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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: August ::
An Image in Greenblatt's _Hamlet in Purgatory_
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0518  Thursday, 28 August 2008

From:       Nicole M. Coonradt <
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Date:       Thursday, 28 Aug 2008 18:43:51 +0000
Subject: 19.0511 An Image in Greenblatt's _Hamlet in Purgatory_
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0511 An Image in Greenblatt's _Hamlet in Purgatory_

Looking again at the image in the Greenblatt text, _Hamlet in Purgatory_ (56), 
we've not discussed the fact that there are also figures in the clouds (?) above 
the chalice to the left and right. Any thoughts on who these 
angels/saints/people may be?

Interestingly, Greenblatt only discusses the image in terms of the cauldron 
portion on the right (54). What we might apply to the image and my query above 
is this, which Greenblatt says about Fig. 4 (55): "How do we know that the vat 
is Purgatory and not Hell? Because above the vat an angel is lifting up a 
fortunate soul who has completed the term of suffering, while below a demon 
thrusts his pronged fork at the burning figures crowded into a Hell-mouth" (54). 
Perhaps in Fig. 5 there is a similar depiction if the figures in the clouds 
represent heaven? It appears that Christ is also in the center of the image 
below the cross, flanked by two others. Are they, perhaps, the "malefactors" of 
Luke 23 who were crucified with Christ? If the panel on the right (which would 
be Jesus' left in the image) is Purgatory with Hell under it (I'd guess the 
faces below it are the condemned/damned?), then the figure on Jesus' left may be 
the worse of the two men, the one who challenged Jesus and told Him to save 
Himself if He is the Son of God. Conversely, the one on what would be Jesus' 
right, nearest the Chalice image and figures in the clouds, could be the 
malefactor who defended Jesus and asked Him to remember him when He came into 
His kingdom, to which Jesus replied, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" 
(KJV 23:43). It would make sense that "on the right hand of God [Christ]" 
appears the positive, heavenly image of salvation, and the one of the left is 
the more negative Purgatory and Hell. Each would also offer/reinforce the idea 
of man's choice.

I wish we could see the image more clearly. There is also someone/something 
above Christ in the chalice part of the panel and figures above the cauldron on 
the opposite side.

It would be great if Greenblatt could weigh in on this as he likely has the 
image to hand and has studied it further and more closely than we. Anyone have 
access to the British Library?

In the end, however, I do not see why the blood of a chalice (or baptismal 
waters of a font) would not be accessible to the human figures since it does not 
make sense that they would be cut off from grace -- especially in that more 
positive side of the image. The whole point of Christ's sacrifice was that 
through His shed blood, mankind is saved. Given that the image is Medieval 
(which I assume it is -- do we have a date?), wouldn't the story it depicts 
necessarily represent the options available to man through his free will?

Best,
Nicole

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