Of bread and wine, and ghosts: Eucharistic controversy and Hamlet's epistemological quest

Roberta Kwan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The critical epistemological conundrum, faced alike by characters within and audiences of Hamlet, concerns the ambiguous ontology of the ghost. What is the nature of this supernatural being that so resembles the father and whose enigmatic advent will overturn the world of the son? Irreconcilable disputes over the essential nature of the sacrament of the Eucharist created a similar pressing epistemological conundrum in Shakespeare's world that contributed to its overturning. With allusions to the Eucharist by both the revenant and Hamlet, the playwright imports into the world of Elsinore the contemporary hermeneutic and epistemological anxiety, as well as the tension, associated with the theological controversy, especially the interpretation of Christ's words of institution 'Hoc est corpus meum'. The oblique analogies drawn between the ghost and aspects of the sacrament imply that the former is an intentionally opaque and ambiguous site of knowledge, a parody of Christ. Furthermore, the Eucharistic debates aid in elucidating the hermeneutic conditions that affect Hamlet's pursuit of epistemological certainty, suggesting that it is adumbrated with a sense of confusion, eternal peril, and futility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-18
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Language, Literature and Culture
Volume62
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015

Keywords

  • Epistemology
  • Eucharist
  • Hamlet
  • Hermeneutics
  • Reformation

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