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Hamlet in Purgatory
Stephen Greenblatt
With a new preface by the author

Book Description | Table of Contents
Chapter 1 [in PDF format]


"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

"A learned and persuasive book."--John Bossy, London Review of Books

"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

"[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

"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

"A brilliant treatment of the history of Purgatory in England and its survivals and echoes throughout Shakespeare's plays, above all Hamlet."--Carol Zaleski, First Things

"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

"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


"Beyond its brilliant illumination of Hamlet, Stephen Greenblatt's book uses historical evidence to probe the nature of human memory--by nature insistent, contradictory, in every sense haunted--as it copes with the stark, yet mysterious reality of death. With a rare combination of learning, imagination and grace Greenblatt has created an exciting work of scholarship, alert to the ways a great work of art can both resemble and transform other modes of discourse and perception."--Robert Pinsky

"Hamlet in Purgatory is a virtuoso exercise in untangling the interwoven threads of feeling and belief in early-seventeenth-century England . . . In this bold and brilliant book, Greenblatt demonstrates utterly compellingly why Hamlet can still hold our spiritual attention today."--Lisa Jardine

"My understanding of the traditions concerning Purgatory, both learned and popular, has been gratifyingly deepened by the rich detail of Greenblatt's study. . . . The nature of the ghost of Hamlet's father is an old scholarly puzzle, but Greenblatt's book raises the discussion to a new level, and does so without dogmatism, rather with a subtle acceptance of the ambiguities inherent not only in the Ghost but in the great play as a whole. The book will be welcomed by all who care about the subject, and for the insights already known to abound in this scholar's work."--Frank Kermode

"Stephen Greenblatt is a famously beguiling writer. That power of enchantment does not fail him here. His skill as a storyteller is constantly on display. But so too is his no less renowned skill as a skeptically demystifying cultural critic. The result is a book whose remarkable energy derives, as does that of Hamlet itself, from the mutually contradictory impulses it so tellingly expresses."--Richard Helgerson, University of California, Santa Barbara

"This book is a brilliant essay on memory. Although it serves as a learned history of the idea of Purgatory and a subtle reading of Hamlet, it is primarily a book about how a culture faces loss, one that is gracefully, even movingly, written and one which reveals, as always, Greenblatt to be an unusually sensitive critic and thinker."--David Scott Kastan, Columbia University

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File created: 9/19/2017

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