The ghost of Hamlet’s father has received some notable attention recently, especially in two commentaries on the play. One is Stephen Greenblatt’s Hamlet in Purgatory (2001), which is concerned with the resonances of the ghost’s apparent claim to have come from purgatory, and the way contradictory interpretations of what happens in a play in which a ‘young man from Wittenberg, with a distinctly Protestant temperament, is haunted by a distinctly Catholic ghost’. The other is in the chapter devoted to ‘ghosts and garments’ in Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory by Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass (2000). Here the emphasis is on what the authors see as the ‘gross materiality’ of renaissance stage ghosts, a materiality inescapable in the ways in which they were clothed. The ghost in Hamlet, they argue, has become an embarrassment since the eighteenth century, and ‘Ridicule, rather than fear, has been the usual lot of Hamlet’s ghost.’ It is worth pursuing further the question not considered by Greenblatt and touched on but not adequately considered by Jones and Stallybrass: why is this ghost, uniquely among the more than sixty stage ghosts in the drama of the period, clad in armour?
In the opening scene of the play the sceptical Horatio has to acknowledge seeing a ghost that appears in
that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march.(1.1.50–2)
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