Sayers on Hamlet and the Holy Ghost

This past weekend I was charged with the duty of providing a live musical score for a production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Those were twelve hours well spent, which enabled me to appreciate afresh both the humor and the profound tragedy of the play.  Like Lear, Hamlet plays almost like a black comedy.

Yesterday was also the day commonly known as Whitsunday, or the Feast of Pentecost.  So my annual rereading Dorothy Sayers on the Holy Spirit was made more enjoyable by the well-developed Trinitarian analogy she saw in performances of Hamlet:

When we say we “know Hamlet”, we do not mean merely that we can memorise the whole succession of words and events in Hamlet.  We mean that we have in our minds an awareness of Hamlet as a complete whole—“the end in the beginning”.  We can prove this by observing how differently we feel when seeing a performance of Hamlet on the one hand and an entirely new play on the other.  While watching the new play we are in contact with the Energy, which we experience as a sequence in time; we wonder “how it is going to work out”.  If, during the interval, we are asked what we think of it, we can only give a very incomplete answer.  Everything depends, we feel, on the last act.  But when the final curtain has come down, we feel quite differently towards the play—we can think of it as a whole, and see how all the episodes are related to one another to produce something inside our mind which is more than the sum-total of the emotions we experienced while sitting in the stalls.  It is in this timeless and complete form that it remains in our recollection: the Energy is now related to the Idea more or less as it was in the mind of the playwright: the Word has returned to the Father.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker ch. viii (1941).


Posted on May 20, 2013, in Art, Authors, Contests, Dorothy Sayers, Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. “Black comedy” describes Hamlet exactly. I taught on it this past semester and spent a lot of times showing my students how this Play in Which Everyone Dies is in almost equal measure humorous and tragic.

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