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Glavan Cristina

1st Year, group 3

Catholicism vs Protestantism in Hamlet

By William Shakespeare

By definition, the word 'catholic' means 'universal,' and from the earliest days following
the Church's founding, it has pressed to be the universal faith of humanity. Protestantism
adherence to the principles of the Reformation, to the centrality of scripture as well as a doctrine
of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Protestants were those who objected to or protested
about, many aspects of the roman catholic church.
Even if Hamlets father is dead, in all the events of the play his presence is felt. His ghost
is even present in the beginning of the play, illustrating the idea of medieval worldview
persistence.In his interaction with his son, there are several contrasts between this and the
influence of the Renaissance specific to the son. Also Shakespeare represents Hamlets
disposition in its Renaissance context.
The main difference between Hamlet and his father is in their religion. Although it is not
mentioned in the text that Hamlet is protestant and his father is catholic, there is historical and
theological evidence for this. Old Hamlet tells his son that it is the time and he is capable of
revanging him, because he is in sulphurous and tormenting. These flames are the flames of
catholic purgatory, which he must endure. But the ghost and the purgatory are figures that
Protestants would not believe. More than that Hamlet believes what the ghost of his father says,
which is contradictory to the Protestant beliefs which he follows. As Stephen Greenblatt said,
Hamlet is a protestant man haunted by a catholic ghost. (Hamlet in Purgatory (New Jersey:
Hamlet's Renaissance education was at the college of Wittenberg, which is most famous
as the University where Martin Luther (1483-1546) taught philosophy. Luther is of course the
man who nailed his list of ninety-five protests to the church door of Wittenberg, which ultimately
led to the split of the Catholic Church and the foundation of protestantism. The University of
Wittenberg was founded in 1502, but became one of the main institutions for the spread of the
new philosophy of Luther [2]. The play, however, does not resolve the conundrum of why Old
Glavan Cristina
1st Year, group 3

Hamlet, an austere and militaristic catholic king, would send his son to be brought up in the
Protestant faith and infused with Protestant philosophies.
Even the request of help from his son to gain revenge for his murder demonstrates the
contrast in both mens styles. Old Hamlet, who won land and military honour by slaying
Fortinbrass father in combat, asks that Hamlet exacts a similar punishment on Claudius.
However, Hamlet has moved away from the old style of his father whereby the acquisition of
land and glory was the true measure of a king. Instead Hamlet displays characteristics which a
modern audience may find odd, but which to a contemporary audience, would firmly locate him
as a Renaissance protagonist. For example, while Hamlet is described as melancholy, which to a
modern audience would be evidence of his indecision over how to go about his revenge, in
Shakespeares time it would have been closely linked to Renaissance concepts of the mind.
Medical practitioners argued that melancholy was one of the four humours of the human body,
and it was generally agreed among them that a man should experience at least a little of this
humour [3]. Therefore his experience is not necessarily linked to mental ill-health, but it does
make him contrast sharply with his father, who would not share the Renaissance mindset of his
Despite the differences of the father and son, Joseph B. Wagner has pointed out that the
Ghost does exert a good deal of influence on Hamlet. As the play develops, Hamlet moves away
from the position of the Renaissance scholar, and more into the role which his father wants him
to play as his avenger. This is reflected in the latter speeches of Hamlet which rely heavily on the
words that were spoken by the Ghost when the two first me.
In conclusion, the shakespearean play `Hamlet` ilustrates the important issue in the 16th
century in Europe, the battle between catholicism and protestantism. These two religions are
transpose into two main characters, for a better ilustration, such as old Hamlet and his son.
Glavan Cristina
1st Year, group 3


1. Greenblatt, Stephen, Hamlet in Purgatory (New Jersey: 2001).

2. Low, Anthony. Hamlet and the Ghost of Purgatory: Intimations of Killing the Father.
English Literary Renaissance 29 (1999), pp. 443-67.
3. Bertram Joseph, Conscience and the King: A Study of Hamlet (London, 1953), p. 27.
4. H. Cooke, Mikrokosmourafia: A description of the body of man (London, 1615), p. 7. 4.
5. Joseph B. Wagner, Hamlet Rewriting Hamlet Hamlet Studies 23 (2001), pp. 75-92.