Friday, October 8, 2010

The secret Catholic meaning of Hamlet

King Claudius, Prince Hamlet, Queen Gertrude
"To be, or not to be..."

To be, what? As in any great work of art, the answers are many. When viewed from different angles and perspectives, we may interpret the work differently.



Shakespeare's Hamlet has been interpreted in as many ways as may seem possible, and yet... It is only recently that it has begun to be interpreted from a Catholic perspective.

Why Catholic? Because, it is a little known fact that Shakespeare was raised in a devout Catholic family within Anglican England. And evidence suggests - more than suggests - that he himself was a practicing Catholic; although by necessity in secret. There then is the motive for searching for the hidden Catholic messages embedded in his greatest work.

"To be [Catholic], or not to be [Catholic]. That is the question."

To be a Catholic in Elizabethan England meant fines, imprisonment... even death. But for the believer, to not be Catholic held forth an even more frightful penalty... eternal punishment. And to be Catholic offered a reward that would make up for all the earthly suffering.... eternal life.

And now the puzzle pieces begin to fall into their places and the secret code begins to reveal itself unto us. The story of Hamlet seems quite contrived and unbelievable, but is it any more improbable than the actual story of the Protestant Reformation in England? Both stories begin with a King marrying his deceased brother's wife.

The Queen plays an important part in both stories. In the history of England, her name is Catherine of Aragon; in Hamlet her name is Queen Gertrude.

The corresponding historic English king's name is Henry VIII, while in Hamlet the king's name is Claudius. And so our story commences and begins to unfold.



Shakespeare's audience could not have helped but to have noticed the similarities; and yet how did this seeming lack of due respect for English nobility escape the censors? King Claudius is the main villain in this play. "The play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Could it have been the conscience of King Henry VIII of which Shakespeare was speaking?

While the similarities between King Henry VIII and King Claudius are kept to a minimum, the similarities of Queen Gertrude to the real life Queen Catherine are more striking. In Hamlet, Queen Gertrude is painted as a person of very low virtue, and this would be in keeping with the depiction of Catherine of Aragon in Elizabethan England. Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, hops in bed from one king to another in a matter of months. And this initially seems to be the main cause of Hamlet's "madness". In reality it was seven years from the time of death of Catherine's first husband, Arthur, to her marriage with his brother Henry. And Catherine had only been married to Arthur for six months before he fell ill and suffered an untimely death at the age of just 15. Catherine was 15 at the time of their marriage and had turned 16 by the time she became a widow. She swore that the marriage had never been consummated, which allowed her subsequent marriage to Henry VIII to be blessed by the Catholic Church.

In the play Queen Gertrude seems to represent Olde England - before Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church. And by association, what appears to most disturb Shakespeare is the way that England has hopped from the arms of the Catholic Church into the "bed" of the Protestants so swiftly. Catherine herself was not a participant in this betrayal. She always maintained loyalty to the Catholic Church, so Gertrude seems to actually represent the English people themselves - and in particular the English Protestants. The truth is that the people had little say in the matter, and most were probably not in favor of the change initially.

Towards the end of the play Queen Gertrude appears to be leaning in favor of Hamlet over King Claudius. So what does Hamlet represent? Before getting to that, I would like to discuss Hamlet's father. He seems to represent the Catholic Church in England, which is "poisoned" by King Henry VIII's decree. Hamlet subsequently represents the sons and daughters of the Church that remain faithful to their forefather's religion. They must go in hiding and secretly practice their faith, just as Hamlet must disguise his true intentions in the play.



And then there is Ophelia, Hamlet's sweetheart. She seems to represents the "spirit" of England. Hamlet [representing the Catholics of England] loves her and always remains faithful to her. This is in contrast to the Protestant view of Catholics as "disloyal" to England.

Ophelia's father, Polonius, is a bit harder to figure out. My interpretation is that he represents an older pre-Christian tradition. His philosophy seems to trace back to the Stoics in Ancient Greece. And so Ophelia, if she is the "spirit" of England, is a pagan spirit. And her brother Laertes likewise seems to also worship the ancient pagan gods, more so than the one true Christian God.



