The Tragedy of Hamlet is among Shakespeare’s notable plays which have been performed across the world. In the tragedy, the ghost of the King of Denmark tells his son, Hamlet, to avenge his death by murdering the new king who is Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet pretends to be mad, envisions life and death, and seeks revenge. However, Claudius (the uncle) realizes Hamlet’s plans and also devises a plot to kill his nephew. The performance ends tragically with a duel in which Hamlet, Laertes, the king, and the queen are all killed. There are numerous themes in the production, and Shakespeare demonstrates how religious beliefs impact the characters’ actions and motives. This paper aims at proving that the characters are believers and that they evaluate their actions based on their faith.
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Some of Hamlet’s speeches and actions demonstrate that he was a pious person who hated immoral behavior. He criticizes how sin and depravity have corrupted society:
“This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though perform’d at height” (Shakespeare 1.4.17-21).
Shakespeare intends to show that Hamlet is a believer, as well as other people in his society. In this speech, Hamlet shows that the wicked behavior of the people makes them be perceived negatively by other nations, and he tries to act morally to preserve the reputation of his country.
Hamlet’s piety appears to increase after he is shocked and affected by the unlawful marriage between his mother and uncle. Shakespeare describes Claudius as a lustful man due to the fact that he wedded his brother’s widow. Such relationships were perceived as illegal and were even labeled as incest. Hamlet feels that the marriage is wrong according to religious law, and this causes him to resist the union. He notes that:
“O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good
But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue” (Shakespeare 1.2.156-159).
Hamlet is frustrated because he is forced not to complain, although he is repulsed by the relationship. He thinks that the new couple does not respect his father’s memory and has engaged in a prohibited act for their benefit. Therefore, his feelings about the illegal and unacceptable marriage control and direct his behavior throughout the play.
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Readers see how the ghost’s admission affects Hamlet and influences his relationship with Ophelia. Before the murdered king reveals the truth, Hamlet constantly gives gifts to Ophelia in a bid to create a positive connection with her. However, he alters his opinion of her after the revelation because of his changed perception of women. He counsels her to become chaste and tells her to:
“Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent, honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it was better my mother had not borne me” (Shakespeare 3.1.121-124).
It seems that, to Hamlet, the ideal woman is the one who is in a nunnery. His conversation with Ophelia indicates that he now perceives all sexual relationships as immoral and that he wants to be celibate. His mother’s betrayal through her unlawful marriage, therefore, has made him distrust all women.
There is a monologue in which the ghost of the King of Denmark describes himself as an individual who lived an immoral life, and this demonstrates that the murdered king was religious. The ghost says that “Murder most foul, as in the best it is; But this most foul, strange and unnatural” (Shakespeare 1.5.27-28). He persuades Hamlet to slay the present king by rationalizing the murder based on his faith, and he justifies his request for revenge on religious grounds. He wants Hamlet to kill Claudius for the ultimate reason: “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be/ A couch for luxury and damned incest” (Shakespeare 1.5.82-83). The ghost, consequently, seems intent on stopping the sinful behavior and wickedness rather than seeking revenge for his murder. It becomes apparent that he is a Christian because he asks Marcellus and Horatio to swear on the sword, which is shaped like a cross (Shakespeare 1.5.155). The ghost’s actions demonstrate that he was a Christian who believed that sin should be punished.
Generally, the religious inclination of the characters in Hamlet positively impacts my interpretation of the play. By understanding the religious position of the actors, I am able to understand the reasons for their actions better. It also allows me to comprehend the role of religion during the period in which Hamlet was set. Shakespeare’s description of the characters’ beliefs additionally helps to demonstrate his religious opinions and his perceptions of right and wrong based on faith. In general, they enable me to understand how immorality and sin are portrayed in the play.
Religion has a significant influence on the characters in Hamlet because it controls their actions. Particularly, readers discover that Hamlet’s behavior changes after the shock of various discoveries, and he reassesses the events in accordance with his faith. The actors in the play think and act according to their religious standards, and this helps readers to form deep and logical interpretations and to gain a better understanding of the tragedy.
Bate, Jonathan, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. William Shakespeare: Complete Works. Red Globe P, 2007.