A stage ghost, supposedly incorporeal, remains embodied by an actor. Hamlet addresses this problem by depicting its Ghost as an actor whose affective power arises from its bodily influence over spectators. As it works to generate powerful physical effects in its audience, the Ghost highlights and exploits the embodied, performing presence of the solid actor. Paradoxically, the play compensates for its failure to provide a perfect illusion of ghostliness by emphasizing the Ghost’s “harrowing” bodily power over fellow characters. As Hamlet and others respond physically to the Ghost, they act as onstage proxies for playgoers. The Ghost’s call to “Remember me” links to early modern concepts of bodily participation and response embedded in the Anglican service for the Lord’s Supper: “do this in remembrance of me.” The Ghost and Hamlet thus model a theatrical relation between performer and spectator by which the actor’s body physically influences playgoers to imitate it and take action in turn. Such a vision of active performance and response—as fraught as it is for Hamlet, caught between the extreme spectatorial responses of paralyzed inaction and infectious violence—ultimately works to counter antitheatricalist fears. Through the Ghost’s acting body, Shakespeare acknowledges the dangers of theatrical embodiment as either an embarrassing liability to the theatrical fiction or a poisonous, unstoppable bodily contagion, while offering an alternative. By ‘remembering’ this harrowing story in both body and spirit, Hamlet suggests, playgoers gain the power to take action and carry forward the ghost-like representation that is theatrical performance itself.


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pp. 253-275
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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