Atchley, Clinton P. E. “Reconsidering the Ghost in Hamlet: Cohesion or Coercion?” The Philological Review 28.2 (Fall 2002): 5-20.


This essay focuses “on some puzzling aspects of the Ghost’s nature and look[s] at some possibilities of what the Ghost may mean and how it functions in the play” (5). The “religious atmosphere in Elizabethan England and how this may have affected Shakespeare’s audience” (5) are considered, particularly the differing Catholic and Protestant “beliefs concerning ghosts and the supernatural” (8). Instead of defining “the true nature of ghosts for his audiences,” Shakespeare “incorporates within his play both Catholic and Protestant views of the Ghost and also presents a third perspective on the Ghost, one steeped in folkloric tradition” (10). He “expects his audience to perceive the Ghost for what it is, a diabolical manifestation on a mission to trick Hamlet into forfeiting his soul” (12); the play’s devastating/destructive conclusion “supports this interpretation” (12). In “exhorting Hamlet to commit murder through an act of revenge, the Ghost plays most foully for Hamlet’s soul” (14). The counter argument is that “the Ghost tells the truth surrounding the circumstances of old Hamlet’s death,” as corroborated by Claudius’ private “confession of guilt”; but “a devil is capable of telling the truth if it enables him to achieve his goal” (14). The question then becomes, once the Ghost has accomplished his goal by motivating Hamlet to commit revenge (and, hence, to loose his soul), why does it appear later in the closet scene and in its nightgown? The answer is to perform two functions (14): first, to prevent Hamlet’s convincing of Gertrude to repent; the Ghost’s appearing only to Hamlet “intensifies Hamlet’s apparent madness such that Gertrude attributes Hamlet’s accusations to his insanity. Her moment of grace has passed” (16). Second, by appearing in the wife’s bed chamber, wearing a nightgown, the Ghost “ reactivates the domestic values that Hamlet keenly feels he has lost” (17), and evokes cherished familial memories in Hamlet (18). “The ‘piteous action’ that the Ghost makes is directed [. . .] at Hamlet, to wring his emotions and drive him to distraction to make Gertrude think him mad. And it succeeds” (18).

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Fendt, Gene. Is Hamlet a Religious Drama? An Essay on a Question in Kierkegaard. Marquette Studies in Philosophy 21. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1999.


This monograph begins by surveying the different definitions of religious drama. Chapters two and three discuss the "scholarly cruxes" of Hamlet (e.g., Hamlet's delay) and evokes Aristotle and Aquinas to assist in comprehending "what a religious understanding of Hamlet might be" (16). Chapters four and five explore the contrast between Hamlet and Kierkegaard's and Taciturnus' writings on religious art, "examine the metaphysical and philosophical presuppositions of the ordinary understanding of religious drama as representations bearing on dogmatic truths," and "show how Kierkegaard's indirect communication seeks to avoid that philosophical problematic" (16). The last chapter uses Bataille's theories of religious economies to argue Hamlet's status as a religious drama.

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Fienberg, Nona. "Jephthah's Daughter: The Parts Ophelia Plays." Old Testament Women in Western Literature. Ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcit. Conway: UCA, 1991. 128-43.


This essay explores "cultural resonances between the politically unstable time of Judges in Israel's history, the political confusion in Hamlet's Denmark, and the anxiety over succession in late-Elizabethan England" (133). While Jephthah's daughter and Ophelia share similarities, they also differ in an important way: the unnamed daughter is an obedient sacrifice, and Ophelia "develops from her status as a victim" to "an author of a potentially different story, a woman's story" (133-34). Ophelia comes to realize her subversive potential and, in a commanding oration about the weakening of Hamlet's "noble mind," laments the lose of her own political ambitions (135). But her madness empowers her with liberties, such as demanding a meeting with Gertrude. Once granted entrance, "she, like a wandering player, comes to hold a mirror up to the court" (136). Gone is her submissive voice, replaced by "a range of voices" (137). Ophelia now "commands attention" (137). Interestingly, her invasion of the court parallels Laertes' rebellious entrance: they have "competing political claims, his assertive and explicit, hers subversive and encoded in mad woman's language" (137). Because her songs "introduce the protesting voice of oppressed women in society" through the veils of a ballad culture, Ophelia is not understood by her male audience; but her "rebellion against the double standard and its oppression of women arouses fear in Gertrude, who understands" (138). When the Queen reports Ophelia's drowning, she insists "on her time and the attention of the plotting men" (138). Her description portrays "a woman who draws her understanding of her world from women's culture" (139). The Queen, "perhaps like Jephthah's daughter's maiden friends, returned from temporary exile to interpret the meaning of the sacrificed daughter's life" (140).