In this scenario, King Claudius inescapably represents the Church of England, which would be viewed by the Catholics as an evil force. Claudius [Protestants] view Hamlet [Catholics] as possessed by a form of madness [the Catholic faith]. And yet "there is method in this madness". Catholics see the real presence of Christ - "a ghost" - in the Eucharist, while the Protestants see only a physical symbol; nothing else.

So there you have it. Seen from this perspective, the play is about the struggle between Catholic, Protestant, and pagan forces for the soul of the English people - represented by the Queen.

Hamlet [the Catholic] kills the pagan Polonius and his son Laertes. Pagan Ophelia initially seduces Catholic Hamlet, but later Hamlet - fortified by the appearance of his father's spirit - rejects Ophelia. The death of her father Polonius at Catholic Hamlet's hand drives her mad and causes her to take her own life. Ophelia's funeral [the death of paganism] is cause for contemplation over the meaning of death by Hamlet - "alas poor Yorick" - but it is not viewed as a great tragedy within the context of the play.

(Oh and lest I forget, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, appear to be some outside Protestant agitators which have come to spy on Catholic Hamlet. The proof of this is that they are depicted as students from Wittenberg University where Martin Luther taught theology. They provide us with some comic relief and ultimately are dealt with in the manner of spies - they are executed.)

Hamlet [the Catholic] battles throughout the play with King Claudius [the Protestant] over Queen Gertrude [the English people]. Gertrude is unintentionally poisoned by Claudius [the Protestant].  Her death signifies the poisoning of Christianity in England with Protestant ideas. We can also see the influence of pagan ideas on Christianity represented by Polonius who is an adviser to the King and Queen. Shakespeare makes it quite clear that he considers this advice to be foolish and devotes much of the comic elements in the play to mocking this "sage" advice.

Hamlet is mortally wounded in a duel by Laertes [the pagan] at the coaxing of Claudius [the Protestant]. Hamlet's death may represent the corruption of the Catholic Church at that time with pagan ideas. Before he dies Hamlet kills Claudius [the Protestant] - who initially set in motion the vicious cycle of violence that envelops the country - with his own poison. Earlier Claudius had killed Hamlet's father by pouring poison in his ear. This odd method of delivery suggests to me that the poison represents slanderous accusations aimed at the Catholics by the Protestants. For instance, defamation campaigns depicting Irish Catholics as rapists and baby killers were common around this time.

(By the way, I suspect the duel between Catholic Hamlet and Pagan Laertes is a metaphor for a philosophical debate. The pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle would be expected to win the debate against the Catholic theologians according to the thinking of Protestants. But Hamlet tells Horatio that he has improved his dueling [debating] skills recently, and surprisingly he is winning the duel before Laertes resorts to foul play.)

In the end it is the Norwegian Prince Fortinbras that becomes the new King of Denmark. Horatio, representing a recusant Catholic, bears witness to the whole scene. Horatio's character seems to parallel the Apostle Peter. He is deeply flawed and even declares his intent to commit suicide at the end before he is dissuaded by Hamlet. This runs parallel to Peter's flawed reaction when Christ is arrested - he cuts off the priest's ear before Jesus stops him and makes him put away his sword. We also see in Horatio's comments regarding suicide the continuing struggle between pagan and Christian forces.

Hamlet espouses many different philosophies before finally fully embracing Catholic teachings just before the final duel. This causes Catholic Hamlet to firmly reject suicide while welcoming a sacrificial death. He has finally overcome his initial motive of revenge for personal gain. Although he still ultimately kills the Protestant King, he does not do it in any hopes of gaining the crown for himself. Perhaps Shakespeare is also telling Catholics in the audience to put aside their feelings of revenge against their fellow Protestants. This motivation produced disastrous results under Mary I (the daughter of Catherine and Henry the VIII) and had only strengthened the hand of the Protestants. And the ghost of Hamlet's father was very clear that the Queen [representing the English Protestants] was not to be harmed.

Denmark clearly represents England in this scenario. What then does Norway represent? In the history of the Protestant Reformation, Denmark imposes the Protestant religion on Norway. In Hamlet, it could very well be that Norway represents Catholic Ireland. It appears to me that Shakespeare is offering up a prophetic vision of some future king that will restore Catholicism to England once the cycle of violence has reached its conclusion. There even seems to be an Apocalyptic element in the last scene in which none of the main characters escape death.

