Shakespeare lived in a Christian society where belief in a single omnipotent deity was in the majority. The ancient mythological Gods like the one in Jacques Blanchard’s painting (above) were much more fallible and prone to human-like egoistic behavior. In one way this makes unfortunate events easier to deal with for the mere mortals. If something goes awry it is probably due to the intervention of some malevolent or mischievous God.

This type of divine meddling is comically portrayed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At any moment the mortals may be subjected to the whims of a deity. Luckily for the characters in Shakespeare’s play these magical creatures were mostly considerate. Oberon seems quite concerned when Robin mismatches the recipient of the love potion and insists on putting things right. Robin for his part is merely playful and not malicious in his games.

The poor woman in this painting however shows another much more sinister side of this relationship between Gods and mortals. The fact that a God can rape a woman with impunity simply because he desires her is quite frightening, but such selfish and callous Gods may explain the horrendous misfortunes that so randomly occur among us humans. Obviously the idea of Immaculate Conception is taking things to an incredible extreme; however the terrible calamities that befall mortals beyond their control may be easier tolerated if they are attributed to a mythical being.

The terrible mishaps that lead to the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet could well be ascribed to a troublesome God who has personal reasons why he should deny them a happy ending. The Christian belief offers very little explanation of bad luck. “The Lord works in mysterious ways” is the stock response. In the case of Romeo and Juliet a Christian may well take solace in the truce accomplished by the deceased lovers sacrifice; this may have been God’s grand scheme all along. One problem with this is that there is no place in Heaven for these ill-fated lovers because suicide is a definite no-no; rather a cruel plan God.

Like it or not we are definitely at the mercy of something we cannot control. Careful as we may be, bad things do happen to good people and bad luck may strike at any time. A painting like this may be seen as a visual interpretation of the forces beyond our control. Call it The God, a God, fate, karma, luck, the universe, physics, mathematical probability, Gremlins….

One thought on “Week 5: Mars and the Vestal Virgin

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