Madness and Religion in Hamlet

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet contains many literary elements and motifs, which explains the many analytical possibilities. From the beginning of the play, the readers follow Hamlet through his personal battle to find where his loyalty lies, with God or with his deceased father. The ghost of the king asks that Hamlet kill Claudius, and discusses the murder in the context of his faith. “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5) The king’s ghost wants to get revenge on his brother, but also wants to stop the corruption that is happening within the kingdom under Claudius’ rule. Hamlet was driven to madness because of the conflict his religious belief system had with the plan to kill his uncle, Claudius. “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”- Friedrich Nietzsche Hamlet was so set on avenging his father, he ended up disregarding his own mental state. Hamlet’s mental health deteriorates in the play due to the conflict his religion provided when given the task to seek revenge for his father’s death. (need to rework the thesis)

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In Hamlet, The king of denmark has mysteriously died. The king returns as a ghost to inform Hamlet that his brother, Claudius, had murdered him in order to gain access to the throne. The ghost of the King gives Hamlet the task of avenging his death, in order to allow his ghost to carry on from Purgatory to heaven. The story of Hamlet takes place in Elsinore, Denmark, and is set in the late middle ages. Hamlet was written between 1599 and 1601. The setting mostly takes place in and around the royal palace. During this time period, Denmark was a generally Protestant Christian nation. The protestant religion became one of 3 major branches in christianity. After a series of religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestantism spread throughout the world. ( In the 16th and 17th century, Mental illnesses were believed to be a form of sickness caused by devils and the supernatural. There were different types of practitioners who offered their help to those rich enough to afford the treatments. ( People who suffered from mental disorders were seen as dangerous, so in most cases they were locked up to protect society. During this time, mental illness was very intriguing topic. This concept is distinct in many of Shakespeare’s plays, but is especially evident Hamlet. (

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Hamlet wasn’t sure if the figure was a ghost of his father or a demon
Hamlet had already mourned the death of his father, and now he must be reminded of his death once more as the ghost stand there before him. The ghost of the king instructs the prince to kill Claudius in order to allow him to pass onto heaven. Hamlet comes up with a plan to act mad so he can spy on his mother and uncle, however, he is still skeptical of the ghost and its request. He must make sure that the spirit was not in truth a demon, tricking him into committing a heinous act against God. “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape; and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me.” (Hamlet, Scene 2, Act 2) Hamlet understands that his task to kill Claudius could jeopardize his entry into heaven if Claudius did not end up being the man who murdered his father, and also understood that spirits other than God should not be spoken to. Although seen as the spirit of his father, Hamlet was hesitant to trust the figure. “First, any spirit that is not God is not to be trifled with. The Bible repeatedly and firmly condemns seeking out the dead. Second, and crucially, diabolical spirits can and do take on kindly appearances. This can mean looking like angelic beings or, perhaps, deceased loved ones. All spirits are to be tested against what we know from Scripture.” (
Hamlet wants to trust that what the ghost of his father says is true, and wants to honor his father by carrying out the task, but by becoming so indecisive on what he believes is right, he ends up jeopardizing his own mental state of health.

Paragraph 4- (body 2) murder without reason is against religion

Hamlet’s indecisive manner is shown within the two major roles that he holds as a believer and as the prince of Elsinore, Denmark. Throughout the play, Hamlet is torn between the two important aspects, and finds himself unable to come to a conclusion on whether he should honor his father’s request, or allow the higher power to take control of the situation. It is ironic that Hamlet doesn’t kill Claudius while he is is in prayer because before Hamlet enters the scene, Claudius says that he doesn’t believe his prayers will repent his sins.

“But to confront the visage of offence?
And what’s in prayer but this twofold force,
To be forestalli?d ere we come to fall
Or pardoned being down? Then I’ll look up.
My fault is past. But oh, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn, “Forgive me my foul murder”? (Act 3, scene 3)

Hamlet did not want to kill Claudius without knowing for sure that he was the one who murdered his father. Through his beliefs, murder can not be pardoned with unless cogent reasoning is given, but this brings conflict because Hamlet must spy on the people close to him in order to gather the information needed to follow through with his plan. Hamlet stays true to his religion by trying to control his behavior and balancing his feelings with his religious beliefs. “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me.” (Hamlet, Scene 2, Act 2)

Paragraph 5- (body 3) not killing Claudius while he was in prayer (act 3, scene 3)

Hamlet does not kill his uncle when he is asking for forgiveness in the church (Act 3, scene 3) because he does not want to send Claudius to heaven. However, his religious beliefs hold back on his desire for revenge. He could have killed Claudius, but wouldn’t have the opportunity to make Claudius pay for his sins, as Claudius did with his father.

He remembers that Claudius killed his father without giving him the opportunity to make a confession for his sins, and because of that, King Hamlet must await his entry to heaven in purgatory. Believing that Claudius is praying for forgiveness, Hamlet knows that if he in
Hamlets sees that because the King appears to pray, he is probably confessing. Hamlet decides that if he were to kill Claudius while he was in confession, it would allow Claudius to go to heaven. Hamlet stops himself because he’d rather send Claudius to hell.
He has no problem with the immorality of robbing a man of his salvation. Hamlet is capable of imitating King Claudius’ cruelty.

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Madness and Religion in Hamlet. (2021, Mar 09). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from

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