Elizabethan Era

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by CaitlinKrause
Last updated 7 years ago

Language Arts

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Elizabethan Era

A ghost is defined as the soul of a dead person who appears to the living in likeness to their living form. Belief in ghosts was widespread amongst the mass majority of the population. Most people in Shakespeare's time believed that ghosts died terrible or violent deaths, since this era saw many executions and premature or untimely deaths. Also, the living tended to pray for ghosts, since the belief was that a ghost could be saved from hell with prayers from the living. Ghosts in Shakespeare's plays tended to haunt their killers or to seek revenge from the living, like the ghost of Hamlet's father asking Hamlet to avenge his murder.

Ghosts, Witches, the Afterlife and the Supernatural in the Elizabethan Era

"I am thy father's spirit, / Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night" (I.v.9-10).

Elizabethan Beliefs in Ghosts

Catholics and Protestants had some different views on the afterlife. Catholicism believes that there is an in between stage of the afterlife, between heaven and hell. Souls that were too good for hell, but were too sinful for heaven were believed to be sent to purgatory. Purgatory was a place that souls were sent to be purged of their sins by punishment, in other words atone for their faults in life. It was believed, however, that these souls would be allowed to return to earth to warn the living, therefore, reinforcing the Catholic beliefs in ghosts. Protestants on the other hand, did not believe in a purgatory or any middle stage: it was heaven or hell.

Catholic or Protestant?

In Hamlet, ghosts and the afterlife are mentioned. In Act 1, Hamlet's recently murdered father comes back to Hamlet as a ghost. The ghost tells Hamlet that he wants vengeance against his brother, who in fact is his murderer. Also, the Afterlife is mentioned throughout by many of the characters in Hamlet. The ghost even talks about how he is stuck in purgatory waiting to be purged of his sins. Both the afterlife and ghosts play a role in developing the plot of the play.

Ghosts and the Afterlife in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

Most people during this time believed in witches. Since the Elizabethan era was a time of very little scientific knowledge, things that could not be explained were brushed off as witchcraft. In some of Shakespeare's plays, a typical witch- described as old or ugly or unrepentant when misfortune occurred- helps the play progress (the most famous example would be Macbeth). Most Elizabethan's did not like the so called witches, since they were associated with misfortune. This meant that many innocent "witches" were executed for a criminal offense that explained what is now called science.

Caitlin Krause


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