Hamlet, Death, and the Afterlife
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince Hamlet's attitude towards death, suicide, and the afterlife takes a dramatic turn from religious to cynical uncertainty as the play progresses. While in the earlier acts of the play, Hamlet is very concerned with the opportunity to repent one's sins before death in order to earn passage to heaven, citing this as one of the reasons that his father's murder deserves vengeance. At Hamlet's reluctance to kill Claudius in Act 3, he refers to this notion again, saying that "A villain kills my father, and, for that,/I, his sole son, do this same villain send/To heaven.[Ã¢ÂÂ¦]To take him in the purging of his soul,/When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?/No. "(3.3.77-79,86-88). In the earlier stages of the play, before Hamlet reaches full development as a character, his concern and reverence for Heaven and Hell are strong, and are founded in Christian beliefs.
However, as the play progresses, Hamlet's attitude towards death becomes more cynical and uncertain.
In Act 1 Scene 2, after enduring the unpleasant scene at Claudius and Gertrude's court, then being asked by his mother and stepfather not to return to his studies but to stay in Denmark, Hamlet voices his desire to leave the world of the living and go to the afterlife by ending his own life. He suggests that he would happily commit the deed, if "the Everlasting had not fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter." (1.2.131-134). Since Hamlet, as well as most Christians, place such stock in the necessity of repentance before death, Hamlet is very aware that if he killed himself, he would rob himself of that opportunity, and therefore of passage to Heaven. Hamlet is wary of God in this scene, which comes very...