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The chrismatory was an object used to hold special oils required for sacramental rituals such as baptism. Shakespeare often references the act of anointment, particularly in the context of kings and divine ordination.


The anointment of a king or queen was considered eternal and incontestable, which is why the scene in the history play Richard II – when the king is deposed or stripped of his crown – would have been considered shocking and even impossible. In this extract, Richard makes a show of deposing himself and handing over his crown to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who becomes Henry IV. Richard refers to his ‘balm’ or the oil that was used to anoint him during baptism and, eventually, his coronation:


I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;
With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty’s rites:
All pomp and majesty I do forswear;
My manors, rents, revenues I forego;
My acts, decrees, and statutes I deny:
God pardon all oaths that are broke to me!
God keep all vows unbroke that swear to thee!
(Richard II, Act 4, Scene 1)


In a more literal sense, Shakespeare refers to the act of confirmation at the close of the history play Henry VIII, when the new-born Elizabeth receives her baptism at the hands of the new Protestant Archbishop Cranmer:


[…] My Lord of Canterbury,
I have a suit which you must not deny me;
That is, a fair young maid that yet wants baptism,
You must be godfather, and answer for her.
(Henry VIII, Act 5, Scene 3).


Can you think of other references to the object on display?



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