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Published: 23-09-2019

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Self-Murder, Killing and Religion Valueness in the "Hamlet" Tragedy

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play rife with moral dilemmas. Religious codes often clash with desires and instinctual feelings in the minds of the characters, calling into query which courses of action are genuinely the righteous paths. In Hamlet’s case, such conundrums are debilitating and trigger a frustrating, ultimately fatal lack of action. Indeed, the absence of moral clarity in the play is arguably the root of most of the tragedy that is played out in the final scenes. Because of this, the concerns in Hamlet supply an outstanding basis from which to delve into an exploration of how religion motivates human actions. The characters’ dilemmas regarding two great moral questions, suicide and murder, demonstrate the centrality of this motivation, both inside the confines of the play and within the bigger scope of human society.

Hamlet’s ambivalence about suicide introduces topics like death, religion, and the afterlife as recurring themes throughout the operate. His despair and confusion generate one particular of Shakespeare’s most renowned soliloquies, the eloquent verbalization of a mental wrestling match in between the forces of perseverance and suicide. Yet this oft-quoted “to be, or not to be” speech in act three is preceded by a handful of much more obscure but really crucial lines two acts earlier. The lines express Hamlet’s desire to die and frustration at the truth that suicide is forbidden by Christianity: “O that this as well sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter (Act 1, Scene two, lines 129-132).” From these words it can be observed that, early in the play, Hamlet is really attentive to the letter of religious law. However Hamlet does not state why this religious prohibition is in reality maintaining him from committing the deed he so longs to achieve. Does his compunction spring purely from the need to adhere to God’s word, or is he motivated by a fear of punishment for his transgression? This point is unclear, but it is evident from the speech that, were religion not a factor, Hamlet would decide on to kill himself.

In contrast, as the play progresses to act 3 and Hamlet’s nicely identified soliloquy is spoken, the emphasis has shifted away from religion and more towards private qualms with suicide. Hamlet’s language here clearly conveys anxiousness and fear about what might occur after death, yet he by no means refers to the wrath of God or any punishment for sins. Indeed, no reference to the Christian idea of the afterlife is created at all in the speech rather, Hamlet speaks of death as an eternal sleep, unsafe in the possibility of unknown and perilous dreams. He enumerates at length the grievances of this world – “the whips and scorns of time, Th’oppressor’s incorrect, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love… (Act three, Scene 1, lines 70-72)”-and asserts that, surely, the only point maintaining man from ending his suffering is the worry of even higher suffering in that by no means-ending sleep. This is the fear of the unknown, not of assured punishment that religion promises. And, while religious pondering generally characterizes suicide as cowardly in its attempt to escape the suffering that man should endure on earth, Hamlet views suicide as the braver alternative. What is cowardly, he states, is to not pursue the possibility of greater happiness for fear of locating higher despair. Hence more than the course of the play, as Hamlet delves deeper into thoughts of suicide, he finds himself confronted far more by fears of his own imagining than by God’s promised torture.

Hamlet offers additional fodder for the exploration of suicide as a theme with the death and burial of Ophelia. In this case, uncertainty arises about what, in fact, constitutes suicide. Queen Gertrude describes Ophelia as possessing gone mad with grief over the death of her father, and, upon accidentally falling in the river, not having had the presence of thoughts to extricate herself. But was Ophelia’s fall genuinely accidental? And, even if it was, does the fact that she allowed the water to overtake her itself amount to suicide? Shakespeare raises these queries by employing the conversation of two gravediggers who wonder over the propriety of permitting Ophelia a full Christian burial. Their dialogue (“Is she to be buried in Christian burial when she willfully seeks her personal salvation (Act five, Scene 1, lines 1-2)?”) conveys the sense that most observers believe that Ophelia killed herself, but most are also willing to overlook this truth in light of her unfortunate situations. Those who tacitly condone Ophelia’s actions in this way are navigating the rift between the letter of religious law and what they really feel to be right in their hearts. As Hamlet grappled with this issue and chose to comply with the law, Ophelia’s buriers alternatively chose to follow their hearts.