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Greenblatt, Stephen. “The Mousetrap.” Shakespeare Studies 35 (1997): 1-32. [Reprinted in Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt’s Practicing New Historicism (2000).]


This article begins by exploring the observation that “most of the significant and sustained thinking in the early modern period about the nature of linguistic signs centered on or was deeply influenced by Eucharistic controversies” (8), such as theatricality, idolatry, and vulnerability of matter. This article then proposes “that the literature of the period was written in the shadow of these controversies” and “that apparently secularly works are charged with the language of Eucharistic anxiety” (20). In Hamlet, the protagonist reports that the dead Polonius may be found at supper: “the supper where the host does not eat but is eaten is the supper of the Lord” (21). He also comments on worms, an “allusion to the Diet of Worms where Luther’s doctrines were officially condemned by the Holy Roman Emperor” (21). The allusion functions “to echo and reinforce the theological and, specifically, the Eucharistic subtext” (21). Hamlet explains his meaning as “Nothing but to show you how a king may / go a progress through the guts of a beggar” (4.3.30-31). While “half-buried here is a death threat against the usurper-king,” “the rage in Hamlet’s words reaches beyond his immediate enemy to touch his father’s body, rotting in the grave” (21). The father charges Hamlet to revenge his murder, but “the task becomes mired in the flesh that will not melt away, that cannot free itself from longings for mother and lover” (23). “And the task is further complicated by the father’s own entanglements in the flesh” because he died with sins on his head (23). Furthermore, “the communion of ghostly father and carnal son is more complex, troubled not only by the son’s madness and suicidal despair but by the persistent, ineradicable materialism figured in the progress of a king through the guts of a beggar” (25). In the graveyard scene, “when Hamlet follows the noble dust of Alexander until he finds it stopping a bung-hole, he does not go on to meditate on the immortality of Alexander’s incorporeal name or spirit. The progress he sketches is the progress of a world that is all matter” (26). The significance of the Eucharistic controversies “for English literature in particular lies less in the problem of the sign than in . . . the problem of the leftover, that is, the status of the material reminder” (8).

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Greenblatt, Stephen. “Remember Me.” Hamlet in Purgatory. By Greenblatt. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001. 205-57.


While continuing the monograph’s historical exploration of “the afterlife of Purgatory” and of remembrance of the dead in England (3), this chapter begins by examining Hamlet’s “shift of spectral obligation from vengeance to remembrance” (207) and by analyzing how Shakespeare “weirdly and unexpectedly conjoins memory as haunting with its opposite, the fading of remembrance” (218). It then approaches the core argument of the monograph: “the psychological in Shakespeare’s tragedy is constructed almost entirely out of the theological, and specifically out of the issue of remembrance that . . . lay at the heart of the crucial early-sixteenth-century debate about Purgatory” (229). Although “the Church of England had explicitly rejected the Roman Catholic conception of Purgatory and the practices that had been developed around it” in 1563 (235), the Elizabethan theater circumvented the resulting censorship by representing Purgatory “as a sly jest, a confidence trick, a mistake . . . But it could not be represented as a frightening reality. Hamlet comes closer to doing so than any other play of this period” (236). Through “a network of allusions” to Purgatory (e.g., “for a certain term” [1.5.10], “burned and purged” [1.5.13], “Yes, by Saint Patrick” [1.5.136], “hic et ubique” [1.5.156]), as well as Hamlet’s attention to (and brooding upon) the Ghost’s residence/source (236-37), the play presents a frightening-yet-absolving alternative to Hell. The play also seems “a deliberate forcing together of radically incompatible accounts of almost everything that matters in Hamlet,” such as Catholic versus Protestant tenets regarding the body and rituals (240). The prevalent distribution of printed religious arguments heightens the possibility that “these works are sources for Shakespeare’s play”: “they stage an ontological argument about spectrality and remembrance, a momentous public debate, that unsettled the institutional moorings of a crucial body of imaginative materials and therefore made them available for theatrical appropriation” (249). For example, Foxe’s comedic derision of More’s theological stance “helped make Shakespeare’s tragedy possible. It did so by participating in a violent ideological struggle that turned negotiations with the dead from an institutional process governed by the church to a poetic process governed by guilt, projection, and imagination” (252). “The Protestant attack on ‘the middle state of souls’ . . . did not destroy the longings and fears that Catholic doctrine had focused and exploited”; instead, “the space of Purgatory becomes the space of the stage where old Hamlet’s Ghost is doomed for a certain term to walk the night” (256-57).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Hamlet’s ‘Too, too solid flesh.'” Sixteenth Century Journal 25 (1994): 609- 22.


