Study Guide

Hamlet Religion

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For a play about incest and murder, Hamlet registers many of the 16th century's religious anxieties, like the effects of the Protestant Reformation on Christian ideas about mortality and the afterlife. And it also seems to be in basic conflict with itself: how can a play about murder, suicide, and revenge square with Christian notions of acceptance, Providence, and forgiveness? Well, maybe they can't—and maybe that's why Hamlet drags his feet for so long.

Questions About Religion

  1. Why are the castle guards afraid of the Ghost? What is it? Where does it claim to come from?
  2. How do Hamlet's ideas about religion and spirituality shape the way he sees and reacts to the world? Do his attitudes shift throughout the play?
  3. How "Christian" is this play, really? Is there anything identifiably Christian about it, or could the characters be praying within any religion?
  4. What does Hamlet mean when he says "we defy augury" at 5.2.213?

Chew on This

Hamlet is a play that dramatizes the spiritual uncertainty and religious confusion of sixteenth century Europe.

Shakespeare's play weaves together Christian attitudes toward murder with the classic tenets of revenge tragedy, which can't always be reconciled; this makes the play all the more dramatic and complex.

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