ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Hamlet's Problem as a Renaissance Man

Updated on December 1, 2012
Ronna Pennington profile image

Ronna Pennington, a college instructor, has a Master of Liberal Arts degree with emphasis in history.

Hamlet title page

Cover page of Hamlet program, 1605.
Cover page of Hamlet program, 1605. | Source

Today, readers see a “Renaissance Man” in a favorable light, but being a man of the Renaissance did not prove to be favorable for Hamlet. While the play was not set in the Renaissance, Shakespeare wrote it in that period with the characteristics of a true Renaissance Man applied to Hamlet. In fact, his status as a “Renaissance Man” is to blame for the bulk of the conflict in Hamlet. Old ideas and the Christian way of life challenge Hamlet as he deals with the death of his father and swift remarriage of his mother to his uncle.

Ophelia establishes Hamlet as a “Renaissance Man” in Act Three, when Polonius has sends her out as a decoy to demonstrate his theory to the king. Polonius proposes that Hamlet’s melancholy is due to love-sickness for Ophelia. As Polonius and the king eavesdrop, Hamlet refuses to recall any gifts he has given to Ophelia and demonstrates no emotional attachment to her. As he walks away, Ophelia remarks what a shame it is that his mind is gone. She establishes him as a person who fulfills (or in this case, who fulfilled) many roles: courtier, soldier, scholar, and as an eloquent speaker, claiming to having sucked the honey out of his lyrical expressions of love for her (3.1.163-175). Using theater to trap Claudius rather than brutally killing him is another example that establishes Hamlet as a “Renaissance Man” (3.2.)

As a “Renaissance Man,” Hamlet finds himself caught in a precarious situation. The ghost of his father expects him to avenge his death by swiftly killing Claudius (1.5.88-93). This is just in King Hamlet’s eyes, the traditional way wrongs were righted. However, Hamlet takes Christianity into consideration. He is caught between what his ghostly father wants him to do and what his Holy Ghostly Father expects of him. Hamlet’s ghostly father, who admits he died without having time to repent (1.5.83), wants him to kill Claudius. His Holy Ghostly Father, however, commands him not to kill (Exodus 13). Add to this confusion God’s commandment to honor one’s parents (Exodus 12).

Even despite his ghostly father’s instruction to let heaven deal with the queen (1.5.93), Hamlet has a difficult time fulfilling God’s commandment to honor his mother. He sees her remarriage as both bestial and incestuous (1.2.154, 162). No one else in the kingdom seems to find the queen’s swift remarriage as incestuous or in bad taste (p30, note 162). He believes an old superstition that the incest will bring ruin to the kingdom (1.2.163).

Hamlet wants to avenge his father’s death as tradition dictates, but his Christianity makes him question the notion. He ponders the idea of the ghost being the devil, appearing for the purpose of enticing him to wrongly commit murder and thus doom his soul to hell (2.2.627-633). The conflict that spreads him among traditional superstitions, Christianity, and being a “Renaissance Man” continues to wear on Hamlet throughout the play. Perhaps the best example of his confusion is the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy (3.1.63-98). In it, Hamlet questions whether it is better to be clear of conscience as Christianity promotes or to seek revenge as is the age-old tradition his father’s ghost has requested (3.1.63-68).

The religious aspect of Hamlet’s conflict confuses him even more. He ponders “the dread of something after death” (3.1.86). In terms of Protestant Christianity, this dread would be Hell. However, the appearance of his father’s ghost set wandering due to his inability to repent before death, suggests Roman Catholic purgatory. Hamlet is conflicted in believing the apparition of his father or the most modern ideas of afterlife promoted by Protestantism.

Ultimately, Hamlet believes his conscience is making him over-think his duty, making him a coward afraid to avenge his father’s murder (3.1.91). In the end, however, Fortinbras resolves Hamlet’s conflict after his death by proclaiming the prince proved “most royal” (5.2.444). Fortinbras sees to it that the people of the kingdom respect Hamlet and gives him the funeral of a courageous soldier (5.2.44-46).


Sources

"Exodus 20: The Ten Commandments." Bible Gateway. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20&version=NIV (accessed November 12, 2012).

Shakesepeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Eds. New York: Washington Square Press,1992.




Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Ronna Pennington profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronna Pennington 

      5 years ago from Arkansas

      Thanks so much! BTW, my daughter used your Hub about the Scissortail Flycatcher as a source for her fourth grade class project. She was super excited to find all your information! Thanks!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I enjoyed your synopsis, and quite frankly, you hit the nail right on the head. This is a piece well done, and I am sure that your other material is every bit as good as this. Great job!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)