I can discuss the first two works and their biblical overlaps in this response.
Shakespeare's Hamlet, the poem "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden, and "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke all have complicated, problematic, and distant relationships between father and son.
Let's look at the Hayden poem first in regard to Hamlet. On the surface, there is not too much these characters share. The speaker of Hayden's poem is clearly in the lower social class:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
Hamlet's father, however, was a king. He would never have had to rise and
However, there are some similarities in the lack of perceived affection from
both father figures, and the element of fearful respect engendered from
both sons. The second stanza of Hayden's poem reads:
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.
Hamlet's father, the murdered king, had been a fierce warrior. He once overthrew older Fortinbras and took his land. King Hamlet appears to his son in his ghost-form in full armor as a warrior. Hamlet is not like his father; he is an intellectual who favors thought and reason over action and revenge. He has a fearful respect of his father, as he longs at times for the ability to act decisively, but Hamlet does not possess his father's war-like nature.
When looking at Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," we sense that same fearful
respect. "But I hung on like death: / Such waltzing was not easy, " the speaker tells us.
Like both the speakers in these poems, Prince Hamlet obviously loved his father. Although Hamlet is terrified of the apparition before him, he nonetheless reveals his love and honor. When the Ghost of King Hamlet implores his son "Remember me!' Hamlet exclaims:
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there; (1.5)
As for the "Parable of the Lost Son," we can view Hamlet's return to Denmark as the reverse of this biblical story. In the parable, a son has left home with his father's fortune and quickly exhausts his inheritance. Broken and downhearted, the son returns home, expecting to be chastised and humiliated. Instead, he is welcomed with open arms and a celebration is held in honor of his homecoming.
This is not the homecoming Hamlet experiences. While he did not go out and blow his father's money (in fact, he was attending university in Wittenberg), he is not truly welcomed home for his father's funeral either. Instead, he returns to discover his uncle has married his mother. Claudius is none too pleased at his stepson's return, as he fears that Hamlet will discover the truth of his treachery and dethrone him.
In regard to the connection between Hamlet and the biblical trials of Abraham, one can compare Abraham's directive to kill his son Isaac in order to prove his love to God to King Hamlet's order that Prince Hamlet avenge his death by murdering Claudius. It seems that Hamlet cannot prove to his dead father that his love is genuine until he completes his bloody task. When Hamlet seems to be unable to go through with the deed, the Ghost appears to him one last time, commanding, "Do not forget: this visitation / Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose. (3.1)