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Historical Context of Hamlet Play

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Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, who was studying at the Protestant University of Wittenburg of reformer Martin Luther. This play takes place in Denmark, which is known to be a largely Protestant nation at the time of the play which is the Renaissance period. Roman Catholic during this this time believe in a state of purgatory, where they believe that souls go after death to atone for venial sins/wrongdoings. The Protestants then began several Catholic teachings, including the existence of purgatory, in the Protestant Reformation. Since Prince Hamlet valued Christianity immensely, this may explain as to why Hamlet is a bit hesitant to accept the ghost’s claims that he is tormented until his life’s wrongdoings are “purged” away. Prince Hamlet is face with two obstacles of vengeance revenge; to find out who the murderers are and them get himself in a position where he can kill them. In Act 1, Scene 4, the late king Hamlet’s ghost appeared to Prince Hamlet, where he revealed that he was murdered by his brother Claudius who poisoned him and now have taken over the throne and has married his wife Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother).

Prince Hamlet has been summoned home to Denmark to attend his father’s funeral. One night, a Ghost reveals itself to Hamlet, claiming to be the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the former king. The Ghost claims that the old king was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, who has since married Hamlet’s mother and assumed the throne. Since King Hamlet died unexpectedly, and he is considered doomed because he didn’t have time to repent for his sins. During this period of Hamlet ghost are thought to be evil spirits and it was believed that if one did not repent for his sins before death, they would immediately go to hell. For the late King’s ghost, others will think it was and hallucination, an orthodox spirit, or a devil in disguise. But when the late King’s ghost seeks revenge, automatically it is contrary in the Christian law. Seeking justice would be allowed under the canon law.

In a Catholic view, the late King Hamlet died without blessing and being in Purgatory. Instead of the ghost seeking Prince Hamlet to atone for his sins and pray for him, he seeks for revenge on is murderer. The dead King Hamlet’s ghost refers to his “prison-house” where he is confirmed to fast in fires till the foul crimes done in his days or nature are burnt or destroyed. In the Catholic world this kind of request could not be condone, particularly from a sinful soul in purgatory. Protestants hated it, it simply means they are demeaning Christ. Referencing to the Bible, revenge is unacceptable (do don’t take revenge). The prince pretends to be feeble-minded to throw his uncle off guard and will then manage to kill his uncle in revenge. Not only has he took over the thrown from Hamlet because he was young and still in school to take over responsibility, but the ghost has left the young prince unsettled. As he wonders what people would think of him that he saw and communicated with a ghost, he will be considered bewitched by an evil spirit.

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Hamlet decides to uncover the truth for himself, involving only few trusted people to help him achieve his aim and find out whether the ghost was indeed right. He then decided to make himself appear crazy and mistreating his girlfriend Ophelia to deflect Claudius’ suspicion. In trying to achieve this he was able to convince a troupe of players to perform “The Murder of Gonzago” in the presence of everyone including his Uncle the New King and the Queen his mother. The play act-out King Hamlet’s death by poisoning. As they staged the played, he kept a close look at his uncle to see his reaction. As expected, King Claudius’ response to the play was very suspicious. Shakespeare delayed the prince’s acting on his father’s request for revenge because Prince Hamlet because his knowledge of his uncle’s crime was so uncertain. The play Hamlet kind of throw guilt on both the new king and the Queen Gertrude, as it makes one wonder whether the Queen was part of the plot to kill King Hamlet. Shakespeare makes her character seems to be attached and in loved with Claudius and she didn’t appear to be grieving after marrying her late husband’s brother barely few months after his death. Shakespeare played around with different instances as also to whether Hamlet continues to love Ophelia even as he spurns her, whether Ophelia’s death is suicide or accident, whether the ghost offers reliable knowledge, or seeks to deceive and tempt Hamlet, and perhaps most importantly, whether Hamlet would be morally justified in taking revenge on his uncle. Shakespeare makes it clear that the stakes riding on some of these questions are enormous and the actions of these characters bring disaster upon an entire kingdom.

The young Prince Hamlet, heartbroken after confirming the ghost revelation about the death of his father, decided it was time to take the revenge his father requested. He had lots of opportunities to kill him. He would have taken his sword and run him through at any time, but he didn’t. A perfect moment came for him to kill him, when Hamlet spies on Claudius, listening to him pray. Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius because he believes that Claudius is praying. If he were to be killed right after praying, when his soul is at its most pure, Claudius would go directly to heaven and Hamlet wants to be sure he sends him to hell. Without Hamlet hearing what he was saying, Claudius admits that he cannot fully repent of his murder of King Hamlet, because doing so would mean giving up his crown. Enraged, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, Ophelia’s father. Claudius sends Hamlet to England on the pretense of a diplomatic mission, having secretly arranged for the prince to be executed on arrival. Hamlet cleverly escapes, returning in time to witness Ophelia’s funeral. She may have killed herself.

Shakespeare’s irony in the play made us the reader know that his uncle Claudius was not actually praying but was just on his knees reminiscing of what had happened. Him saying he knows he cannot be forgiven for the murder of his brother King Hamlet unless he truly repents, and that would mean giving up the throne and the Queen and that was the last thing on him mind doing. This makes me wonder what would’ve happened if Hamlet had known this. He would’ve killed him and took the revenge for his father, and not only that but take over the throne, probably marry Ophelia and everyone that ends up dying in the play wouldn’t have died. Hamlet is a play that fight over control of their control, but the tragic incident led the country to be taken over by a foreign power. Even though the main motive of Prince Hamlet’s was to avenge for his father’s death, but this revenge ends up killing the entire household and its close friends. Victory was achieved but it meant all of them dying. What was the point of avenging the late King’s death if Prince Hamlet was not going to rule the country and die as such an early age? So, he fulfilled his father’s request but have up his own and his life. Even though, the ending seems justified, peace has been restored but it was done at a terrible price.

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Historical Context of Hamlet Play. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from
“Historical Context of Hamlet Play.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
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Historical Context of Hamlet Play [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 08 [cited 2023 Oct 3]. Available from:
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