Of all the plays by William Shakespeare, Hamlet deals the most with what lies beyond this terrestrial sphere. In the words of Michael Neil, “Hamlet [is] a prolonged meditation on death. ” It is a study of life beyond death, in the metaphysics of the eternal soul, the afterlife, and the eternal consequences of temporal causes. Characters in the play are obsessed by the afterlife. Hamlet’s fixation on suicide is possibly the most obvious example of this. In one of his soliloquies, he confesses his desire “that this too too sullied flesh would melt…
Or that the Everlasting had not oxide/ His canon ‘against self-slaughter” (l, I’, 129-32). These are not the ravings off delusional man; at this point in the proceedings Hamlet is still sane. He really would kill himself if he did not believe that it was the unforgivable sin. Later in the play, Hamlet reveals that he thinks a lot of people would end their own lives if they weren’t scared of eternal punishment when he says, “To die, to sleep/ To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,] For in that sleep of death what dreams may come’…
Must give us pause… For who would bear the whips and scorns of time’… When he himself eight his quietus make/ With a bare bodkin? ” (Ill, I, 64-76). If not for the need to avenge his father, Hamlet might be dead already. All his focus in life has to do with death in some way, and in this sense, Harold Bloom’s statement that “We know the ethos of disinterestedness only because we know Hamlet. ” is true. Claudia too has an obsession with the afterlife. Unlike his nephew, the king shows a lack of regard for the state of his eternal soul.
Even when he knows he needs to be forgiven, he is not willing to repent. He finds he cannot give up the rewards of his sin and is well aware hat “Words without thoughts never to heaven go. ” (Ill, iii, 98). The king has sealed the Faustian bargain, and even more firmly secured his position as the detested villain of Hamlet. After this, Claudia no longer even contemplates purifying his soul, and eventually dies in sin. Alerts follows a similar path to the king’s. He, like Hamlet, feels the urge to avenge his father’s murder.
Unlike Hamlet, Alerts immediately takes action, and is immediately willing to through away his own soul for revenge. When he tells Claudia, “l dare damnation… / Let come what comes, only I’ll be avenged” (V, v, 133-5), Alerts makes his own deal with the devil. However, while he is dying, Alerts goes through mea culpa when he admits that he is “Justly killed with [his] own treachery. ” (V, I’, 296). He realizes his sin and is humble enough to beg Hamlet for forgiveness. Hamlet’s line “Heaven make thee free of it! (V, it, 321) indicates that Alerts does indeed achieve catharsis, and dies a forgiven and redeemed man. The Ghost opens a window into a dimension beyond earthly life that is unique in all Shakespearean plays. The Ghost’s eerie descriptions of his daytime abode depicts a regulatory similar to Dent’s Purgatorial when he says, “My hour is almost come/ When I to sulfurous and tormenting flames/ Must render myself. ” (l, ‘v, 2-4). Part of Hamlet’s motivation to kill Claudia is to free his father from those tortures, but writers like A.
C. Bradley still ask “Why did Shakespeare here, so much against his custom, introduce this reference to another life? ” Indeed, the window into purgatory is unique in all of Shakespearean plays, but so is a ghost that is not merely a even with the insight into purgatory that he provides, the afterlife is still depicted as n ominous unknown. Even Hamlet, the great intellectual, admits that the thought of what will happen to the soul after death “puzzles the will” (Ill, I, 80).
According to Cedi Watts, Hamlet is more puzzled than he should be. In the opinion of Watts, “[Hamlet] terms the region after death ‘The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/ No traveler returns’ [(111, I, 79-80)], even though he has recently talked to an apparition who purports to be a traveler returning from that country. ” However, Hamlet’s statement may not be an error on Shakespearean part, but further evidence f Hamlet’s stunned disbelief that he has Just seen his father’s ghost, disbelief that leads to the play within the play.
Though the prince may sound as if he thinks understands the nature of the Ghost when he says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horopito/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ” (l, v, 166-7), but in truth he requires empirical evidence in order to believe the supernatural. In this way Shakespeare can put a view of the afterlife into Hamlet, and still keep the tragedy down to earth. Another metaphysical element of Hamlet is the idea that the fate of the eternal OLL can be determined by the living.
For example, when Hamlet believes Claudia is praying, he decides to wait to kill his uncle until he’s sinning. If Claudia has Just done penance, then his soul would go to heaven, and he would never be “Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,] And for the day confined to fast fires,] Till the foul crimes done in [his] days of nature/ Are burnt and purged away. ” (l, v, 10-3). Hamlet believes that if he finds the king performing some act “That has no relish of salvation mint-/ Then trip him… That his soul may be as damned and black/ As hell, whereto it goes. (Ill, iii, 89-95) only that would be true vengeance. While it sounds wrong that Hamlet, a mortal man, could effectively decide Classis’s eternal fate, it is completely within the rules of Catholic church of Shakespearean time. The most devout believer, according to this belief, would suffer in purgatory for all the sins he had committed since his last confession. So it was with Hamlet’s father. The irony of Act Ill, Scene iii, is that Claudia was surrendering his soul to the devil, not praying. Following Hamlet’s philosophy, that would have been the perfect time to kill the king.
A second example of a soul’s fate being determined by humans is Aphelion’s death. Although Aphelion’s “death was doubtful” (V, I, 214), it was never proven to be suicide, so she still received a funeral and was buried in the church cemetery. However, a grave digger points out that “If this had not been a gentlewoman, she should have been buried out o’ Christian burial. ” (V, I, 21-3). This suggests not only that the manner of a body’s burial effects the eternal soul, but a certain amount of corruption between the clergy and royalty determined whether Aphelia had committed the unforgivable sin r was innocent and headed for heaven.