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Essay: Influence of religion in Hamlet

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The Tragedy Of Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s famous tragedies ever written. The Elizabethan era was a period when religious conflicts were much in evidence, which gets reflected in the play, Hamlet. During the era, religion was something everyone held close to their hearts. It was central to society as many people travelled long distances to attend church to practice their religion. Throughout the play, Hamlet struggles to avenge his father’s death and seeing how that would impact his stand with God. The audience sees the powerful influence of religion on the character’s actions and thoughts.

The people of the Renaissance believed in the power of hierarchy, also known as the Great Chain of Being. It was a structure created by God and everything that occurred on Earth-related directly back to it. Everyone in Shapeakean time believed that the evil-doings on Earth is a result of a disruption in the chain. The chain in Hamlet went in the order of God, angel/ghost, King, Prince, Nobles and at the bottom were peasants. The disruption of the chain began when King Claudius murdered his brother for power and greed. The only way to fix the evil is by seeking revenge on the cause of the problem. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.5.100). In this quote, Marcellus, the night guard is making the first reference of the Great Chain of Being. When the ghost of King Hamlet appeared, he knew something extremely wrong happened. Shakespeare was able to connect to his audience by their love for their religion. The Great Chain of Being ties perfectly to Claudius’ confession about his sins. During King Claudius’ soliloquy, he asks for forgiveness and speaks about the Great Chain of Being. “Art more engaged! Help, angels. Make assay. Bow, stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel” (3.3.70-73). This quote is related to many of Shakespear’s audience, as they also ask help from the Angel about their sins, to go to heaven. This scene plays a significant role in the speech provided in the beginning, which will get discussed next.

The speech by Hamlet at the end of Act Three, Scene Three was Shakespeare’s way of targeting his audience, showing how Hamlet’s religious values can cause him to back down from his desire. The audience was able to reflect on the moment where they back down from something they aspire because of their faith. The dramatic irony behind the speech was that Claudius thought he was praying alone while pouring his emotions out. However, the audiences knew that Hamlet was hiding and listening to the whole thing, this was this proof of his father’s murder. Here is where the audience sees the true power of religion. Many renaissance populations believed in the afterlife, where a person after death will go to either heaven or hell, all depending on the sins they committed while alive. While King Claudius was praying for the Lord to forgive him, it gave Hamlet the perfect opportunity to seek avenges for his father. However, Hamlet’s religious passion influences his decision-making as he refused to kill his uncle while praying. Hamlet believed that if Clausius died while praying for his sins, his soul would enter heaven, and Hamlet didn’t want to grant him that opportunity. Hamlet wanted Claudius to receive an everlastingness of pain for killing his father, so he decided that he will kill Claudius when he is sinning. If Christianity wasn’t a strong belief for Hamlet, he would have never considered the possibility of heaven or hell and would have killed his uncle in cold sight. The use of religion helped grab the attention of the audience, as they saw how religion affected the characters of the play.

Shakespeare uses various types of literary devices in order to appeal to his audience during the renaissance period. Literary devices help grab the viewer’s attention through their imaginations and help convey messages faster and effectively. The Tragedy of Hamlet consists of metaphors which are the comparison of one thing to another (U2A1). This device allows the audience to be touched by their emotions according to the situation in the play. For instance, “ this is hire and salary, not revenge” (3.3.79), Hamlet compares killing Claudius while praying as a benefit for Claudius like being given a job and then getting paid. In other words, if Hamlet kills Claudius while pleading for forgiveness for his sins it will result in Claudius’s soul to go to heaven. Going to heaven is not what Hamlet wants for Claudius in the afterlife. Hamlet wants Claudius to have an eternity of pain and suffering. The use of metaphor manipulates the audience’s emotions towards Hamlet, as they feel pity towards him. Due to his religious beliefs, he was unable to kill his uncle to avenge his father. At the same time, it represents the hate Hamlet has towards Claudius. Overall, metaphors help convey the message more profoundly, as it impacts the viewers emotionally, as well as visually.

To conclude, religion was used to grab the attention of Shakespeare’s audiences. Christianity plays a crucial role in the plot of The Tragedy of Hamlet. It revolves around how each character reacts and feels throughout the tragedy. The use of the Great Chain of Being and Hamlet’s let go of Claudius shows the audience the kind of power religion holds on others. The fear of heaven and hell can turn the evilest villains crying and begging for forgiveness, it can also cause the most passionate person to back down from their desires. Religion was highly encouraged during the Elizabethran era, as people went to church and learned more about their religion, the closer they felt to God.


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