February 11, 2010

Sulphurous and tormenting flames

England was in religious turmoil in the 1500s and 1600s as the tide of the reformation ebbed and flowed under Henry the VIII, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth. People have often speculated about Shakespeare's religious sympathies and whether he or his family were secretly Catholic. My guess is that, like many English people of that period, he was a bit of both.

Just based on a reading of the plays, he always struck me as fairly sympathetic towards Catholicism. One example of that happens in Act 1 scene 4 of Hamlet, when the ghost of Old Hamlet describes his torments in Purgatory, a Catholic idea if ever there was one.

Apparently Old Hamlet's experience of Purgatory was a lot nastier than that described by Dante. In his words:

My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself...

I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.

All this brings up a point in the art of tragic murder. If you REALLY had it in for somebody, you didn't just whack them. Instead, you waited until they were in a state of sin, preferably mortal, and THEN whacked them. That way the dying was the easy part and the worst was yet to come.

SIGN OF THE TIMES. Food stamps, once stigmatized, have gained greater support across political lines.

DOUBLE STANDARDS. Some of the most vocal opponents of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus, are all to eager to take advantage of it.

UNDERVALUED. If we placed a dollar value on the necessary services nature provides for free, we'd probably do things very differently.



1 comment:

Jeff said...

What would Shakespeare make of our own times, I wonder? There would be lots of interesting characters for him to work with!