An alternate explanation for Fortinbras and his army is that they represent an army of angels. Hamlet sees their mission in Poland to be pointless and a waste of lives, but if their mission is spiritual then the saving of even one human soul is worth the loss of many angels. (Poland was Catholic at the time, but threatened by Protestant forces.) The finale then represents a convergence of the forces of the City of God with the City of Man. Fortinbras, whose name means "mighty arm", is like a Messiah sent from Heaven. I tend to think of him more like St. Michael than Christ, mostly because he is seen at the head of an army. In this sense he is not really a Messiah, but an angel. The word "angel" means "messenger from God." (Although, like a Messiah, he becomes the new King of the people of Denmark.) Norway, in this interpretation represents some far off - almost mystical - place to the north. Even the snow suggests the clouds in the distant heavens above.

Shakespeare's contemporary Christian audience would have been left contemplating the ultimate destination of the souls of Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, Laertes. In the afterlife they would not be judged according to their status such as a king or a queen, but simply as souls that had spent their bodily lives on Earth choosing between good and evil.

Claudius has doomed himself to go to Hell through his actions and lack of repentance. He had an opportunity at the end to halt the final tragic scene, but he had already sold his soul to the Devil and was unable and unwilling to redeem himself.

Gertrude seems to have sacrificed herself in the final act, and so has won partial redemption. Her act of drinking the poison intended for Hamlet, while seeming accidental, may have actually been deliberate. Perhaps not realizing the depths of Claudius' depravity, she would have expected him to intervene in her drinking from the poisoned cup intended for Hamlet. Just before she died she came to realize the cause of her death, but she does not have time to prepare her soul properly for death. Her fate seems to be to go to purgatory for a lengthy time where she will meet up with the spirit of her dead true husband, Hamlet's father.

Laertes asks Hamlet for forgiveness as he lays dying. This brings to mind the good thief that was crucified with Christ. In return Laertes offers his forgiveness to Hamlet for the death of his sister and father. And one can only be reminded of the Lord's prayer - "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us". Even though Laertes is a pagan and not a true believer in Christ, he comes to believe in his last moments in the mercy of God and saves himself and his sister Ophelia from the fires of hell which envelop his father. Although he will have to share a time in purgatory with his dear sister, they ultimately will hear the trumpets on the Last Day.

Hamlet, who has entered into the duel with Laertes with a sense of dark foreboding, achieves an imperfect sort of martyrdom. He finally accepts God's will in his life. And though his death is a tragedy, he is finally able to live up to the world's princely expectations of him. His soul ascends into heaven assisted by angels not because of his earthly nobility, but because he freely chooses to exchange his crown of gold for a crown of thorns. He becomes a saint.

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Now read some short excerpts and see how this Catholic interpretation gives new meaning to Shakespeare's Hamlet.



[NOTE: Here Hamlet describes the former Catholic King to Queen Gertrude, and then contrasts the current Protestant King with him.]

HAMLET:
Look here, upon this picture, and on this,

The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
[NOTE: Here he describes the Protestant King to the Queen.]
Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?

[NOTE: The "moor" is literally a mooring for a boat, but it could also be comparing the Protestants to moors (Muslims).]

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[NOTE: Here Hamlet begs Gertrude to return to the Catholic faith.]

HAMLET
Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue;
For in the fatness of these pursy times
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.

QUEEN GERTRUDE
O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

HAMLET
O, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half.

[NOTE: Gertrude realizes that the nation is torn in two [twain] by the religious differences. Hamlet tells her to choose Catholicism - "the purer half".]

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[NOTE: This scene takes place at Ophelia's (symbolizing the pagan nymph) funeral.]

LAERTES
[NOTE: The brother of Ophelia mourns her death which he blames on Catholic Hamlet.]
O, treble woe
Fall ten times treble on that cursed head,
Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense
Deprived thee of! Hold off the earth awhile,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:

Leaps into the grave

Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made,
To o'ertop old Pelion, or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.

[NOTE: Pagan Laertes places a magical curse on Catholic Hamlet's head. And he appeals to Greek gods of Olympus.]

