Suicide, Murder, and the Role of Religion in Hamlet

Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play rife with moral dilemmas. Religious codes often clash with desires and instinctual feelings in the minds of the characters, calling into question which courses of action are truly the righteous paths. In Hamlet's case, such conundrums are debilitating and cause a frustrating, eventually fatal lack of action. Indeed, the absence of moral clarity in the play is arguably the root of most of the tragedy that is played out in the final scenes. Because of this, the issues in Hamlet provide an excellent basis from which to delve into an exploration of how religion motivates human actions. The characters' dilemmas concerning two great moral questions, suicide and murder, demonstrate the centrality of this motivation, both within the confines of the play and within the larger scope of human society.

Hamlet's ambivalence about suicide introduces topics like death, religion, and the afterlife as recurring themes throughout the work. His despair and confusion produce one of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies, the eloquent verbalization of a mental wrestling match between the forces of perseverance and suicide. Yet this oft-quoted "to be, or not to be" speech in act three is...

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