Informing Bethany Lutheran College's Spring 2013 Production. Shows at: April 19, 20, 26, 27 at 7:30pm and April 21 at 2pm
I was watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 production of “Hamlet” starring David Tennant and something that struck me was the references to Catholicism in the script.
The ghost of Hamlet’s father talks about how he roams the earth at night and during the day he burns away for his sins. This seems a fairly blatant reference to purgatory. And I suppose that makes sense, a royal family would be Catholic at the time of Shakespeare’s writing the world was dealing with the Reformation and England would be Protestant under Queen Elizabeth’s rule.
Perhaps what Shakespeare is looking at, in part, is the struggle within Hamlet between the churches. In Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech he is contemplating suicide, but in the Catholic church at that time, anyone who commits suicide is condemned. Hamlet says:
“There’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life. For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin?” (Act Three, Scene I).
These words might also mean that he struggles, not knowing what comes after death, but afraid that he will get what he deserves. Later in the soliloquy he says “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” that could certainly indicate a fear in knowing his sins.
I will do more research on the ways Catholicism or religion as a whole acts on the script and link articles for your reading pleasure to this post.
UPDATE: I have found a couple articles, not on Catholicism precisely, but on conscience in “Hamlet” and I think that is a key part of Shakespeare’s language in this play that got me thinking in terms of Reformation. The Hamlet’s words throughout the script reveal this obsession with the afterlife and questions of what is beyond this world.
That puts an interesting spin on his final line in the production: “the rest is silence.” What is “the rest” and what does it mean that it is “silent”? I think the connotations that I connect with immediately come from my Confessional Lutheran background but I can’t say with certainty that what I’m thinking is what Hamlet is feeling. Thoughts?
Lydia Grabau, Dramaturg