Literary parallels in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

As a work rich in symbolism and allusion, Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles contains innumerable references, motifs and symbols borrowed from a variety of places. The possibilities listed below are few of an inexhaustible many.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Tess begs the vicar that her child be given a Christian burial. The child was not baptised by the vicar before it died, and was conceived and born out of wedlock. For reasons less to do with scripture or doctrine than social propriety, the vicar refuses and Tess leaves him with her curses.

In 5.i of Hamlet, Ophelia’s coffin is brought to the newly dug grave. Hamlet is unaware of whose funeral it is but he guesses by the want of obsequies (funeral rites) that whoever it is must have died by their own hand, as suicide is a cardinal sin and orthodoxy would not permit full honours fur such a burial. Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, demands more from the priest, and getting nothing, gives curses in return.

Enter Priest, & c. in procession; the Corpse of OPHELIA, LAERTES and Mourners following; KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, their trains, &c.

HAMLET
The queen, the courtiers: who is this they follow?
And with such maimed rites? This doth betoken
The corse they follow did with desperate hand
Fordo its own life, ’twas of some estate.
Couch we awhile, and mark.

Retiring with HORATIO

LAERTES
What ceremony else?

HAMLET
That is Laertes,
A very noble youth, mark.

LAERTES
What ceremony else?

FIRST PRIEST
Her obsequies have been as far enlarged
As we have warranty. Her death was doubtful,
And, but that great command o’ersways the order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged
Till the last trumpet, for charitable prayers,
Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown on her.
Yet here she is allow’d her virgin crants,
Her maiden strewments and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.

LAERTES
Must there no more be done?

FIRST PRIEST
No more be done?
We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem and such rest to her
As to peace-parted souls.

LAERTES
Lay her i’ the earth,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be,
When thou liest howling.

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