Shakespeare Quick Quotes - Saint Patrick
Horatio. These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.
Hamlet. I'm sorry they offend you, heartily;
Yes, 'faith heartily.
Horatio. There's no offence, my lord.
Hamlet. Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio,
And much offence too.
- Hamlet (1.5.134-139)
A brief look at history illustrates why Shakespeare's choice of Saint Patrick is possibly not random, as Deighton, Warburton, and others editors argue, but a deliberate addition to harmonize with the theme of the scene, as first pointed out by Tschischwitz. As Saint Patrick traveled around Ireland laying the foundations of the Catholic Church, he came to a deep cave on Station Island in Lough Derg. After forty days of praying and fasting, Saint Patrick declared the cave, containing a passage to hell itself, was the place where a soul must undergo purification. The first account of this story is given by Henry, a Benedictine monk in 1152:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, visibly appearing to Saint Patrick, led him into a desert place, and there showed him a circular cave (fossam rotundam) dark inside, and at the same time said to him, whoever, armed with the true faith, and truly penitent, will enter that cave and remain in it for the space of a day and a night, will be purged from the sins of his whole life -- in modern language, obtain a plenary indulgence -- and moreover, passing through it, if his faith fail not -- (si in fide constanter egisset) -- he will witness not only the torments of the
damned but also the joys of the blessed" (Healy, 660).
The cave became known as Saint Patrick's Purgatory and was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in all of Europe in Shakespeare's day (and even today). In the play, the ghost of Hamlet's father is trapped in Purgatory:
I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. (1.5.9-13)
For full explanatory notes for this scene and study questions, please see Hamlet (1.5).
For more quotes from Hamlet explained, please see the Hamlet quotations page.
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare Quick Quotes - Saint Patrick. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/quickquotes/quickquotesaintpatrick.html >
Healy, Rev. John. The life and writings of St. Patrick. Dublin: M. H. Gill & son, 1905.
Shakespeare, William. Variorum Hamlet. Ed. Horace Howard Furness. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1918.
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