Hamlet's Sea-voyage, Christ in the Tomb, and "the Sign of Jonah"
But the connection of Hamlet to Jonah also connects Hamlet to Jesus in the tomb, like Jonah in the belly of the fish. Jonah later emerges alive, as Hamlet survives his sea voyage and capture by pirates.
Hamlet does not = Jonah or Jesus, but Shakespeare holds the mirror up for us to compare them.
Christian tradition holds that after Jesus’ crucifixion, he was placed in a tomb (on Friday), and “descended into hell” to free all the souls of the just.
In Matthew 12:39-40, Jesus says,
An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign, but no sign shall be given unto it, save that sign of the Prophet Jonah.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly: so shall the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
People in Shakespeare’s time would have known this passage, not only because there were many avid bible readers in his time, but also because people were required by law to attend church.
SPATIAL PATTERN OF DESCENT AND ASCENT:
The tales of Jonah and Jesus have patterns of descent and ascent:
Jonah descends into the sea and is swallowed by a fish, but in its belly, Jonah has a change of heart and mind about his willingness to be God’s prophet. His change of heart is a spiritual ascent, and then he ascends when God has the fish vomit him out onto dry land.
Jesus similarly descends: His heavenly father has Jesus become incarnate as a human being, born lowly as the apparent son of Mary and the carpenter Joseph.
- He further descends, spending time with sinners and prostitutes, and [apparently] breaking the Jewish law by healing people on the Sabbath.
- He challenges the corrupted authority of certain Jewish leaders, which to some may have seemed like a descent into madness.
- He is betrayed, captured, imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, and crucified.
- Jewish tradition said that those killed and hung on trees were cursed: More descent. (See Deuteronomy 21:22–23, Galatians 3:13, Acts 5:30, 10:39.)
- But at the Last Supper, Jesus had said that bread and wine were his body and blood, and gave these to his disciples to eat and drink, emphasizing that he would be *in* them. So although his body was crucified and killed, Jesus lives on in their changed lives and their spreading of his teachings, a kind of communal ascent, or ascent via community and inter-relatedness.
In this way, Jesus survives, rises (ascent), and outlives his own execution.
HAMLET’S DESCENT AND ASCENT:
One could say that Hamlet descends into temptation, sin, and madness, is mean to Ophelia, kills Polonius, sends two friends to their deaths. But he rediscovers a sense of faith in God (“Providence”) and (in fits and starts) ascends, finally exchanging forgiveness with Laertes and offering his dying voice for Fortinbras as his successor, repairing harm his father caused, and preventing anarchy and a leaderless war with Norway.
Horatio is commissioned to tell his story right.
Because Hamlet descends so low before re-ascent, his story evokes more pity and catharsis.
Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory, 2001, page 238 - Hamlet's description of the father's ghost being spit from the "marble jaws" of the tomb - Greenblatt says it's not Jonah, but actually that's the echo.
 INDEX OF OTHER MAIN POSTS ON JONAH AND HAMLET:
1. THE GHOST OF JONAH HAUNTS SHAKESPEARE’S HAMLET - 23 April, 2018
2. Hamlet's Sea-voyage, Christ in the Tomb, and "the Sign of Jonah" - 16 April, 2022
3. Hamlet’s Unnamed Ghost of Jonah, and Elizabethan Executions - 3 May, 2022
4. The Elizabeth Jonas, and Hamlet's sea-voyage: Other Considerations - 5 May, 2022
 Michael Segal shared a good article explaining that Jews debated for centuries whether Judaic law should allow healing on the Sabbath, so in other words, Jesus was most probably not the first Jew to heal on the Sabbath, and Jewish authorities even in the time of Jesus were most probably not of one mind regarding whether Sabbath restrictions applied to the work of healing.
Disclaimer: If and when I quote or paraphrase bible passages or mention religion in many of my blog posts, I do not intend to promote any religion over another, nor am I attempting to promote religious belief in general; only to point out how the Bible and religion may have influenced Shakespeare, his plays, and his age.
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