibly short appearance and is only seen by one character, Brutus. It occurs right before the battle of Philippi. Caesar’s ghost announces that he is an “evil spirit.” Supposedly Brutus’ guards did not hear a thing. After he experiences the ghost, Brutus’ manner is frightened, then very shortly after, quite calm. Only a few brief lines are even spoken by the great ghost of Caesar, yet they’re powerful in meaning and...
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