Friday, November 14, 2014

Brief History of Ghosts in Plays

As long as there has been theatre there have been ghosts.

From one generation to the next ghosts have been used in stage productions for a variety of purposes. They obviously represent the supernatural and unknown but their roles have evolved over time.

Ghosts in plays often are betrayed as seeking revenge or giving guidance.

Sometimes they played the role of the antagonist who was a formable enemy or at other times they took on the role of a strong ally.

In early productions they were represented without human traits-- they were forces that were incapable of human emotions or complex thought.

A Roman philosopher, Seneca the Younger included ghosts in his plays. He represented them as entities that sought revenge for something that happened to them while they were alive. So Seneca was one of the first to indicate that ghosts were once human.

During medieval times ghosts took on a new role in theatre. They sought favors from the living. These ghosts now most often interacted with the living.

By Shakespeare’s time the ghosts on stage had come full circle. They not only had human traits they often were used to represent the human struggle.

Macbeth sees ghost of Banquo
In Macbeth when the ghost of Banquo appears Macbeth is struggling with his ruthless, evil side that has a desire for power. So this ghost is used to reveal what is in Macbeth’s subconscious.

King Hamlet's ghost
In Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father represents the forces that are swirling over Denmark after his murder. His ghost appears to his son to spur him on to revenge so the natural order of Denmark’s hierarchy can be re-established.

“I am the father’s spirit,

Doom for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

And burst and purg’d away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secret of my prison house.”

                        --King Hamlet reveals his existence in purgatory

Marley's Ghost
In more modern stories about ghosts no doubt is left that these entities have human traits. For instance, in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that was eventually adapted for the stage--the ghosts represented are as human as the living characters. *

*With the exception of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

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