Essay, Pages 7 (1521 words)
England during the 17th century was a Christian society and country. All Children would most certainly have been baptised shortly after birth and once at a suitable age capable of understanding religion would be taught the essentials of Christian faith. Attendance at church was compulsory; failure to do so without a good medical reason or otherwise would lead to a hefty fine. During the 16th century in England those of Christian faith subsequently despised other races against that of Protestantism, and any other religion or paranormal existence that they did not understand.
The persecution of Jews within Elizabethan England meant the state forbade them the rights to ownership of land or to engage in trade. Shakespeare showed an incredible understanding and knowledge of issues and crises of his time, introducing burning issues of today into his deeply Christian country that showed an inability of understanding and respecting other faiths and religions. Within the pre-Elizabethan period and onwards society was influenced heavily by the head of state, religion and new theoretician’s ideas.
A Theocentric world view stated that everything was circled around God, hence the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ , which derived itself from this idea, proclaiming the head of state was put into power due to the approval and justification of God. This idea generally became associated with the Christian faith during the Renaissance period of the late 16th and early 17th centuries which was spreading rapidly through Europe settling much cultural diversity.
The Renaissance was a time of rebirth and massive cultural turmoil.
Artists and performers of all kinds within Western Europe became more aware of the classical past and the world beyond the narrow boundaries of medieval mysticism and religion. Poetry and writing was nonetheless influenced heavily by the general acceptance to new ideas. Shakespeare shows that he was conscious of the feudal world within which he was raised, continuously questioning every aspect of society.
Shakespeare would most definitely be considered to be a ‘Renaissance’ or ‘Modern Man’. Aristotelian Tragedy would have had some impressionable effect upon Shakespeare’s ideas. He would adopt the idea that every tragedy must contain a ‘Tragic Hero’, and that this person has a fatal flaw that will lead to his eventual downfall (and death). Also Seneca’s tragedies which were finally published in England in 1581 would have had some effect upon the way in which Shakespeare would have composed his plays.
He adopted many ideas including, a supernatural being proposing revenge, characters driven to madness, embedded narratives within the play . etc. Christianity was not just a religion within 16th century England but a political pivot point for argument and debate. In 1559 Parliament enacted the ‘Act of Uniformity’ and the ‘Oath of Supremacy’. By the introduction of these two laws by Henry VII and his heir Elizabeth I ensured the loyalty of their strongest political supporters and in turn condemning Roman Catholics.
The following is an excerpt taken from the ‘Oath of Supremacy’ published in 1559: ”I [……… ] do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the Queen’s Highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her Highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm.. ”
This quote fundamentally states the allegiance and sincerity of one towards the Head of State, swearing ones loyalty to them alone and not to another figure head or person of command. Despite political interventions within humanity and society, Shakespeare highlights issues which would then have been disregarded as being evil, such as apparitions and supernatural occurrences. Many examples could be identified however ones of relevance are plenty within ‘Hamlet’. Within Act I, Scene I an apparition of King Hamlet appears, which later on within the play urges Hamlet to avenge his death.
This would heighten the audience’s suspense due to the drama involved. Shakespeare surprises both the audience and the characters within the play by introducing a ghost, creating a hugely effective atmosphere of anxiety and fear throughout the scene. Elizabethan people misunderstood paranormal existences and this phantom would have heightened their (the audiences) suspicions and fears towards them (the ghosts) furthermore. Many people of Shakespeare’s time regarded ghosts as the devil himself. The play is very much written in a pro-Christian era and many aspects of Christianity show through.
Hamlet’s voice comes through however, sceptical of this. Hamlet contemplates the idea of committing suicide within his soliloquy in Act I, Scene II as he cries, ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, O God! ‘ Here Shakespeare shows us that suicide is not favourably looked upon and even seen as an act that would leave you in purgatory (as is King Hamlet’s), waiting for one’s sins to be forgiven and for redemption to commence itself. Quote King Hamlet,
‘I was sent to my account with all the horrible imperfections on my head. O horrible, O horrible, most horrible! ‘ However it must not be forgotten that ‘Hamlet’ is first and foremost a play about revenge. Prince Hamlet was asked by his ‘father’ to pursue vengeance for this wrongdoing. An Elizabethan audience would understand the complication involved with the ideas of revenge. Shakespeare uses an allegory within the play, where Denmark represents England regarding views on Christian beliefs, such as suicide, death, redemption and paranormal beings . etc.
Within the period of ‘Hamlet’s’ composition there were many factors which Shakespeare commented upon by incorporating them within his plays. By understanding the structure of society and the role that Christianity and religion played within Shakespearean England we empathize why within a few scenarios Hamlet was deterred from undertaking certain actions immediately, the murder of Claudius at prayer for example. The audience that viewed this play would also have related to Hamlet’s actions, his steadiness and composure with which he performed everything and acted.
However to a modern day audience if Hamlet was a person living at present and was to act the way as Shakespeare intended him to then his actions would be heavily frowned upon by many as no longer do we (a majority [not applicable to religious followers] ) regard religion as a major factor within our lives. Due to our secular society, despite somewhat of a Christian favouritism in schools for example, we fail to identify (before education) with the way in which Prince Hamlet thinks. We ask the following question, why does Hamlet abide by the conceptual ideas laid down by society?
Hamlet had no other choice than to undertake his actions the way he did as Shakespeare, his creator, wrote from influences surrounding him. England like Denmark was a troubled country as it still feared the spread of Roman Catholicism by another incident such as the failed Spanish Armada of 1588. In modern times, spanning over the last two centuries, many wars have been studied by people and they have come to the realisation that our world too is a world of politics with underlying motives such as a battle of religion.
Issues such as feminism regarding ‘Hamlet’ have allowed various playwrights such as Heiner Muller, author of ‘Hamletmachine’ to show the subordination of women within society. He gives a voice to two main characters, Prince Hamlet and Ophelia, so that they are able to speak their minds within this bizarre production. The oppression and victimization of Ophelia is shown to the audience. Ophelia is allowed to make moral thoughts and decisions where in turn she can find herself as a person not just a sexual object. She shows this hatred towards the patriarchal society within which Shakespeare wrote the original ‘Hamlet’.
Ideas of feminist movements are highlighted within ‘Hamletmachine’ in contrast to ‘Hamlet’, which shows women as objects controlled by men. (Ophelia controlled by her father Polonius. )(Gertrude controlled by her King, Claudius. ) And in turn it seems as though if women disobey their ‘masters’ they face the consequence that destiny presents to them, death. ‘There are more things dreamt of in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ‘ What is philosophy? Philosophy is when there are no limits of exploration as to questioning underlying factors which makes this creation of life what it is.
This is exactly what Hamlet says to Horatio in Act I, Scene VI, ‘There are more things dreamt of in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ‘ What Hamlet is basically saying is never disbelieve. Anything is possible, never oppose, wrongfully criticize or demean an object never before witnessed or seen. A modern day audience would understand specific actions after having grasped what the 17th century religious influence within society was like. However the way in which the government intervenes itself regarding religion has greatly changed in that it is now no longer seen as a way to indoctrinate people and influence them.