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.
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Winner of the 2002 Erasmus Institute Book PrizeOne of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2001
"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
"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 . . . 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] 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 learned and persuasive book."--John Bossy, London Review of Books
"[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
"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
"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."--David Norbrook, The New Republic
"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 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'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
"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