A Christian Reading of Hamlet Essay

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A Christian Reading of Hamlet

In a famous article, "The Christian Tragic Hero," Poet W. H. Auden defines a Christian tragic hero according to the Judeo-Christian view that all people are moral agents and own responsibility for their actions. One of his examples is Macbeth, who listens to the witches and is tempted to commit a crime that he knows is wrong. Auden says that the audience's response to Macbeth's fall is, "What a pity it was this way when it might have been otherwise." This contrasts with the pagan tragic hero, like Oedipus, who is bound by fate. Because Oedipus can do nothing about his ancestry, the audience's response is, "What a pity it had to happen this way." 1

Just as Macbeth's tragedy begins when he
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Indeed, he is echoing the well-known Bible warning:

For Satan himself is transformed into an Angel of light. Therefore it is not great thing though his ministers transform themselves, as though they were the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works. (II Corinthians 11:14,15)4

Hamlet expresses a moral awareness here, just as Macbeth did when admitted to himself and his wife that murder was wrong. Hamlet is admitting that he could be deceived. He goes on in the above soliloquy, though, to justify himself saying he will use The Murder of Gonzago play to see whether or not the ghost is lying.

The Geneva Bible on Ghosts

Shakespeare's England was patriotically Protestant. From a Protestant perspective there is even more than just the possibility of deception. The Bible prohibits any consultation with the dead.

"Let none be found among you that...asketh counsel of the dead...because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth cast them out before thee." (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)

Just as Hamlet acknowledges in the above quotation, the result of consulting the dead is being cast out--being damned.

The tragedy of King Saul in the Bible illustrates this. Saul, the first King of Israel, has turned his back on God, but he is still looking for advice before going to battle against the Philistines. He goes a medium and
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