Religion and Morality in Hamlet

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Benny Woo
10/27/10

Religion and Morality in Hamlet

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Danish prince sets out to avenge his father’s assassination at the hands of his uncle Claudius, the new king. At first, Hamlet is fragile because of his father’s sudden death and the following marriage of his mother Gertrude and uncle Claudius. Originally contemplating suicide, Hamlet dissuades himself from doing so on the grounds of it being a sin. Shifting from an internal struggle to an external one after he meets his father’s spirit, he seeks to kill Claudius but cannot due to his religion again. Finally Hamlet thwarts Claudius’ plans to be assassinated in England and returns to Denmark. He finds peace in his Christian faith before dying in his confrontation with his uncle. Religion serves as a moral compass for Hamlet, which allows Hamlet to develop as he struggles with himself and with others.

Hamlet first decides against suicide for religious reasons. He discusses with himself the difficulties and pains that accompany life and notes how easy it would be to commit suicide to avoid dealing with them. He wishes “that this too too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!” (1.2. 129-30). Immediately after, Hamlet brushes off suicide as an option saying “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! Oh, God, God” (1.2. 131-2). Hamlet, showing disdain for life’s trials, founds his decision to continue his life on religious grounds. The “canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” is obeyed by Hamlet because of his piety and respect for this code of behavior. Hamlet entertains the possibility of suicide again after planning the play to goad Claudius into guilt. Hamlet complains “Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death… And makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of?” (3.1.77-9). Again Hamlet shows his dislike for “fardels” and “a...
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