Faith and Theology: Teaching concept: heaven, hell, purgatory


Here’s an concept for a class I’ll be teaching subsequent semester on Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton. What do you believe of this hell-purgatory-paradise schema? I wouldn’t aim to impose this rigidly on the texts. But it could be a way of encouraging students to appear for broad patterns of continuity in the way these pretty diverse authors represent the spiritual order of the universe.

1.     Hell
two.     Purgatory
three.     Paradise (I)
four.     Paradise (II)

five.     Macbeth – hell
six.     King Lear (I) – purgatory
7.     King Lear (II) – purgatory
eight.     The Tempest – paradise

9.     Samson Agonistes – purgatory
10.  Paradise Lost (I) – hell
11.  Paradise Lost (II) – paradise
12.  Paradise Lost (III) – purgatory

Some other random observations about the 3 authors:

  • The use of light and darkness to depict spiritual realities – pretty significant in Shakespeare as well (cf. the use of darkness all through Macbeth).  
  • The relation amongst visible and invisible realities. This is created doubly exciting in Milton, who draws consideration to his personal blindness even as he explores the boundary amongst the visible and the invisible.
  • The feminine principle in depictions of paradise. In Dante and Shakespeare, the enjoy of a lady (Dante’s Beatrice Cordelia’s enjoy for her father in Lear the marriage of Miranda to Ferdinand in The Tempest) is the point at which the complete cosmic order is revealed and redeemed. Only in Milton is the redemptive principle purely masculine: lady is not a revelation of cosmic order but additional like an obstacle that has to be overcome. (That is an overstatement about Milton, but I believe the contrast to Dante and Shakespeare is a true one particular.)
  • For students searching for an added challenge, an exciting essay subject would be to evaluate Blake’s illustrations of these 3 authors. Perhaps I will do a bit of this in class as effectively. Dante and Milton are specially effectively suited to Blake’s style of illustrating, which is to depict the spiritual sense of the text. Paradoxically, he usually finds the spiritual sense by representing words with a scrupulous literalism – a approach that produces some astounding effects in his illustrations of Shakespeare. His painting Pity (pictured above) evokes spiritual reality by means of a literalistic depiction of a dense cluster of metaphors in Macbeth: “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
    / Upon the sightless couriers of the air.” 
  • Basically I believe I will need a complete extra class on Blake’s illustrations.


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