Christianity and Christian beliefs are not explored in a necessarily extensive way in Hamlet. This is because matters of religious significance could be said to have been common knowledge as the religion of the country was Christianity in some denomination or another.
It would therefore seem, then, that such beliefs would be upheld, and held in respect at that, being a canon for which probably everybody accepted as being correct. However, there are instances in the play where it seems that the Bard has used religion as a means of creating a deep reaction in the audience.In Act I scene ii, Hamlet mentions God and his canon, in Hamlet’s opening speech, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self slaughter. This is said by Hamlet early on in the play, and as I have previously stated, was common knowledge. In the Ten Commandments set down by the prophet Moses, it is clearly stated that “Thou shalt not murder,” and the taking of anybody’s life, whatsoever the reason, was a grievous sin deserving of heavy punishment. This belief of the Christian religion is only lightly mentioned, so as to remind the Elizabethan audience of their own faith and religion.
On a historical note, the Elizabethans had just come out of a rule with heavy Catholic overtones, and as such, had become used to Catholic beliefs and methods of practice. They had only just begun to start incorporating Protestantism, which held values that greatly differed with those of Catholicism, into their lives. This may have been a contextual gimmick that Shakespeare employed to further draw the audience into his play.
In the first appearance of the Ghost, the audience’s faith is already challenged by the words that the Ghost speaks and the implications that it brings with it.I am thy father’s spirit, Doomed for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. These notions of purgatory and the plane of limbo are beliefs that the Elizabethans would also have been familiar with, being the beliefs of the Catholics, which, as I stated earlier, the people had just departed from. The Protestants, however, didn’t believe in purgatory, and the spirit must therefore definitely be evil.This would definitely have caused a stir amongst the Elizabethans, for it would make the apparition become strangely dark and enticing, in the way that even people today are attracted to that which is forbidden. Shakespeare then re-introduces the notion of revenge and murder not as wrong, but as something that was honourable to do, something that had to be done, Ghost Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. Hamlet Murder? Ghost Murder most foul, as in the best is, But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Because it was most foul and unnatural, and completely unfair, the Ghost implies that it must therefore be revenged and taken care of.Thus begins the Hamlet’s peregrination into thoughts, plans, excuses and reasons, leading to much of his personal confusion and procrastination of the act of revenge. Much of the suspense in Hamlet is based on Hamlet’s inability to act, and his preference to rumination and philosophizing, and despite his apparent decision to go through with the murder, he doesn’t for a long time, and this has the audience biting their nails, on the edge of their seats. Shakespeare plays with the audience again when he stops Hamlet from killing the King while he is confessing his sins and praying to God.They may be based on the grounds the King was in holy ground and was in a holy state at that moment, but then we see that Hamlet actually lets the king of because he doesn’t want the king to go to heaven, if Hamlet were to do the deed.
The most impacting line of the play, to do with religion, is in act I scene v, Hamlet states, The time is out of joint. O, cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right! Here Hamlet states that he was born into this family, royalty and country, and it is therefore his duty to revenge his father.This puts the audience in Hamlet’s shoes. Would they oppose their own religion, for the sake of upholding the honour of their family’s name? This was an especially challenging question for the Elizabethans at a time when they were in religious confusion. Shakespeare uses religion as an amazing dialogue technique of pulling the audience into the lives of the characters in the play, by putting forward question of faith and belief, and questioning an abstract creation such as honour. His manipulation of the aforementioned things is quite simply, amazing.