Shakespeare’s Hamlet is widely regarded as one of the greatest tragedies in English literature. Written near the turn of the 17th century, there were new branches of Christianity appearing and the traditional Roman Catholic hold on power was waning, throwing the whole of Europe was in religious chaos. Nonetheless, the existence of a supreme being known as God was recognized in any branches, and strict adherence to religion was necessary for all the people of that age. It is important to examine the historical setting to fully understand some of the play’s subtler connotations. The protagonist of the play, Hamlet, is one of the most famous tragic heroes in existence, but the character’s fatal flaw is that he does not believe in God sufficiently.
According to Christian doctrine, spirits that were not God originated from Hell, and ghosts were classified under demonology (Bath & Newton, 3). This fact explains why Marcellus warns Hamlet not to follow the ghost saying that “It waves you to a more removed ground./But do not go with it”(I. iv. 59-60). Hamlet displays his own recklessness and departure from a good Christian by asserting that “I do not set my life at a pin’s fee,/ And for my soul, what can it do that,/ Being a thing immortal as itself?/ It waves me forth again. I’ll follow it” ( I. iv. 65-68). His friends are still very skeptical of the ghost’s intentions and only back off when Hamlet threatens them with “By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that let me.”(I.iv.85) Immediately after, Marcellus utters his famous line: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”(I.iv. 90). At this time period, ghosts were things that were not even meant to exist, but it is important to note how different characters respond to it. While Horatio is incredulous at first, he must trust his eyes and sense, and responds to Marcellus that “Heaven will direct it.”(I. iv. 91). Unlike Hamlet, Horatio believes that God will make things natural again, and does not wish to interfere by interacting with supernatural beings.
When Hamlet meets with the ghost in the last scene of the first act, he immediately takes what the ghost says to be true, remarking that “Now to my word. It is ‘Adieu, adieu, remember me’./ I have sworn’t”. Despite that the ghost is quite possibly a demon according to Christian teachings, Hamlet makes a promise to a being that he should not even speak to and this demonstrates his lack of adherence to Christianity, and a possible association with the devil. In the closing lines of Act I, Hamlet states that “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,/ That ever I was born to set it right./ Nay, come, let’s go together”(I.v.196-199). He clearly believes that it is his duty to restore balance to the world as opposed to God’s. By the end of the first act, it is clear that Hamlet thinks that he can be a factor in God’s will, which far oversteps any Christian belief at the time.
Hamlet admits in his fourth soliloquy that he recognizes the possible ill...