Protestant Reformation and Hamlet S Character

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To Do or Not To Do?
How many times does one find themselves shirking responsibilities they accepted, or avoiding promises they made? One who often finds himself in such situations, will most likely be able to relate with William Shakespeare’s character, Hamlet. In Hamlet, Hamlet is commanded by his father’s ghost to avenge his murder. Whenever Hamlet is presented with an opportunity to do so, he delays his action. Hamlet’s inability to act is a product of the time period during which the play was written. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet during the 1600s in Elizabethan England, during the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation. The Renaissance and Reformation’s belief in ghosts, ways of thinking, views on revenge, and doubts about the afterlife cause Hamlet’s inability to act on his father’s request.

The effects of the Renaissance and the Reformation on Hamlet’s character, are manifest even before he meets the ghost. Formal mourning was taken seriously during the Renaissance, and most had people heeded a custom (which was usually upheld by a law) which forbade a widow to remarry earlier than a year following the death of her husband. In the start of the play, following his father’s death and his mother’s hasty remarriage, Hamlet enters with his suit of black, complete with mourning cloak and hood. At this point, Hamlet is already established as a Renaissance figure.

Furthermore, Hamlet asks Gertrude and Claudius if he can return to university. Gertrude replies “go not to Wittenberg” (1.2.119). Hamlet studied at Wittenberg, a center of the Reformation. Hamlet’s past behavior gives evidence that he is affected by the Renaissance and the Reformation. The effect that the Renaissance and Reformation have on his actions is most apparent in his inability to avenge his father’s murder.

Hamlet learns from the ghost of his father that his death had been a murder, and that “the serpent that did sting thy father's life now wears his crown" (1.5.46-47). The ghost asks...
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