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Why is Ophelia given a Christian burial given the Catholic church's position on...

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mamacita-13 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 31, 2009 at 2:47 AM via web

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Why is Ophelia given a Christian burial given the Catholic church's position on suicide? 

When a person committed suicide, the Catholic Church used to have that person's head removed and the person was buried upside down because it was believed that they could assure that said person could not find heaven. In Ophelia's case, she buried right side up and with her head attached. The church ruled she was incapable of reason at the time of her death. The gravedigger believed that political favors were granted. Was this the proper ruling or was the gravedigger correct? Explain 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 31, 2009 at 4:42 AM (Answer #1)

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In light of the fact that Shakespeare criticized the Catholic Church in other plays such as "Romeo and Juliet" in which the friar oversteps his vows in experimenting with herbs, etc. and in his involvement with intrigue, it seems reasonable that the gravedigger is correct and Shakespeare offers yet another criticism. Also, it is a known fact that the clergy was often influenced to make rulings in favor of royalty who contributed greatly to the support of the cathedrals, etc.  One salient example of such favoritism is the annulment of King Henry's marriages by the pope--that is, until he became carried away in his efforts to have a son.

Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has relaxed its stand on many issues.  Suicide is one of these since the Church now states that if one is not in his/her right mind, he/she does not realize the evil of what is done to him/herself.  However, it seems unlikely that such a psychological investigation would have been conducted in the setting of the play "Hamlet."

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