HAMLET
[NOTE: Catholic Hamlet complains of the exaggerated pagan grieving and the appeals to the stars.]
[Advancing] What is he whose grief
Bears such an emphasis? whose phrase of sorrow
Conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand
Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I,
Hamlet the Dane.

Leaps into the grave

LAERTES
The devil take thy soul!

Grappling with him

HAMLET
Thou pray'st not well.
I prithee, take thy fingers from my throat;
For, though I am not splenitive and rash,
Yet have I something in me dangerous,
Which let thy wiseness fear: hold off thy hand.

[NOTE: Hamlet says that the pagan Laertes - although he may be wise - does not know how to pray. And he warns him that the Christian God is forgiving but "dangerous" if provoked.]

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[NOTE: Laertes last words, asking for forgiveness from Hamlet and offering his own in exchange. His pagan heart can still not comprehend the full doctrine of Christian forgiveness.]


LAERTES
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet:
Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me.

Dies

HAMLET
Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.

[NOTE: Hamlet accepts Laertes forgiveness. He blesses Laertes and understands that by forgiving his foe, he in turn is forgiven.]

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[NOTE: Hamlet's last words. He hopes to hear good news from England. And has a "prophesy" of a better future ahead. He asks his friend Horatio to tell his story to others as an example. This is how the Gospel is spread, first through the story of Christ and later also through the stories of the saints and martyrs that sacrificed themselves and even died following His example.]


HAMLET
O, I die, Horatio;
The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit:
I cannot live to hear the news from England;
But I do prophesy the election lights
On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice;
So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited. The rest is silence.

Dies

HORATIO
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

[NOTE: Horatio has a vision of angels. They sing in a heavenly choir as they carry this noble soul to its final resting place.]

=====================

Books by Joseph Pearce on the Catholicism of Shakespeare which inspired this article:
The Quest for Shakespeare
Through Shakespeare's Eyes

Links:
Hamlet by Shakespeare online
Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet on DVD

12 comments:

  1. I read a review that claims that the ghost of Hamlet would be viewed by audiences in Shakespeare's time as an evil demonic spirit, because the ghost insisted that Hamlet "swear" to keep his promise. Swearing was considered a serious sin by Protestants. It's a good point.

    But perhaps Shakespeare has set a trap. By emphasizing the act of swearing and raising thoughts of condemnation in his Protestant audience, he is also pointing a finger straight back at his hypocritical peers. Didn't Henry VIII demand that all his subjects "swear allegiance to the monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England"? And wasn't failure to do so considered an "act of treason" punishable by death? And wasn't this the device that was used to persecute Catholics that remained loyal to their faith?

    I wonder how many Protestants would have refused to take the King Henry VII's "Oath of Supremacy" on the grounds that it was a sin to swear?
    Oath of Supremacy

    How many of today's conservative Christians would refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag on similar grounds? After all, a "pledge" is nothing but an "oath" which requires the participant to "swear". The word "pledge" when used as a verb is nothing but a euphemism for swear.

    As in the issue of "graven images" the Protestants have taken things too far. Swearing is only a sin to the extent that it is used as a sort of curse. And "graven images" only become idols when the image is worshiped directly. The Protestant Reformation that swept Europe caused the destruction of countless works of Catholic religious art. Coincidentally, the atheist French Revolution also took aim at religious art in Catholic Churches. Hmmm.

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  2. Thoughts on Fortinbras

    The name "Fortinbras" means "mighty arm" in French. I suspect that this has some scriptural significance. Here is one possibility from Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55):

    "He hath shewed might in his arm:
    he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
    He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
    and hath exalted the humble."

    Could this have been part of Shakespeare's inspiration in creating the character of Fortinbras? At the end he "exalted the humble" Hamlet.

    These verses would have been very familiar to Shakespeare's audience since it forms part of the Evening Prayer or Evensong.

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  3. Thoughts on Horatio.

    I was re-watching some scenes from the Hamlet DVD. It caught my eye (my ear actually) that Horatio was also a student at Wittenberg along with Hamlet.

    HAMLET
    But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?

    HORATIO
    A truant disposition, good my lord.

