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Hamlet on Embodiment

June 4th, 2010 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Tonight I enjoyed some of the best free Shakespeare I've ever seen, and one of the most difficult plays to pull of well, too.  It's long, it's brooding, and the over-acting potential is through the roof. Especially in the final scene where nearly everyone dies.

But a masterful Polonius, a balanced--if I can use the word--Hamlet, and a stunning performance by Ophelia made tonight's performance of Hamlet a surprising treat.  If I had the time, I'd heartily attend again.

There's lots more to think on in the play, but tonight was all about these pregnant lines by the Danish Prince:

"I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises,; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire--why, it appeareth no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.  What a piece of work is a man!  how noble in reason!  how infinite in faculties!  in form and moving how express and admirable!  in action how like an angel!  in apprehension how like a god!  the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!  And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?  Man delights not me--no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so."

Couple this with my morning's reading from Lamentations:

How the gold has grown dim,
how the pure gold is changed!
The holy stones lie scattered
at the head of every street.

The precious sons of Zion,
worth their weight in fine gold,
how they are regarded as
earthen pots,
the work of a potter’s hands!

The glory of embodiment isn't that we're earthen vessels.  It's what the earthen vessels bear.  "You have never seen a mere mortal."

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.

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Literature