This article suggests “that while Hamlet pays lip service to Luther’s doctrine of salvation by grace rather than merit, he insists in complete contradiction to that doctrine on doing and knowing perfectly” (612). A symptom of Hamlet’s “enslaving prudence of the flesh” is his fear of death, as his excessive mourning for his dead father demonstrates; another symptom is his fear of judgement, which his first encounter with the Ghost manifests (612). In “rejecting the traditional Christian scheme of fall and redemption,” Hamlet is also “uneasy with human imperfection” (614). He mistakenly idealizes reason, wrongly values “‘external goods’ of family and honor” (616), and egotistically focuses on himself, primarily in his “self-indulgent use of another person” (e.g., Ophelia, Gertrude) (617). Fortunately, “something mysterious happens to Hamlet after his rough-hewn encounters on the ships and in the graveyard” (619). In reconciling “himself to a new reality which dismisses his mind, his thinking, his judgement, in favor of the inscrutable will of God,” Hamlet briefly rises “towards the top of Luther’s stern ladder of imperfection” (621). But Hamlet is not completely cured, persistently idolizing “perfect knowing and perfect doing” (622). In the final scene, the “conflict of flesh and spirit persists through Hamlet’s last words and deeds” but ceases “by grace and by death” (622).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “‘How infinite in faculties’: Hamlet’s Confusion of God and Man.” Literature and Theology 8 (1994): 127-39.


Aside from debunking R. M. Frye’s reading of Hamlet, this article argues that Hamlet is frustrated “throughout most of the play precisely because he does not balance thought and action, or understand the proper relationship between his faculties of memory, reason, and will and those of his maker” (127). Hamlet’s comment:

Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused. (4.4.36-39)

marks his “confusion about his own moral faculties of reason and memory and their role in the relationship between God the maker and man the made” (128). Donne, Andrews, Luther, and Calvin describe the creation of man as a discourse among the Holy Trinity, but because Hamlet “holds himself up as author and finisher of his own salvation, not God, not Christ, he will remain outside the discourse of faith” (131). Rather than heed Donne’s sermon on the subject, he also mistakenly assumes that his understanding, will, and memory do not require grace. Hamlet complains about the malfunctioning of his moral faculties and criticizes “the place of original sin in God’s providential plan” (135). He does not comprehend that these “natural faculties” can only be “serviceable to God,” as Donne cautions (134); nor does his “self-absorption” allow him to appreciate fully the “traditional competing vision of faith in providence,” which is “the paradox of our remembering both where we have come [creation] and where we are going [redemption]” (136). The accidental killing of Polonius allows Hamlet a glimpse of “his personal imperfection” and initiates the concession that grace is needed (134). Hamlet returns from sea trusting providence, seeming “to have escaped at last from the ‘augury’ of his mind” (137). This essay concludes by studying the conflicting religious implications of Hamlet’s last spoken words to show that closure “is out of the question, whether our visions are Christian or otherwise” (138).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Painted Women: Annunciation Motifs in Hamlet.” Comparative Drama 32 (1998): 47-84.


After exploring the representations of Annunciation in art and religion, this essay argues “that Hamlet’s parodies and distortions of a rich array of traditional Annunciation motifs are set ironically but not didactically against his tendency to trust his own reason and to assert his own will against the inscrutable will of God” (58). The nunnery scene, with Ophelia manipulated into the posturing of a pseudo Mary, merits intense focus. For example, the curtains that Claudius and Polonius hide behind are, by the late sixteenth century, “quite commonly a part of Annunciation iconography” (63). Such “distorted and parodied Annunciation motifs inform the impossible miracles that Hamlet demands of Ophelia and Gertrude, his maid and his mother,” as only Mary can fulfill both roles chastely (67). While evidence in the text suggests Ophelia’s virginity, the maid is “only a poor imitation of the thing itself,” of Mary (73): she is “a victim rather than a hero,” “used, manipulated, betrayed” (72). Hamlet too is unlike Mary due to “his distrust of God’s Providence” (73) and his rejection of “the traditional Christian scheme of fall and redemption” (74). Although Hamlet “is never painted simply in Mary’s image” (76), he “is moving at the end of the play, inexorably if also inconsistently, towards letting be, ‘rest’ in a ‘silence,’ a wisdom, of Marian humility” (77).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Wormwood, Wormwood.” Deutsche Shakespeare—Gesellschaft West: Jahrbuch [no vol. #] (1993): 150-62.