    HAMLET
    I would not hear your enemy say so,
    Nor shall you do mine ear that violence,
    To make it truster of your own report
    Against yourself: I know you are no truant.

    Horatio, then seems to say that he was either kicked out of Wittenberg University, or decided on his own that it was not for him. Wittenberg is the very source of the Protestant reformation. Hamlet calls Wittenberg Horatio's enemy, and by implication also his own. He clearly reads Horatio's statement as a coded message. It is through this "secret handshake" that Hamlet learns that Horatio is a co-conspirator - a covert Catholic in a dangerous, increasingly Protestant world. And it is this which gives Hamlet the confidence to share with Horatio his deepest secrets.

    Notice also that Hamlet signals back to Horatio, that he has clearly understood his message and that Horatio in turn can confide in him. Horatio is the one character in the play that Hamlet shows true respect for and never mocks. We can be sure that whenever Hamlet is speaking in private with Horatio that he is expressing his (and Shakespeare's) true thoughts.

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  4. I loved your review of Hamlet. Such a beautiful piece of literature art. I hope you keep making more reviews of good films.

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  5. Paco. I'm glad you enjoyed my analysis. I had never even read Hamlet before. It was only after watching a series by Joseph Pearce on EWTN about the Catholic nature of Shakespeare's plays that I became interested in exploring Hamlet in depth.

    This screen adaptation by Kenneth Branagh is beautiful, don't you think? The acting is superb and the cinematography is delectable. It is a full length version of the play which runs about 4 hours, but it's worth every minute. I watched it in segments of about one half hour over a period of two or three days. After watching a segment, I would read the script and the comments for that section to be able to fully appreciate what I had just seen.

    It has been a very rich and rewarding experience to do this review. I hope it inspires more people to watch this wonderful movie. And I hope that as they do they will give some thought to the deep philosophical issues embodied in the play, and how they reflect on Catholicism.

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  6. CORRECTION: I made a correction to the original article. I had confused Mary Queen of Scots with Mary I. Mary I was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon that eventually became Queen of England. Protestants have given her the derogatory name of "bloody Mary". Shouldn't it also then be "bloody Henry VIII", "bloody Elizabeth I", "bloody Edward VI", "bloody James I", etc. And what should we say about "bloody Cromwell" under who's reign millions of Irish Catholics perished, at the same time that there lands were stolen from them by English Protestants?

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  7. It just occurred to me that the fact that Hamlet's father killed Fortinbras' father on the day he (Hamlet) was born has significance to the ending. Hamlet atones not only for his own sins, but also the sins of his father by bequeathing the crown of Denmark to Fortinbras. This can be seen as another saintly act just prior to his death.

    The original father of man is Adam who's sin we all must atone for. Although, we have all been freed from sin by the perfect act of sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Hamlet's imperfect sacrifice can be seen as cleansing the past sins, and opening the door for a new age of Catholic unity.

    Again, there seems to be a prophetic quality to the way that Shakespeare ended the play. If old Hamlet is Cain, then old Fortinbras is Abel. Prince Fortinbras then is like a mythical son of Abel. And Hamlet restores Able to his rightful place harkening the beginning of a new age of peace, harmony and prosperity.

    Fortinbras shows he is worthy of Hamlet's confidence in him by offering forgiveness for the sins of the past.

    FORTINBRAS
    I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,
    Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me.
    [NOTE: Here Fortinbras recalls the past harm done to his father.]

    FORTINBRAS
    Go, bid the soldiers shoot.
    [NOTE: In this last line of the play, Fortinbras announces that Hamlet's memory is to be honored. The soldiers are to offer a volley of salute to the slain hero.]

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  8. That movie and the book are indeed nothing short of a masterpiece. I do enjoy all the analogies you have done, and there is no doubt about the theological background spotted all over Shakespeare work.

    I do see Hamlet being a witness to the evil caused by Protestantism, and a victim of the sins of his father and of his family in general. And in a certain way, Hamlet is a journey to redemption.

    I appreciate your good work. n.n I hope you review more movies like this.

    I don't know if you are familiar with the analysis of the Matrix first movie, which is totally occultist and with a clear satanic message. Keanu Reeves, or Neo as the anti-Christ.

