Dumb show

John Dover Wilson puzzles over Hamlet, Act 3, where Claudius is apparently unaffected by the dumb show that re-enacts his murder of Hamlet, Sr. Dover Wilson concludes that Claudius must have been distracted during the dumb show, and missed it. Dramatically, that may work. Thematically, the . . . . Continue Reading »

Pure Father, Pure Son

In the course of demonstrating that Christ is not a creature, Athanasius pointed to the difference between human and divine fatherhood and sonship. Human sons have the potential to become fathers, and often do become fathers. But God the Father is unbegotten, and God the Son begets no other. That . . . . Continue Reading »

Kant and the Creator

In her brilliant book, Evil in Modern Thought , Susan Neiman summarizes Kant’s epistemology as torn between two themes: One, Kant’s insistence that our knowledge is not God’s knowledge, and that we should be content with finitude; two, that we still want to be God, and that this . . . . Continue Reading »

Machiavelli to Descartes

Machiavelli offered a practical politics that emphasized image over reality: “it is not necessary for a prince to have all of the above-mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them. Furthermore, I will be so bold as to assert this: that practicing them, that . . . . Continue Reading »

Eucharistic Epistemology

“Denken ist danken.” I’ve repeated Heidegger’s axiom a number of times, but what makes this true? One angle: Our thoughts are distorted by fear, bitterness, hatred, anger, frustration, discontent, envy. But thankfulness is a solvent of all these; the thankful man cannot be . . . . Continue Reading »

Sacraments and modernity

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism , Weber notes that the “Baptist denominations along with the predestinationists, especially the strict Calvinists, carried out the most radical devaluation of all sacraments as means to salvation, and thus accomplished the religious . . . . Continue Reading »

More on Hamlet

ACTIONS A MAN MIGHT PLAY As many critics have noted, Hamlet is a play consumed with the question of action, in all the various permutations of that term. Hamlet opens the play questioning whether he should take the action of suicide, and after the ghost’s appearance Hamlet questions whether . . . . Continue Reading »

Empty sarcophagus

A famous passage from Melville’s Pierre, when he discovers the existence of his previously unknown sister. “Ten million things were as yet uncovered to Pierre. The old mummy lies buried in cloth on cloth; it takes time to unwrap this Egyptian king. Yet now, forsooth, because Pierre . . . . Continue Reading »

Melville’s Later Years

One Edward Bok wrote in 1890, the year before Melville died, that “Mr. Melville is now an old man, but still vigorous. He is an employee of the Customs Revenue Service, and thus still lingers around the atmosphere which permeated his books. Forty-four years ago, when his most famous tale, . . . . Continue Reading »

God’s America, America’s God

Some background notes for a lecture on Melville. It’s a simplification, but a revealing one, to say that American literature has been dominated by two themes that at times become one theme: God and America. The earliest American literature is devotional, sermonic, hortatory, hagiographic, or . . . . Continue Reading »