The Early-Modern Ghost:
Have you ever wondered where our trope of the spooky ghost in the long white sheet comes from? Believe it or not, the white-sheeted ghost actually hearkens back to western burial practices of centuries ago, when corpses were wrapped in shrouds prior to burial.
In the 16th- and 17th-century woodcuts above, the ghosts are imagined as still wearing their shrouds loosely around their bodies, but gathered closely at the top of their heads in a tidy ruffled knot of material. This gives us an idea of how actual shrouds would have been secured around corpses in the early modern era.
Sources: The Golden World; Being Bess
1) King James, the Marquess of Hamilton, and George Eglisham, James’s physician, are confronted by the Duke of Buckingham. From Strange Apparitions, or the Ghost of King James, 1642.
2) From The Iust Reward of Rebels, 1642, featuring the ghost of Jack Straw.
3) From The Earle of Strafford’s Ghost, 1644.
4) From John Dickenson’s Greene in conceipt: New raised from his grave to write the Tragic History of Valeria of London (1598).