That's right, it's that time of year again, which means it's time to for the annual Christmas Shakespeare quote as spoken by the sentry Marcellus as he stands on the battlements of the castle of Elsinore in Act 1 Scene 1 of Hamlet.
The tone of the scene is pretty ominous. The legitimate ruler is no more. A usurper is on the throne. There are wars and rumors of war and evil portents in the land.
I feel sorry for those guys...
Marcellus and Bernardo have invited the student Horatio to join them in their lonely night vigil where for some nights past a ghost has appeared resembling the late King Hamlet, father of the prince who is the main character of the story.
Horatio represents a prototype of modernity, an intellectual familiar with the tradition but skeptical of it. Yet even he must concede the power of the unknown after witnessing the phantom, which he takes as a portent of bad things to come.
Marcellus then points out that there are also sometimes portents of good, particularly at this season of the year:
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comesAt this point, all I can do is say with Horatio, "So have I heard and do in part believe it."
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
Would that it were so this holiday season and beyond.
(Note: this post was reprinted from this this blog at time last year. In one form or other it shows up here most years at Christmas. So have I heard and do in part believe it. Meanwhile, I wish I'd written this Christmas commentary by Chris Reagan.)