Hamlet a Christian or a Pagan?
Hamlet is a tragic drama by Shakespeare and like Othello, it is full of all the tragic elements of betrayal, murder, revenge and malice. Hamlet is the central character in the drama, who is a prince. His uncle has killed Hamlet’s father to have his crown and his wife. Following his father’s death Hamlet is caught in a dismal situation.
Initially, he appears a simple and noble Christian prince, busy with his intellectual pursuits. However, with his father’s murder things take a difficult turn and from there his transformation into a pagan begins. He is not a complete pagan yet and tries to remain restrained in his actions and decisions; however, the desire to revenge his father’s death continues to grow stronger inside him. He finds it increasingly difficult to remain the same innocent Christian prince he once was. In him, one can find both the virtues. His pagan virtues become evident right from the moment he has killed Polonius whom he kills without waiting for a moment to know who is behind the curtain . Revenge is at the centre of Hamlet’s plot and also the main theme of the drama. Following his father’s death, Hamlet has lost everything including his peace and his intellectual dreams. His father’s ghost appears, and leaves him even more confused and anxious. Initially, he doubts if it is his father’s ghost or some bad spirit just trying to confuse him.
He was already too confused since his father’s death with no clear strategy in mind. Somewhere inside him, his Christian ethics are still intact and he tries to think over things before he can act. However, he has been feeling deeply unsettled and now has very little control over his emotions. The more he gets to learn of Claudius’ treachery, the more he becomes rash and impulsive and the more of his pagan side gets stronger. He is not evil like Claudius and is only deeply frustrated and annoyed at having lost the harmony in his life. Following his father’s murder he has been feeling badly pained and frustrated but his mother’s marriage to Claudius is what is really killing him. Hamlet still has some goodness in his heart which stops him from being a complete pagan. He cannot Kill Claudius while he is praying which shows that Hamlet is bound by his Christian ethics. He is royalty and cannot get rid of his royal identity and sense of duty. For being wronged by his uncle, he has the right to avenge himself. This is not his mistake, since he is just a victim of his uncle’s greed and his evil plot to seize the throne. Hamlet has been betrayed and forced to choose a different fate than the one he would have wanted.
Basically, his personal beliefs are Christian. So, to call him a Pagan would be wrong because that would imply he is not rightful in what he has chosen to do. Any son would feel responsible to revenge his father’s death. His desire for revenge grows stronger because of his helplessness. There is noone around to help and support him. However, at a point driven by his own desire for revenge he has become vicious just like his uncle. His fate hangs between whether he will prove himself a worthy son or just a directionless, weak and helpless prince. He is in a dilemma over how to have his revenge and set things back in order in his life. Despite being a Christian he has a Pagan duty of revenge imposed upon him. Till the end however, he proves himself shrewd. He finds out the letter to the King of England ordering his execution and cleverly replaces it with another ordering the execution of the two messengers carrying the letter. In this way, he also demonstrates the wisdom of a Christian. Life would have been different for him had not his father been murdered and he be forced to choose a pagan course. One thing that can clearly be noted regarding Hamlet is that he is ready to adopt some of the same malicious tricks like his uncle in order to have his revenge. In himself, he exhibits the mixed traits of a pagan and a Christian. However, his Christian virtues have weakened and rather than to right the wrong, his sole aim by the end is to avenge his father’s death.