Closely related to these moral dilemmas involving suicide are situations dealing with murder. Each actions entail the taking of a human life, and a single would think that the act of murder would demand at least as a lot soul-searching as a suicide. However the characters in the play display no hesitancy when it comes to the moral basis of murder for revenge even even though Hamlet has difficulty in really carry out the deed, he does not doubt that it is the righteous point to do. Hamlet even carries this zeal for retribution farther than just Claudius, killing in one particular swift motion the hidden Polonius, whom Hamlet requires to be a conspirator, or at least sympathizer, with his father’s murderer.

Laertes appears to contemplate revenge-murder in a similarly simple, essential, and even honorable light. Believed the king has other motives for getting swiftly rid of Hamlet, he expresses Laertes’s sentiments nicely when he states, in reference to Hamlet’s killing of Polonius, “And where th’offense is, let the wonderful ax fall (Act 4, Scene five, line 213).” Based on one’s perspective, this mentality can be observed as either in conflict with religious guidelines or in accordance with them. The sixth commandment states, “Thou shalt not kill,” but Hamlet and Laertes accept this rule only beneath some situations. Clearly, much more appealing to them and their sense of justice by vengeance is the biblical passage regarding “an eye for an eye.” In these conditions, the characters do not really feel bound by religious prohibitions in reality, beyond merely bloodlust, they feel a true moral compulsion to make proper by avenging wrongs. As Laertes puts it, the questions surrounding his father’s death “Cry to be heard, as ’twere from heaven to earth…(Act 4, Scene 5, line 210)”, and have to be appropriately answered.

One religious issue that does hinder Hamlet from achieving his objective of killing Claudius is his belief that Claudius will go to heaven if he dies although praying. This belief is an instance of Hamlet worrying about the letter of religious law rather than the spirit of religion. He does not think about that Claudius’s murder of Hamlet the elder is morally repugnant and sinful the mere act of praying is adequate, in Hamlet’s mind, to redeem Claudius before God: “Now may well I do it pat, now a is a-praying, And now I’ll do’t. And so a goes to heaven, And so am I revenged (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 73-75).” Thus Hamlet refrains from killing Claudius (an act which he considers morally acceptable) due to the fact he believes that the repentant words of a murderer, while uttered, will absolve the murderer of sin, but that the sin will return as soon as the praying ceases. This irrational logic demonstrates how religion can influence individuals into abiding by its technicalities, but not necessarily by its underlying moral spirit.

In a surprising juxtaposition, the murderer Claudius appears to comprehend the spirit of the religious laws better than Hamlet does. Claudius’s speech in act 3 (“O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven (Act 3, Scene three, line 36)”) seems to be an anguished, heart-felt expression of repentance. But he recognizes that his thoughts are distracted, and acknowledges that his supplications are not valid: “My words fly up, my thoughts stay below. Words with no thoughts in no way to heaven go (Act three, Scene three, lines 97-98).” Although Polonius’s actions in the remainder of the play indicate that he is not really sorry for his transgression, this speech at least shows that he understands the intent of religious regulations. It is ironic that he, far more than the reasonably innocent Hamlet, truly comprehends moral teachings.

The scene with Hamlet and Claudius in act 3 emphasizes how the belief in the Christian afterlife of heaven and hell is central to several of the troubles in Hamlet that involve suicide and murder. If not for the motivation of these promised lands, few characters would act, or withhold action, based on moral codes. But the notion of the afterlife is challenged from the quite initial scene of the play, in which the late Hamlet seems as a ghost just before the palace soldiers. The appearance of a ghost, a spirit neither in heaven nor in hell, is really unnatural and discomforting. As a result when the ghost instructs Hamlet to avenge his murder, Hamlet feels compelled to obey in order to eliminate his father from his apparent state of spiritual limbo. An extra moral motivation is as a result factored into Hamlet’s actions throughout the rest of the play. He is really significantly driven by the purpose of reaching the appropriate religious standings for himself, his father, and Claudius.

As the principal and title character of the play, Hamlet is the very best example of how the concepts of religion, morality, and afterlife drive the actions of the characters in the drama. However the supporting characters also offer powerful proof for this phenomenon, which is particularly relevant to the themes of murder and suicide that pervade Hamlet. From soliloquies to funerals to stabbings, the play pulses with moral dilemmas and characters attempting to reconcile religious doctrine with instinctual emotion. Hamlet, in all its complexity and tragedy, is at as soon as an exhortation to act morally and an exploration of the havoc that moral uncertainty can wreak.
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