chapter  10
Ghost-Stories and Living Monuments: Bringing Wonders to Life in The Winter’s Tale
Pages 15

King Hamlet’s ghost materialises from its own story. Its appearance is both an interruption and (almost) an incarnation. Here we have a ghost-story that takes on dramatic life, both startlingly and uneasily. The story is being told to a sceptical Horatio-and not for the first time. Barnardo declares that he and Marcellus will “once again assail your ears, / That are so fortified against our story, / What we two nights have seen” (1.1.29-31).1 There is no reason to think that this further rendition of the tale will prove any more credible or persuasive than the last; but this time, the ghost-story is interrupted by the appearance of the ghost itself. This scene is set up in such a way that the narrative seems to conjure the ghost: Barnardo speaks of a phantom, and we see it. When looked at from this perspective, the episode bestows an almost magical power upon story-telling. In Hamlet, the story in question is a ghost story: but I would argue that the explicitly uncanny nature of this staged fiction implicitly points to a potential uncanniness in all staged fictions. After all, the “thing” that walks here is a “shadow” in two different senses-it is a ghost and it is a player. If we remember that the phantom is in fact a flesh-and-blood actor representing a phantom, the spectacle should lose its eeriness and its power over us. Yet in Hamlet the on-stage spectators are horrified by the ghost not because they necessarily believe it is King Hamlet, but because it is so like the dead King. Similarly, we may remember, with Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that all plays are “but shadows”—yet such a realisation, rather than stripping away an enchanting illusion, may remind us of the potentially uncanny nature of theatrical representation, in which actors bring the fictive and the dead “to life” by being like them.