Hamlet

4 April 2015
A paper which explores Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ in light of its original audience.

The paper shows that because literary critics and historians have discussed Hamlet so often, it is easy to forget that Shakespeare wrote his tragedy as a play to be performed in the context of an Elizabethan production, to an Elizabethan audience. The author points out that it is a refreshing antidote to consider Hamlet in light of its original audience, instead of some of the more modern textual analysis of this performed text, which views the central character as a kind of an early existentialist.
Stephen Greenblatt’s book Hamlet in Purgatory attempts to accomplish this. Greenblatt advances the theory that Hamlet, rather than simply being a tragedy about a man who could not make up his mind, is really about a man wrestling with the shifting religious climate of early Protestant England, a country still in great religious flux.

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Greenblatt states that for Protestant reformers, the Catholic concept of purgatory stood as emblematic of the idea of works rather than faith sent one to heaven and thus it was the crux on which the Catholic Church a vast system of pillaging and sexual corruption depended upon. (Greenblatt 13) Hamlet begins in purgatory, with the ghost’s injunction to vengeance, but it ends in a far more theologically ambiguous place, as was typical of the Elizabethan religious climate of the period.

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