Pound (3. 2. 260) To the audience of the time, the issue would have been far more apparent, and why Hamlet has to prove Claudius’ guilt to himself was much less baffling than to today’s audience. This supports the earlier statement that Hamlet serves to put today’s audience in the mindset of 16th century England. Today, in education there is a much less structured teaching of religious beliefs. More than a one religion is covered, in contrast with England in the 1600’s, and religion is taught from an objective point of view, rather than being taught as the truth.
As Britain has become a far more multicultural society, Buddhist, Islamic, and Jewish beliefs are being taught in education. So it cannot be assumed the modern audience has a structured understanding of the teachings of specifically the Catholic or Protestant Church. The character of Gertrude is a point on which the modern and contextual audience can relate. She is highly conscious of how the sins of her life will affect her in death, and is a figure which shows the treatment of women in society; Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots As will not leave their tinct (3.
4. 89-91) It was an Elizabethan belief that in some communities and traditions is still present, though in far smaller proportions, that a person was born with a pure white soul, and sins committed stained the soul with black spots. This is a recurring idea in Shakespearean tragedy, as shown by Lady Macbeths cry of “Out! Out! Damned spot! ” the soul could be kept white by living a good and virtuous life devoted to God.
Regular attendance at church, mandatory by law, ensured the indoctrination of the masses with ideas including this one. And so the dramatic impact would have been far greater than it is today. As today’s community is based on scientific rather than religious advancement, the dramatic impact is significantly lessened. Issues such as the way in which Gertrude and Ophelia are portrayed, Claudius’ incestuous behavior, and Hamlet’s inner torment are more of a dramatic focus of the modern audience.
This is due to religion becoming a less dominant part of life, the advancement of science and technology, the building up of cohabitation, and a growing multicultural society due to mass immigration during the first and second world wars, and later conflicts. Catholic beliefs apply to a much smaller percentage of the population. The structured understanding of Shakespeare and his audience is less applicable today and less widely accepted. Beliefs in the afterlife are less important to today’s audience’s appreciation of Hamlet then in the 17th century.