This study comments on Hamlet’s reference to “Wormwood, Wormwood” in The Mousetrap scene (3.2.173) with the belief that “Herbal, literary and theological uses provide unexpectedly suggestive contexts for expanding our sense of Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius within this highly charged dramatic moment, and in the larger play” (150). Theological connotations of the word suggest, among other things, mortification, meaning that Hamlet’s words “refer to the salutary contrition and confession Hamlet expects the Player-Queen’s words to induce in his mother” (151). Persistently lacking contrition in the closet scene, Gertrude receives a continued, intensified dose of “wormwood,” administered by Hamlet (152). Also relevant to Gertrude, wormwood is biblically associated with harlotry and punishment/judgement (153). In Romeo and Juliet, wormwood is described as “the bitter herb used in weaning a child from his mother’s breast” (154); hence, the implication in Hamlet is that the mother/son relationship alters. The herb was also used as a purgative medicine (156), an antidote (159), an air freshener (160), and a “deterrent to mice and rats” (160). All of these possibilities develop linguistic references, themes, and motifs in the play. For example, the last suggests that Hamlet’s wormwood “might at once expel the mouse-like lust in his too-lascivious mother and deter the object of her lust, the devilish, mouse-like king Claudius, thus killing two mice with one trap (161). Perhaps no audience member could hold all of “these theological and pharmaceutical associations in a kaleidoscopic response to one allusion,” but the theatrical experience improves in relation to the degree of knowledge (161-62). And “this learning impresses us with the unfathomable complexity of Hamlet’s mind and his heart” (162).

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Landau, Aaron. “‘Let me not burst in ignorance’: Skepticism and Anxiety in Hamlet.” English Studies 82.3 (June 2001): 218-30.


This essay proposes that, by considering Hamlet “within the context of the Reformation and the concurrent skeptical crisis, the distinctly epistemological making of Hamlet’s ineffectuality takes on an intriguing historical dimension: it suggests the utter ineffectuality of human knowledge as this ineffectuality was advocated by contemporary skeptics” (218). The opening scene presents “the debacle of human knowledge” (219), the “mixed, inconsistent, confused, and tentative versions of human understanding” through the “uselessness” of Horatio’s learning to communicate with the Ghost and the in-conclusiveness of Bernardo’s “Christian narrative” to explain the spirit (220). This “contradistinction with standard versions of early modern skepticism, which vindicate and embrace human ignorance as against the violent pressures of early modern religious dogmatism,” suggests Shakespeare “to be anxious about uncertainty and its discontents in a way that Greek and humanist skeptics never are” (220). Hamlet’s direct echoing “of contemporary thinkers as diverse as Montaigne and Bruno only strengthens the impression that the play, far from representing a systematic or even coherent line of thought, virtually subsumes the intellectual confusion of the age” (221). “The ghost functions as the very emblem of such confusion” (221), withholding “the type of knowledge most crucial to early modern minds: religious knowledge” (220). The “very issues that are associated, in the Gospels, with the defeat of skeptical anxiety, had become, during the Reformation, axes of debate, rekindling skeptical anxiety rather than abating it” (223). In this context, the Ghost appears “as an implicit, or inverted, revelation” (222), “a grotesque, parodic version of Christ resurrected” (223): instead of “elevating Hamlet to a truly novel and unprecedented level of knowledge” (224), the Ghost “leaves Hamlet with nothing but ignorance” (222). Hamlet claims to believe the Ghost after The Mousetrap, but his ensuing “blunders” “debunk the sense of certainty that he pretends to have established” (227). The problem seems the “inescapably political” world of Denmark, where “errors, partial judgements, and theological (mis)conceptions are never only academic, they cost people their lives and cannot, therefore, be dismissed as unavoidable and innocuous imperfections or indifferent trifles,” as Montaigne and Pyrrhonist believe (228).

