Doctor of Divinity

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The Doctor of Divinity is the cleric who presides at Ophelia's funeral in Scene 19.


The Doctor of Divinity is a Protestant cleric, of the Lutheran denomination. Essentially, that is his role.

Denmark was the first nation in Europe to make Lutheranism the state religion, in October of 1536, an historical fact which Shakespeare must have known, since there was a direct connection with Martin Luther and Wittenberg. The inclusion of Wittenberg in the play is enough to carry the implication of Shakespeare's knowledge, and intent. Historically, Denmark's break with the Catholic church was a notable precedent for England later to do the same, under Henry VIII.

the Second Quarto funeral procession entry

The Doctor of Divinity is not included in the Graveyard Scene entries in either the Second Quarto or the First Folio, but characters whose proper names are not used are often not specified among the entries. Further, the Second Quarto entry is printed in the margin where there's little space, as the image shows. Space was so tight that King and Queen were abbreviated. In the Second Quarto his speech prefix is "Doct." In the First Folio, his speech prefix is "Priest," but the First Folio took that from a word in the dialogue, and it is not correct.

Laertes calls the cleric a "priest":

Laertes: ...
   ... I tell thee, churlish Priest,

Although one thinks of a priest as Catholic, the word, priest, has an original meaning of "church elder," and is used in that sense in the Bible. It can further be understood that Laertes calls the cleric a "priest" because Laertes has been living in France, where the equivalent cleric would indeed be a Catholic priest, since France was Catholic. Because of the broader meaning of the word, priest, and because of Laertes's characterization, his use of the word "priest" cannot be taken to imply a Catholic cleric for Ophelia's funeral. (Note also that the Doctor of Divinity cannot be a Church of England cleric, in Denmark.)

Martin Luther in a 1527 portrait

As with the Clown Sexton, the Doctor of Divinity's view of Ophelia's death, as suicide, is not to be taken as a fact in the play. The Sexton and the Doctor are of the same local church, so we are seeing that the local church people have adopted their own position on the matter, just from talking about it among themselves. It is a satire of gossip in a small, closed community. Further, it is satire of a certain kind of "Christian," namely, the kind who is unchristian in always assuming the worst, without facts or knowledge to support that conclusion. Shakespeare did such a fine job of satire, it has confused the actual fact, in the minds of many interpreters. One must keep firmly in mind what Shakespeare had Gertrude tell us, about Ophelia's death, that it was an accident resulting from her distraction. Both the Sexton and the cleric, in their ignorance, have jumped to the wrong conclusion.

There is also a church vs state element in the dialogue:

... her death was doubtful,
And but that great command o'er-sways the order,

The D.D. is saying the state interfered, as he views it, in what he sees as properly a decision of the church. He doesn't like being told what to do by the secular administration. That does not mean he's right.

  • Costume - It is important that he be costumed as a Protestant. From the portrait of Martin Luther done in 1527, a simple black cassock would do.


He is anonymous. I am unable to deduce a name for him from the dialogue.


Notable lines by the DD:

None, out of context. Both his speeches are quite telling in context.

Themes and Motifs

Themes and Motifs most relevant to the Doctor of Divinity's character and dialogue:

Talk. Death. Putting on a Show.

The Doctor of Divinity has based his conclusion about Ophelia's death merely on talk within the church. He speaks to the kind of "show" that he thinks permissible for Ophelia's funeral.

On Stage

The Doctor of Divinity appears in: Scene 19 only. It would not be correct to have him appear in the Chapel in Scene 14, because that is the Castle Chapel, and he is a cleric of the town church.

© 2014 Jeffrey Paul Jordan

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