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Hamlet marks perhaps the first time that a character is really torn between the pagan concept of revenge and Christian morality that opposes it. Up until then, in the plays of Seneca, we've had an eye for an eye mentality. One of them kills one of us, one of us kills one of them. Even in other Shakespeare plays, it's worked like that: Macbeth kills Macduff's family, Macduff kills Macbeth. Even in the supernatural world, a person murdered usually haunts the person who killed him: Banquo is a revenge ghost who sits down at the banquet.
But Hamlet is a departure from all this. Hamlet's ghost doesn't visit Claudius; he visits Hamlet. Hamlet could have killed Claudius any number of times, namely at prayer, but he doesn't want to send his soul to heaven. He's clearly operating in Christian terms. He's conflicted in doing a pagan act of revenge because it might have consequences in the afterlife. Not to mention that Christ said to turn the other cheek. His feigned madness and delays at revenge show signs of spiritual confusion.
There's four ways in which Hamlet is split:
- Laertes/Claudius [instant reaction / revenge]
- Ophelia/Gertrude [madness / suicide]
- Fortinbras [political action]
- Horatio [talk / narration]
Using the play, I think that there can be several items to enhance this particular theme. Hamlet does believe that in a world of moral decay, he is the only one that supports a "true" notion of morality. The lack of regard with which others treat the death of his father, the fact that Hamlet feels that it is his personal mission to avenge his father's death, and the manner in which Hamlet's interaction with other characters is done on the premise of his own belief that his moral code of conduct is inherently better than others might prove that he ends being imprisoned by his own sense of moral superiority. His interactions with Ophelia vacillate from moments of pity to abuse, but underscoring all of these is the premise that Hamlet understands and lives out a moral sense of conduct that she, and others, do not.
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