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Low, Anthony. “Hamlet and the Ghost of Purgatory: Intimations of Killing the Father.” English Literary Renaissance 29.3 (Autumn 1999): 443-67.


This article contends that “Buried deeply in Hamlet, in the relationship between the prince and his father, is a source tale, an unspoken acknowledgement that the modernist project of achieving complete autonomy from the past rested . . . on the denial and forgetting of Purgatory” (446). During “the eve of the Reformation,” the English people—of all classes—were interested in Purgatory because of “concern for their souls and those of their ancestors, together with a strong sense of communal solidarity between the living and the dead” (447). But the reformation put an end to the belief and its practices. As inheritances of material goods replaced inheritances of the moral and “legal obligation” to pray for the dead (and hence to remember past/origin) (451), “focus turned from community and solidarity, with the dead and the poor, toward self-concern and individual self-sufficiency” (466). In Hamlet, the Ghost implies “that he, King Hamlet, was Catholic” (453) and that he has returned from Purgatory because of Claudius’ worst crime: “callousness to a brother’s eternal fate” (454). “Notably, when Hamlet’s father asks his son to ‘remember’ him, he asks for something more than vengeance, but couches his request in terms less explicit than to ask him to lighten his burdens through prayer” (458). Shakespeare’s caution with “his mostly Protestant audience” seems the obvious explanation for this subtlety, but the Ghost’s stage audience suggests another possibility: “throughout the play it appears that Hamlet and his friends, as members of the younger generation, simply are not prepared to hear such a request” (458). “Nowhere in the play does anyone mention Purgatory or pray for the dead” (459), and Shakespeare “leaves the present state of religion in Denmark ambiguous” (461). Hamlet initially appears as the only person mourning Old Hamlet, but the son “does not really remember why or how he should remember his father”; “he has forgotten the old way to pray for the dead” (463). When he is accused “of unusual excess in his grief,” Hamlet “cannot grapple with the theological questions implied. Instead, he is driven inward, into the most famous of all early-modern gestures of radical individualist subjectivity: ‘But I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe’ (1.2.85-86)” (463). Hamlet’s “plangent words reveal . . . that his deepest concern is not only for his lost father but for himself and for his innermost identity” (463). The son “does not forget his father, he remembers him—insofar as he is capable” (465). But Hamlet’s “ironic legacy” is to complete, “by driving further inward, that earlier self-regarding assertion of progressive, autonomous individualism by his predecessors, who in a moment struck out ruthlessly against the communal past and against the generous benefactions and the crying needs of the dead" (467).

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Mallette, Richard. “From Gyves to Graces: Hamlet and Free Will.” Journal of English and German Philology 93 (1994): 336-55.


This essay places Hamlet in the context of sixteenth-century Protestant controversies regarding fate and free will in order to “suggest how, in the last act, Hamlet transcends Reformation discourse even while incorporating their understandings of human freedom” (338). Although the Calvinist view of human will held that sin was innate and unavoidable, a “moderate Protestant” undercurrent promoted a capability to choose correct action. Both views appear, and at times conflict, within the play, as Hamlet appears to develop an understanding of human potency. Initially he bemoans his sense of spiritual imprisonment (even though he voluntarily submits, for example, to the Ghost’s wish for revenge). The killing of Polonius seems the first commitment to action and suggests Hamlet’s growing awareness of freedom. Rather than the sudden ideological shift frequently claimed, Hamlet’s return from the sea voyage marks the continuation of an evolving sense of will. He ultimately achieves “spiritual understanding” of fate and free will—their sharing in mutual and cooperative interaction (350). But Calvinist tenets have not been eradicated from the play: Hamlet’s salvation remains in question, and “human wickedness” increases during the plot’s final stages of progression (351). Judgement beyond the grave remains undetermined by the play; instead, Hamlet fixates on “a reckoning to death itself” (353). In the end, “Hamlet’s embrace of the mystery of his mortality has mysteriously liberated his will” (354-55).

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Matheson, Mark. “Hamlet and ‘A matter tender and dangerous.” Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (Winter 1995): 383-97.


