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"Great Command O'Ersways the Order": Purgatory, Revenge, and Maimed Rites in Hamlet

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Certain elements in Hamlet, together with historical and biographical events, suggest that Shakespeare's play can be better understood from a Catholic perspective. The representation of the Ghost from Purgatory contains obviously Catholic imagery and allusions. The notion of revenge or vengeance, understood in terms of a proper intention in appropriate circumstances, is considered a virtue in Thomistic theology rather than a vice, a notion applicable to the play particularly when the opposing vices of being excessive and being remiss in punishing (cruelty and negligence) are taken into account. And, finally, the Erastian measures taken by Claudius, whose "great command o'ersways the order" of Ophelia's funeral, deforms a traditional Catholic liturgy in producing "maimed rites."

Affiliations: 1: Our Lady of Grace Seminary, Boston


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