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Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England$
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Peter Marshall

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780198207733

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207733.001.0001

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The Disorderly Dead: Ghosts and their Meanings in Reformation England

The Disorderly Dead: Ghosts and their Meanings in Reformation England

Chapter:
(p.232) 6 The Disorderly Dead: Ghosts and their Meanings in Reformation England
Source:
Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England
Author(s):

PETER MARSHALL

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207733.003.0007

This chapter sifts a mass of scattered evidence to elucidate official and popular belief about ghosts. Protestant authorities denounced belief in ghosts as a superstitious by-product of belief in purgatory, but had to account for the continuing propensity of people to see them after the Catholic teaching had been suppressed. They concluded that such apparitions were either frauds or delusions of the devil, though they might, just occasionally, be angels — a dilemma played out in Hamlet. At the level of popular belief, ghost stories evolved to take on aspects of the Protestant critique, but remained vibrantly traditional in other ways. The chapter demonstrates that even in condemning ghosts, educated writers were much influenced by popular assumptions, and that neither Catholic nor Protestant elites could resist deploying ghost stories for providential purposes.

Keywords:   ghosts, purgatory, devil, angels, Hamlet, popular belief, providence

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