Christian Morals versus Barbaric Customs in Hamlet
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, is a tragic play set in Denmark during the early seventeenth century. It was written at the same time the Bible was being translated by King James. Like the Bible, Hamlet is full of problems that all humans experience. These problems are best seen through the internal struggle of Prince Hamlet. The source of Hamlet's internal struggle, which is the direct contrast of his Christian education versus Denmark's barbaric customs, is developed throughout the play through the use of imagery, characterization, and theme.
Imagery is used to show how Hamlet's Christian morals differ from ...view middle of the document...
O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn'd longer,-married with mine uncle, My father's brother; but no more like my father Than I to Hercules: within a month; Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married:-O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (I.ii.150-157)
Hamlet is saying that an animal with no emotions would mourn longer than Claudius and Gertrude want him to. Claudius is nothing like a father to Hamlet. Gertrude married Claudius before her tears dried. The images of a wild animal mourning and tears "flushing" Gertrude's eyes show Hamlet's moral problems. Gertrude's incestuous act is morally wrong. Images of incest and false pain illustrate Hamlet's moral problem.
The images depicted by Shakespeare are further clarified through the relationships of his characters.
The relationships between Hamlet's characters reveal the contrasting beliefs of Christian and barbaric customs. Hamlet says, "A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm." Claudius asks what he means by this and Hamlet responds "Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar. (IV,iii,29-33)" Hamlet is talking in riddles with Claudius. He tells him that a man, even a rich and powerful man, can die and be consumed by a worm. This disrespectful comment from Hamlet to Claudius shows Hamlet's moral belief that all men are equal. The negative relationship between these polar opposites is based upon moral values. "O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables,--meet it is I set it down, That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark: So, uncle, there you are. (I,v,114-116)" Hamlet sees the people of Denmark as liars and as backstabbers. Even though Claudius has killed Hamlet's father, he continues to smile in the presence of Hamlet. This falsehood that Claudius shows Hamlet shows the difference in the customs of the respective parties.
O, such a deed As from the body of contraction plucks The very soul, and sweet religion makes A rhapsody of words: heaven's face doth glow: Yea, this solidity and compound mass, With tristful visage, as against the doom, Is thought-sick at the act. (III,iv,52-58)
Hamlet is telling his mother that her actions are turning her wedding vows to King Hamlet into a sideshow. She is not being faithful to her vows. Even heaven is ashamed of her actions. Gertrude is acting in a non-ethical manner. Even though Hamlet knows his mother's acts are immoral, she is the only living parent he has. Therefore he must decide whether to love her as a mother and forgive her faults or despise her as an immoral parent. Hamlet's characters differ in ethical and moral values, especially through their religious beliefs.