    Anyway, there is plenty material out there to even have the chance to grasp a little part of it. On the mean time, I hope you keep the articles coming.

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  9. Hi Paco. You say, "there is no doubt about the theological background spotted all over Shakespeare work." You're right and I'm just coming to fully realize this.

    Joseph Pearce has a show on EWTN called "The Quest for Shakespeare". This was my first exposure to the idea that Shakespeare was Catholic. I highly recommend it along with Pearce's books which I've provided links to above. I haven't found the shows on the EWTN YouTube site, but there is audio available for some of the older shows at the main EWTN website.
    http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?seriesID=7136&T1=

    There is also this interview with Joseph Pearce discussing his book "Through Shakespeare's Eyes". He talks about Hamlet at around the 20 minute mark. He describes Hamlet as a conversion story from a Protestant sceptic to a believing Catholic.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tit_EcrgX0

    It's strangely providential that you should mention the Matrix. I had just been thinking about it. I was a huge fan of the movie when it first came out. I wasn't thinking as a Christian at the time, and I totally identified with the character Neo. I think I need to go back and revisit it. I'm sure you're right about some anti-Christian themes embedded in the movie.

    BTW, I'm also planning on watching Dorian Gray.

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  10. Paco. Re: "evils of Protestantism"

    In that same interview with Joseph Pearce, he discusses Merchant of Venice. He says that the Jewish character, Shylock, really represents the Calvinists. This is because Calvin reinterpreted scripture to allow usury (loaning money at interest). This opened the door to the type of capitalist and materialist world that we live in today.

    The issue of usury goes far beyond a theological and religious issue, and has very real world ramifications. Today we are battling with issues of sanctity of life. The Catholic Church has taken a very strong pro-Life position which is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Protestants on the other hand have wavered and opened the door for contraception and even abortion. This led to the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s which has so undermined the family, and basic morality in our society.

    Most Protestants still think that artificial contraception is OK within a marriage. They still do not see the link between this and the general moral decay in the society. And BTW, many American Catholics have bought into this thinking as well. The Vatican is under tremendous pressure to change its views on this subject. We should all thank God that the Church has remained committed to this teaching. The Church remains a "light unto the nations" in these dark times.

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  11. I was just reading a discussion about why Hamlet kills Polonius. It seems like an unjustifiable act. It only makes sense to me in the context that Polonius is seen as a pagan influence that is corrupting the Danish monarchy. It's for that reason that Hamlet must kill him.

    On a more symbolic level Polonius represents the pagan (Greek and Roman) spirit that has corrupted the Christian religion and resulted in Protestantism. Historically, it was during the Renaissance that renewed interest in Greek and Roman literature led to the introduction of humanism. (Initially this was in the form of Christian humanism, as opposed to the secular humanism of today.)

    So it can be deduced that Hamlet has determined that it was the advice of Polonius that led Claudius to murder his brother. "To thine own self be true." This was the advice of Polonius for his son Laertes. Perhaps he also gave this advice to Claudius.

    Here is a link to the discussion on Hamlet's murder of Polonius.
    http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?t=34941

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  12. "Never forget that souls are poisoned through the ear as much as bodies through the mouth."

    I came across this quote from "Introduction to the Devout Life" by St. Francis de Sales. He lived from 1567-1622, and so was a contemporary of Shakespeare (1564-1616).

    More than likely there is some Biblical source for the quote that "souls are poisoned through the ear". St. Francis de Sales brings this up in the context of evil influences using words to persuade someone to fall into some sort of sin -- more specifically, leading a previously faithful wife to commit adultery.

    I immediately thought of how Old Hamlet was murdered by poison poured into his ear by Claudius. This always struck me as an extremely odd way of murdering someone and so I thought it must have some significance, but at the time it totally escaped me.

    Re-reading Act 1 Scene 5 where the ghost of Old Hamlet describes how he was murdered, it seems to fit in with my previous allegorical interpretation of the play. If Claudius represents Protestants, then the poison is the lies against the Catholic Church spread by Protestantism.

    It also appears that Claudius is being compared with Satan himself, since Satan was depicted as a poisonous snake in the Garden of Eden.

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