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‘To be, or not to be-that is the question’, Hamlet wonders whether to live or die. He gives a second reason for not doing so which links in with eternal damnation. ‘But that the dread of something after death- The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn No traveller returns- puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? ‘ This shows Hamlets view on life and death.
He is saying that he thinks that most people would kill themselves if they were not so scared of the afterlife.
Of all Hamlet’s reasons for not killing himself, I find this one to be the most credible as I think even a present day audience could relate to these feelings about death.
In Shakespeare’s time, the audience would have recognized that he is referring to the unknown terrors of Hell. Contemporary views on suicide are demonstrated through the Gravedigger’s Scene. ‘Is she to be buried in Christian burial when she willfully seeks her own salvation? ‘ The clown is questioning whether or not Ophelia deserves to be given a Christian burial given that she took her own life that God gave her.
The disapproval of Ophelia receiving a Christian burial is demonstrated in Hamlet’s words at her funeral saying ‘Who is this they follow? And with such maimed rites? This doth betoken The corse they follow did with desperate hand Fordo it own life.
‘Twas of some estate. Couch we awhile and mark’. Hamlet wonders who is being buried because the funeral rites are incomplete. He then goes on to say that the person must have committed suicide. This shows the audience that because Ophelia committed suicide, she only deserved a low-key funeral, thus the audience sees that suicide in Shakespearean times was a highly disreputable act.
In modern days this would be considered to be strange as everyone no matter how they died have the same rights to a funeral. Hamlet’s behavior towards his mother can be interpreted as apparently incestuous, but it must be understood why he is so angry with her. ‘Mother you have my father much offended’, immediately it is clear that Hamlet is so annoyed with his mother because she has greatly offended his father even in death. ‘Such an act That blurs the grace and blush of modesty; Calls virtue hypocrite; takes off the rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love, And sets a blister there; makes marriage- vows
As false as dicers’ oaths. Hamlet is talking about his mother’s sex life with Claudius. This could lead people to think that they have an incestuous relationship since Hamlet is so obsessed by it that he seems almost jealous. Hamlet tells his mother that she is behaving like a convicted prostitute. Again Hamlet discusses her sex life with Claudius by saying ‘O shame! Where is thy blush? ‘ Hamlet is horrified a woman of his mother’s age should have sexual urges that would lead her to sin. Hamlet’s language towards his mother is very crude and bestial, again suggesting the fact that he appears jealous therefore suggesting incest.
‘Nay but to live In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, Stwe’d in corruption, honeying and making love Over the nasty sty! ‘ Hamlet is being extremely crude about his mother’s sex life, which modern day audiences often interpret as being the result of an incestuous relationship. Although if you read on I would think this not to be the case. ‘Mother, for love of grace, Lay not that flattering unction to your soul’. Hamlet is discussing his mother’s soul; he is trying to save her soul from Claudius. ‘O, throw away the worser part of it, And live the purer with the other half. (‘It’ being his mother’s heart).
Both of these quotations show that Hamlet is really concerned about his mother’s soul, therefore I don’t believe his relationship with his mother is incestuous. I just think he wants to really make her understand what she is doing. 3 ‘Hamlet sees Getrude’s sexual misconduct as the source of the moral pollution that has tarnished his relationship with Ophelia’. This according to critics is another reason for Hamlet being furious with his mother and constantly discussing her sexual acts. Hamlet’s revenge turns out very differently to what he anticipates. The death he planned results in the death of four people through no fault of his own.
In theory Hamlet’s soul should go to Hell because he murdered Polonius. Claudius would also in theory go to Hell, as he killed old Hamlet, and accidentally killed Gertrude. Laertes would also go to Hell as he killed Hamlet. The only one who should go to Heaven depending on whether she prayed sometime near her death would be Gertrude as she had no involvement in any of the murders. Hamlet has fulfilled his father’s wishes in reeking revenge on Claudius, but his mother is murdered accidentally in the process, something which old Hamlet does not want. His success is therefore only partial.
In addition because he, Hamlet, dies at Laertes’ hands, Denmark is left without a native heir, as is bequethed by Hamlet to the foreigner Fortinbras. The consequence of all these deaths is therefore very serious. Ophelia is seen as a character not worthy of a proper Christian burial because she killed herself. Personally I feel that Claudius is the character who is least worthy of such a burial as he is the instigator of everyone’s problems. In addition he is the cause of Gertrude, Hamlet and Laertes’ deaths, as it his idea to stage the sword fight and poison the chalice from which Gertrude inadvertently sips.
Having looked at all the critics’ comments and from my own understanding of the play, I would sum up Hamlet’s attitude to death and the afterlife, as being that of a religious man. He believes that many people would commit suicide if they were not so scared of the consequences of their actions in the afterlife because he also believes that God gave us our lives therefore they are not our own to take away. His conflicting concerns not to offend God and carry out the will of his dead father are what make this such a complex and interesting play. 1 John Russell Brown 2 Ann Thompson + Neil Taylor 3 York Notes ? Kimberley Rosie 12JF.