The Struggles of Remembrance: Christianity and Revenge in William Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis focuses on the religious aspects of William Shakespeare's Hamlet which, I argue, form the foundation of Hamlet's plot and are critical to understanding Hamlet's character and his dilemmas. Early modern culture was particularly saturated with religious allusions. The advent of the Reformation and emergence of printing resulted in an explosive growth in the publication of new Bible translations and other religious materials. While I note that most early modern writers of general literature made frequent use of biblical texts and themes, I add that Shakespeare's use of the Bible and Christian doctrine in Hamlet is especially subtle and substantial. Shakespeare achieves this by establishing Hamlet as a particularly devout Christian Prince who is a student at the University of Wittenberg. I argue that it is Hamlet's theological pedantry which makes him procrastinate throughout the play. Additionally, Hamlet's Christian characteristics exhibit syncretic - Catholic and Protestant - Christianity as represented by Elizabethan religious culture. Shakespeare incorporates contemporary religious beliefs in the play not for dogmatic purposes but rather for dramatic expedience. I compare Hamlet to other contemporary revenge tragedies and establish how the underlying Christian themes, as revealed in Hamlet's character through his soliloquies, set Hamlet apart from other revenge plays. Finally I argue that Hamlet exacts his revenge through a particular performance that operates exclusively within his Christian worldview. Ultimately, as I conclude in the third chapter, through the character of Hamlet, Shakespeare also makes the best dramatic use of contemporary religious beliefs and contentions to make his audience ponder the big question that concerned them: the eventual fate of the human soul.