A Christian Excuse for Cruelty: Violence in Hamlet and The Tempest

One of the significant conflicts within Renaissance culture was how to rationalize the many instances of violence which took place in a society with such strong Christian values. While some preached from the New Testament of the importance of love and treating others well, many drew on the numerous descriptions of murder and war found in the Old Testament as justification for the violence occurring everyday. Both Hamlet and The Tempest depict the violence which follows a character's betrayal of his brother, a common episode seen in the Bible. However, whereas the many instances of violence in Hamlet are presented as extremely violent, The Tempest contains more threats of violence or psychological torture. While Shakespeare's graphic depiction of violence in Hamlet represents a reasonable desire to restore God's intended royal hierarchy, the lesser degree of violence in The Tempest signifies that force is not necessary because God will eventually restore political stability.

Seventeenth-century Christianity was not entirely focused upon saving souls. Many times, religion served an ulterior purpose, acting to enforce a sense of order upon the public. The Bible was used to persuade people to follow the rules of God....

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