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.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Dude. Don’t know if I buy the final couple lines about embodiment’s glory being what bodies bear. It sounds a bit like a bait-and-switch – promising to commend the body, but then only commending it in order to commend something else. I’m putting it crassly, and no doubt you’ve thought of this and many, many other good things; but as it stands, it sounds kinda fishy to me.


  2. Jenson,

    Would it help if I called the body “sacramental?” : )



  3. Okay, so Jenson, I wrote this post and the comment in haste…so let me say a little more now that I have some time.

    I think you’re right that the “bearing” language is problematic. In fact, the more I read this post, the less I like it. Swing, miss.

    The real problem that both Jeremiah and Hamlet are getting at isn’t about the composition of humans, as I intimated in the last few lines, but rather their perception of humans. In that sense, it’s a sign of their sin that they *only* see humans as the “quintessence of dust.”

    In the Lamentations, they are regarded as “earthen vessels,” where the intimation is that they should be valued as more than that. Again, it’s not an ontological claim, but rather a valuation claim.

    But in light of this passage from Lamentations, Paul’s point that we have “this treasure in earthen vessels” becomes all the more subjective (I haven’t checked it against the LXX yet).



Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *