English

Can you help me evaluate Hamlet's views on religion, mortality and justice.

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    http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/hamlet/

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  2. Since no one seems to be able to actually help with homework on this site, I think I'll post my answer for future reference by others.

    Of all of William Shakespeare’s characters in the play Hamlet, the protagonist, Hamlet, is by far the most complex and philosophical. Often contradictory and lacking determinacy, it seems the only one way to fully understand his final actions is to evaluate his character; probing Shakespeare’s verse to discern where Hamlet stands on the subjects of religion, mortality and justice. In doing so, one finds a man angry with God because of what he deems to be His cruelty, unafraid of death because he feels life lacks meaning, and conflicted between justice and vengeance to point he seems them as one and the same. Only by considering these facets of Hamlet’s character and how they evolve can one truly understand his actions in the final stages of the play.
    Hamlet believes in and is angry with God; it is the evolution of this belief and the subsiding of his anger throughout the play’s course that helps audiences make sense of his actions in the play. Hamlet’s feelings about God are communicated explicitly in his first soliloquy where he wishes “that the Everlasting had not fix’d His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God, how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!” (I, ii, 131-134) Hamlet’s mention of canon makes reference to God’s sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”, upon which Christian arguments against suicide are based. (Exodus 20:13) Therefore these lines can be seen as significant in their establishing an internal conflict within Hamlet that pits his want to kill himself against his want to serve God. He actually finds it cruel that God’s law keeps him on this earth when he finds the daily routines of life utterly unpleasant. In the play’s fifth act, we find a Hamlet who’s come to terms with God’s laws and the impact they have on his life. Hamlet tells Horatio that: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” (V, ii, 10-11) In these lines Hamlet expresses a belief in an overruling providence that seems to direct our limited free will. Hamlet senses and accepts that ultimately fate shapes our destiny; that God has created a distinctive plan for our lives that goes followed no matter how crudely we try to shape them otherwise. It is because of this realization that Hamlet makes one of the few and important decisions of the play. In the second scene of the fifth act, Osric arrives to challenge Hamlet to a duel on Laertes’ behalf and Horatio offers to tell everyone that he’s sick so he doesn’t have to fight. Hamlet tells Horatio: “Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” (V, ii, 209-212) This marks an important turning point in the play as Hamlet makes a definite decision to give in to God’s providence and accept what is in store for his future. He seems at peace with the world and almost prepared for death. One could even speculate that it is because of this realization that Hamlet is finally able to kill Claudius. Throughout the course of the play, Hamlet experiences spiritual growth as he redefines his relationship with God that renders him at peace with the world, prepared for death, happy with God, and able to kill his uncle Claudius.
    Hamlet experiences a similar metamorphosis in terms of his views on mortality. The Hamlet audiences meet in the first act seems to desperately want his death. He wishes that his: “too too sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew,” because the uses – daily routine – of the world to him seems “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable”. (I, ii, 129-134) In this soliloquy, Hamlet expresses to audiences his dejection over his father’s death, disillusionment regarding his mother and how those two factors have contributed to his death wish. By Hamlet’s second soliloquy, he is contemplating on death itself as opposed to desiring it. He wonders if it is better to be dead or alive; whether it is better to put up with trials and tribulations of life or to fight back by simply putting an end to them once and for all. This train of thought leads him to the powerful conclusion that: “in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause; there’s the respect that makes calamity of so long a life”. (III, i, 66-79) In this soliloquy, Hamlet no longer expresses desperation to end his life. Rather, he explores the reasons why people in general don’t commit suicide. In these lines, Hamlet concludes that most people don’t commit suicide, not for religious reasons, but because they have no idea what comes after death. By the play’s fifth act, Hamlet’s contemplation has grown into a deep fascination with death and its power to reduce even the mightiest of men to dirt, dust, and mud, used for mundane tasks like plugging up beer barrels and patching cracks in walls. (V, i, 209-217) Hamlet is fascinated by the physical process of decay, but he is also fascinated by the commonality of death. By the second scene of this act, Hamlet’s views on death have evolved yet again. He remarks to Horatio that: “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” (V, ii, 209-212) The tone of this speech evokes a new, more mature attitude for Hamlet. Here, he ultimately accepts that he will die, that everyone dies – if not now, then later – and that the important thing is to be prepared. He believes that God oversees and determines the life and death of every living creature, including the sparrow. This is why Hamlet willingly goes to fight Laertes knowing that the latter being is the better swordsman. Throughout the course of the play Hamlet, William Shakespeare has the titular character’s views on mortality undergo a transformation that helps to explain his actions in the final stages of the play.
    Hamlet’s perception of justice, though challenged throughout the play’s course, makes no such evolution. In the opening stages of the play, it is evident that Hamlet confuses justice with retribution as he says in soliloquy that he feels prompted to his “revenge by heaven and hell.” (II, ii, 586) Hamlet recognizes early on the contradiction posed by his desires for justice and vengeance. He perceives that the former is righteous and even of heavenly ordination, while the latter, is spurred by a vengeful ghost and thus intrinsically evil. Naturally, Hamlet has suspicions about the nature of the ghost and therefore waits for revenge until he confirms the credibility of his statements. When the mousetrap play elicits proof of the ghost’s accusations, Hamlet is faced in the chapel with the opportunity to kill Claudius. However, he remarks to himself that the deed would be simple “hire and salary, not revenge.” (III, i, 79) Faced with the opportunity to kill Claudius at prayer, Hamlets call to justice and command to revenge are brought directly into conflict with one another. Though his warped retributive view of justice causes him to see it done with Claudius’ murder, his desire for vengeance prompts him to hold off until a time when he can ensure that Claudius’ soul goes to hell. This brings us to the play’s final scene, when Hamlet inevitably kills Claudius. While stabbing the king he makes the exclamation: “The point envenom’d too! Then, venom, to thy work.” (V, ii, 311-312) At this point in the play Hamlet is still more infuriated at Claudius’ treachery. As he secures his revenge, the word venom suggests vengeance and virulence. Hamlet has accepted that justice and vengeance are two separate entities and has chosen the latter, finding satisfaction in the emotional release provided by its retributive exaction. However he does not realize that he makes this distinction or decision. At his very core he believes that Claudius’ crimes being exposed to the public makes him an agent to practice the public revenge or justice through providence. As such, in his dying hour, he makes no lamentations over the senseless deaths he and his quest for justice/vengeance have been responsible for. Rather, he tells Horatio to tell his story and clear his name so that the unsatisfied may know his cause aright. (V, ii, 328-329) Hamlet’s views on justice help to clarify the reasons for his actions near the play’s end.
    It seems the only way to fully comprehend the actions of Hamlet, in the final stages of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is to evaluate the aspects of his character that have led him to them. That is to evaluate his character by determining definitively how Hamlet feels on the subjects of religion, mortality and justice. In doing so, one finds at the play’s opening scenes, a man angry with a cruel God, longing for and unafraid of death because of life’s insignificance, and torn between justice and vengeance to point he seems them as one and the same. Throughout the course of the play, these views evolve as he becomes at peace with God and death. Though he is inevitably unable to distinguish between justice and vengeance, this inability serves the same purpose as his emotional triumphs of assisting audiences in reasoning through his actions in the play’s final stages. It can therefore be concluded that one can only understand Hamlet and his actions by evaluating his views on religion, mortality and justice.

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