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Sunday 19 May 2013

Paranormal Shakespeare

Today, Shakespeare’s plays are the epitome of respectable mainstream culture, while all things paranormal are relegated to the crackpot fringe. Aspiring authors who want their books to be studied in the hallowed halls of English Literature would be well advised to steer clear of tales of ghosts, witches, demons and sorcery. Such topics are a sure sign of lowbrow fiction, aren’t they? But the plays of Shakespeare are anything but lowbrow, and they’re packed full of tales of ghosts, witches, demons and sorcery.

Shakespeare was the archetypal Renaissance Man. He was a contemporary of Galileo and Francis Bacon, the pioneers of the scientific method, and also of John Dee – the most famous occultist in English history. As Shakespeare’s most famous character, Hamlet, said: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. Horatio’s philosophy was Humanism – the precursor of modern Skepticism. Shakespeare himself was more open-minded.

A previous post (More things in Heaven and Earth) described the pivotal role played by the paranormal in Hamlet. This is one of the most highly-regarded works of English literature, and yet the whole action of the play is set in motion by an encounter with a ghost. The apparition is seen by multiple witnesses, and it imparts information that later turns out to be true – although it couldn’t have been obtained by non-paranormal means (for more on the ghost in Hamlet, see The Ghost of Lulworth Cove on the Dark Dorset blog).

Hamlet isn’t the only work by Shakespeare where paranormal phenomena play a central role. In Macbeth, the title character is set on his road to power (and his ultimate downfall) by the prophecies of the three witches. Everything the witches predict during the course of the play comes to pass... although not always in the way Macbeth expects. The witches in Macbeth aren’t the evil Satan-worshippers of mediaeval imagination, but wise and superhumanly powerful women in the pagan tradition.

And that’s just the start of it. There are ghostly encounters in Julius Caesar and Richard the Third. There’s magic and sorcery in The Tempest, and midnight necromancy in Henry VI Part 2. There’s astrology and demonology in King Lear. There are paranormal-inspired high jinks in The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Comedy of Errors. And much more.

You can read all about Paranormal Shakespeare in a short ebook by myself that’s just been published by Bretwalda Books. It’s available from various places, including, Amazon UK, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and W H Smith.


Ross said...

I purchased and read this book, which I really enjoyed. I recommend it to all readers with an interest in the paranormal and/or Shakespeare. Anyone interested in Forteana will like this book, even those who think they don't like Shakespeare.

Andrew May said...

That's great Ross -- thanks very much for buying the book, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Shalimar said...

The witches in Shakespere's Macbeth are hardly strong powerful women in the pagan tradition. Please read the meetings over again carefully. Note that at the last meeting they dissapear into air. This lets Macbeth know with all certainty they are apparitions created by demons. That is one of the keys to the actions of the play. There were strict rules regarding this interaction that today's audience doesn't understand but the Elizabethans had no trouble with - can you guess what it is?

Andrew May said...

Sorry, I hadn't picked that up but I'm sure you're right. I was trying to say that in fiction, "witch" can mean either a deluded individual who goes through various magical procedures in the vain hope it will have an effect, or a person with genuinely supernatural powers. I put Macbeth's witches in the second category... but you are correct that there's a third option I hadn't thought of, namely that they are "apparitions created by demons". I will put things right if the book ever goes to a second edition!