Fear and Wonder: Shakespeare’s Ghost in the Fireside Tradition

  • Catherine BelseyEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


To modern audiences, Old Hamlet seems too corporeal to be truly frightening: we prefer our phantoms translucent and insubstantial, so that it is hard to share Horatio’s ‘fear and wonder’ at the apparition. But we can acknowledge a mounting suspense as the Ghost twice vanishes and, at its third appearance, beckons Hamlet to a more remote place before revealing its mission. Solid it may be, but the Ghost knows how to make itself uncanny. Previous stage ghosts owe much to Seneca, whose phantoms are bloodcurdling but not eerie. There was another tradition, however, of fireside tales designed to inculcate fear and wonder. While many of these oral narratives are necessarily lost, enough material survives to indicate an additional source for Shakespeare’s Ghost.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Swansea UniversitySwanseaWales, UK

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