A ministering angel
No more be done:
We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem, arid such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.
Laertes:Hamlet Act 5, scene 1, 235–242
Lay her i' th' earth,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A minist'ring angel shall my sister be
When, thou liest howling.
Laertes' sister Ophelia seems to have committed suicide; at least, the evidence is ambiguous enough to prevent the doctor of divinity from administering burial rites. Suicides were not to be accorded the same "service of the dead" as "peace-parted souls," that is, persons who peacefully allow God to determine when they should shuffle off this mortal coil Laertes, who feeds on abstractions such as valor and purity, is indignant. Though he cannot get his sister the burial service he wishes for her, he can lash out at the "churlish priest." Have it your way, he says, but while you, priest, burn in hell, my sister will have been transformed into a "minist'ring angel"
In the standard sixteenth century translation of the New Testament, St. Paul informed the Hebrews that angels were "minist'ring spretes [spirits]" (1:14)—that is, ministers of God to those whose souls shall be saved. Supposedly, Ophelia, as a ministering angel, will attend to idealists like Laertes, who appreciated her unpolluted, virginal virtue, while hair-splitting priests burn.
Themes: death and sickness