As the nights draw in and the wind starts to blow, who doesn’t feel a little spooked and remember ghost stories from the past? Theatres are full of ghost stories about their histories and the actors that walked their boards, as are the plays that are performed on their stages.
One the most famous playwrights to include ghosts in its cast is William Shakespeare, who loved to explore the afterlife as a method to show guilt in his characters and foresee the death of the person behind their murder.
The earliest of Shakespeare’s plays to feature ghosts was Richard III, where Richard is visited by the ghosts of his victims whilst he is asleep. Each of the ghosts tells Richard about how he killed them and of his death in battle the next day. The play depicts this scene as possibly being about ghosts or a dream, although the leader of the opposing army also tells a tale about the ghosts speaking to him about his forthcoming victory. In this tale, it is almost like Shakespeare is testing the audience’s reaction or interpretation of his tale to see how far he can go with his ghosts.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare again uses the apparition of a ghost as a way to show the guilt that a murderer can carry about the death, and also that fate will shortly bring about the character’s own demise.
Shakespeare’s most infamous ghosts though can be found in Hamlet, where Horatio doubts the tale of two other characters that have seen a ghost until he sees it for himself of course. This tale of discovering the truth that ghosts might be real and not just a tale brings ghosts to the forefront of theatre at a time when people’s religious beliefs may not agree with their existence.
The way in which Shakespeare’s ghosts appear in his plays varies with unexpected and dramatic scenes. Macbeth was probably the most extreme in terms of its’ ghostly apparition, as Macbeth is the only character that can see the ghost of his former friend, whose death he arranged. This is a tale where the ghost is used as a way to psychological torture the character and makes him question his sanity.
Shakespeare’s love of the supernatural and the existence of an afterlife are obviously apparent in his tales and this curiosity of the spirit world is still strong today, with many people choosing to explore this connection through psychics. Clairvoyance or psychic readings can help you to find out the answers to questions, a tarot card reading can predict the future, or a medium can connect with the spirit world to find out what the dead have to say. Shakespeare would have been fascinated with psychics and, even if he didn’t use their services, it is likely he would have featured them in his tales.
Shakespeare’s depiction of ghosts evolved the theatrical world and its patrons’ beliefs in the afterlife and spirits, challenging the beliefs of that era. But ghosts are not the only supernatural beings and goings on in Shakespeare’s plays as witches were also captured in his dramatic tale of Macbeth, and the Tempest explores the world of magical arts in a comedy all about betrayal.