This essay asserts that a consideration of Stoicism “within a religious context illuminates Hamlet’s involvement with comprehensive ideological systems and helps to prepare the way for an analysis of his subjective transformation at the end of the play” (383). Hamlet’s “awkwardness in the filial role is symptomatic of his ambivalent relationship to the ideological order represented by his father, a culture whose values he consciously embraces but whose established cultural roles he is unable to perform” (e.g., revenger, obedient son, devout Catholic) (385). Unfortunately, Stoicism does not appear as a viable “ideological alternative” for Hamlet (387). Its discourse “proves useless to him as a way of ordering his mind or of assisting him in carrying out the will of his father” (388). The contradictions between Hamlet’s advice to the players and his behavior during The Mousetrap “confirm that in the world of the play the ideologies of Stoicism and humanism are failing” (389). Caught “in the throes of an ideological unhousing from both the residual and dominant cultural systems of Danish society,” Hamlet cannot find “a secure identity or an ideological basis for action” in either “the feudal Catholic world nor the humanist Renaissance court” (389). Through an examination of “early modern ideology,” this essay argues “that the impasse in which Hamlet finds himself is broken in the final act by the emergence of a specifically Protestant discourse of conscience and of God’s predestinating will” (390). Evidence suggests that “the history of Protestantism functions as a kind of subtext in Hamlet” (391). For example, Hamlet’s discussion on “a special providence in the fall of a sparrow” (5.2.165-68) seems a “moment in the play when the radical Protestant subtext surfaces quite clearly” (394). “That predestination and its worldly consequences were tender political matters may be an important reason for Shakespeare’s rather oblique and suggestive handling of Hamlet’s transformation” (397).

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Milne, Joseph. “Hamlet: The Conflict Between Fate and Grace.” Hamlet Studies 18.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1996): 29-48.


This article proposes “that Hamlet did have the choice to submit to Fate or not and that the option of regenerative Grace was open to him but that he rejected it” (32). “Shakespeare is concerned with ultimate choices, life or death choices, and these are dramatically framed within the Christian Platonism of the Renaissance”: the election of grace/heaven brings “the power of love and of regenerative mercy,” while the selection of fate/hell brings sin, chaos, destruction, and a reversed order of nature (31). In the play’s first act, Hamlet “is at the crossroads of a higher or a lower state of being. These two states are represented by the demands of the Ghost on the one hand, and those of Ophelia on the other”; the first “demands death,” and the latter “demands new life” (37-38). Unfortunately, Hamlet rejects Ophelia and the “Absolute Beauty” that she represents, marking “a decisive change in his state of being” (38). The “consequence is a negation of the power of Grace and a reversal of the unitive power of Love” (41). For example, Claudius possesses the possibility of redemption (particularly in his post-Mousetrap attempts with prayer), but Hamlet’s thirst for revenge—“not mercy, not even justice”—causes the Prince to miss a golden opportunity in the prayer scene (43). Instead, of redeeming or even slaying Claudius, Hamlet goes to his mother’s closet and kills Polonius. “With this deed the first steps of Claudius upon the path of salvation are halted and reversed,” as they are also for Laertes (44). Polonius’ son now “mirrors Hamlet’s original situation exactly” (45). In the final scene, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes by drawing distinctions between himself and his deeds—a merciful separation that he could not make with Claudius and his father’s murder. “Had Hamlet applied this transformative principle to Claudius, then the play would not have been a tragedy” (46). But it is. “The play ends with the natural order reversed, with vengeance lord where Grace should rule, death where life should be” (47).

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Ozawa, Hiroshi. “‘I must be cruel only to be kind’: Apocalyptic Repercussions in Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 73-85.


This essay examines “the problematic ‘poetry’ of Hamlet as an expression of the [Elizabethan] period’s apocalyptic concerns” (87). Prophetic signs (e.g., eclipse, a nova, the Armada’s defeat) heightened a sense of millenarian expectations in Shakespeare’s audience (88-89). Hamlet contains “an ominous sign foreshadowing ‘some strange eruption’” that “endows the play with a haunted sense of eschatology” and that “embodies and objectifies an apocalyptic ethos”: the Ghost (89). Interestingly, “fury, almost a violent ecstasy, is first and foremost triggered by the fatal encounter with the Ghost, that is, by an eschatological provocation” (91). A brief history of self-flagellation shows “that the eschatological ethos induced an ascetic self-torture in the hope of purging earthly sins from the body” as well as “engendered self-righteous violence towards Jews (and Turks), people marked as fatal sinners and Antichrist in the Christian tradition” (90). This combination is labeled “oxymoronic violence” (91). In Hamlet, the Prince alternates between “extrovert and introverted violence” (92): he berates himself and attacks all perceived sinners (e.g., Gertrude, Ophelia). He “is too intensely possessed with a disgust at fleshly corruption” rather that with an interest in revenge (93). While Hamlet parallels radical sects (95), Claudius is similar to King James; both rulers fear the danger of “fantasies” or madness, “a real political threat” to any throne (96). Shakespeare’s play “is a cultural rehearsal of an apocalyptic psychodrama which lies close to the heart of the Christian West” (98).

