Shakespeare’s Ghosts Live! What Secret Messages do The Spirits Reveal about the Nature of Reality?
When one of us began studying psychology he was told that if the aim was to understand human relationships, it would be better served by studying literature—especially Shakespeare. Since then, at least as concerns clinical psychology , the subject has moved on to become an evidence-based humanistic alternative to psychiatry's rather mindless medical model. Yet some of Shakespeare's insights do still remain unrecognized. Despite all the innumerable treatises on Shakespeare, there is a near absence of any discussion of what can be inferred from his works concerning his view on the paranormal.
Hark! Consciousness and Entanglement
Most of us know the quotation from Shakespeare's " There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy ( Hamlet, Act 1, scene 5) but very few scientists have actually taken this on-board. So let's use this axiom to look at a fascinating area: Consciousness.
Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus, and the Ghost, on the platform before the Palace of Elsinor. 1796 ( Public Domain )
While there exists no accredited work integrating modern physics and psychology, there now is at least a "quantum biology" relating to biological molecules that show a dynamic form of "entanglement"— that is a resonance with each other across time and space that is not explicable by casual laws. If entanglement is found to have a pervasive role in nature, then given these forms of resonance occur in one brain then they may well occur between separate brains. Suddenly, the paranormal becomes normal science!
Indeed, should the author and physician Larry Dossey be right then these developments are not just academic; they would have implications that will revolutionize modern medicine.
Shakespeare’s Knowing Ghosts
What does Shakespeare, whose works contains 14 ghosts, have to say on the topic?
Macbeth seeing the ghost of Banquo ( Public Domain )
In order to evaluate Shakespeare's writings, it is, of course, necessary to take into account the zeitgeist where a deviant idea could easily lead to the dungeon, if not decapitation. The Protestant Elizabethan period with its renaissance may well have offered greater freedom of expression for Shakespeare than the subsequent reign of James I. Although James was a Protestant, he was also James VI of Scotland where Calvinism and Catholicism were prevailing. Moreover, James took a very personal interest in witchcraft because spells were to have interfered with his marriage arrangements, causing heavy storms so that his fiancée’s ship from Copenhagen ended up at Oslo rather than Leith.
The North Berwick witches were accused and burnt for conspiracy involving the devil. James attended one of the trials, dismissing at first the involvement of the devil until one of the witches convinced him of her powers, unwittingly sealing her fate, by telling him the precise words his finance had whispered into his ear. The witches in Macbeth closely resemble the descriptions found in the records of the North Berwick witch trials.
Suspected witches kneeling before King James; Daemonologie (1597) ( Public Domain )
For Catholics and Calvinist's sympathizers, there was one exception to seeing ghosts as agents of the devil; this was if God had a purpose in allowing the ghost a leave of absence from purgatory. Protestants added one further, more modern alternative: delusions of distraught minds. Hamlet was written very shortly before the ascendency of James to the throne and the ghost appears only because he has a leave of absence from purgatory, and the delusion aspect plays a major role in the play.
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The North Berwick Witches meet the Devil in the local kirkyard, from a contemporary pamphlet, Newes from Scotland. ( Public Domain )
The plays Julius Caesar and Richard III are from the Elizabethan period. In Julius Caesar (Act IV scene 3) , Brutus confronts the ghost, demanding: " Speak to me what thou art ." and the answer is: "Thy evil spirit, Brutus". What is particularly profound here lies in the answer “Thy evil spirit”. This saying that while it is Brutus’s own consciousness that has produced the ghost, the entity has an independence of Brutus. The entity then foretells how they will meet again at Philippa—which is where Brutus will die.
This independence of the spirits reoccurs in Richard III (Act V scene 3) before the Battle of Bosworth Field when a succession of ghosts simultaneously appear the dreams of both Richard and his adversary, Richmond. The ghosts torment Richard but encourage Richmond in the fight by foretelling that he will become king and beget future kings.