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Shafer, Ronald G. “Hamlet: Christian or Humanist?” Studies in the Humanities 17 (1991): 21-35.


Performing an “examination of biblical analogues in the play,” this study argues “that Hamlet’s humanism is a temporary flirtation” (22). Hamlet’s excessive mourning over his father’s death marks the initial shift towards humanism. The process is complete during his initial encounter with the Ghost, when Hamlet allows “the ghost’s new commandment to hate and kill supersede God’s commandment to love and forgive”; ironically, “he denounces the biblical ethic with biblical language,” suggesting his spiritual struggle (26). Without the “comforting ideology” of Christianity, Hamlet sinks into despair, delays action, and contemplates suicide (26-27). A return to Christianity begins in the closet scene: Hamlet has his mother look into her soul, and he does the same; the Ghost’s second appearance causes Hamlet “instinctively” to return to “his ante-humanist self” (29). These two encounters enable Hamlet “to see through the illusions that self-based wisdom has spawned” and “to reactivate Christian values” (30). In the final scene, biblical references as well as parallels between Christ and Hamlet provide evidence that Hamlet’s “journey from Christianity to humanism and return is complete by the end of the play” (34).

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Tiffany, Grace. “Anti-Theatricalism and Revolutionary Desire in Hamlet (Or, the Play Without the Play).” Upstart Crow 15 (1995): 61-74.


This essay contends that “Hamlet’s use of the tropes of performance to combat illicit performance parallels a paradoxical strategy which . . . proved useful in the published pamphlets of Puritan reformers of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”; it also discloses “the structural centrality of these prophetic anti-theatrical discourses to the great ‘anti-play’ of Hamlet” (63). As the writings of Puritan reformers (e.g., Munday, Gosson, Rainolds, Prynne) show, Puritanism’s anti-theatricalism consisted of “three discursive elements”: “social disgust framed in anti-theatrical terms, explicit longing for withdrawal into an as yet unrealized world, and a call for authentic military action to purge the present rotten state” (65). In act one, scene two, Hamlet displays several of these characteristics: his unique dark clothing signals “his puritanist refusal to don the ceremonial garb worn by Gertrude, Claudius, and the rest of the court” (65); in soliloquy, he rejects “all the world’s ‘uses’ (ceremonies) (I. ii. 134)” (65-66); and his “frustrated desire to return to Wittenberg (symbolically important to Elizabethans as the originating site of Reformation discourse) is replaced by a vaguer desire to be ‘taken out of this world’ (recalling Prynne’s phrase)” (66). His “resistance to illicit social theater ultimately taints Hamlet’s response to the traveling players,” as his soliloquy upon their exit “runs curiously parallel to two passages in Saint Augustine’s Confessions, oft quoted by Puritans in condemnation of playhouses” (66-67). Paradoxically, like “the puritanist pamphlets that used the language of play-acting to damn play-acting” (69), Hamlet’s Mousetrap “constitutes anti-theatrical theater, employing role-play to blast role-play” (69-70). The-play-within-the-play also provides an example of Hamlet’s “resistance to traditional tragic plot structures” (68): its “obviousness” makes clear Hamlet’s “awareness of Claudius’ guilt and his plan to punish it” (70). Hamlet rejects “the conventional revenge behaviors of plotting, feigning, and backstabbing” and embraces “overt military action: authentic performance in the genuine theater of war” (71). In the play’s final scene, Hamlet “kills Claudius openly, non-theaterically, and spontaneously . . . he completes the total extermination of a corrupted order” (71). “Like Renaissance puritanist discourse, Hamlet’s rhetoric and action bespeak a mood of the age: an unwillingness to negotiate with a culture whose institutions were perceived as fundamentally corrupt, and an increasing preference for the alternatives of flight or purgative destruction” (72).

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