Compare and contrast how Shakespeare and Marlowe explore attitudes to death and the afterlife throughout the plays Hamlet and Faustus.

Authors Avatar by yusufjackson6gmailcom (student)

Compare and contrast how Shakespeare and Marlowe explore attitudes to death and the afterlife throughout the plays Hamlet and Faustus.

Hamlet and Doctor Faustus  have a preoccupation with death and the afterlife. The protagonists' attitudes towards death drastically change as the plays progress. Hamlet is at first very scared of what the afterlife holds, but then begins to accept the inevitability of his death. At the beginning Faustus shows no fear of dying or of hell, but when death is upon him he starts to despair of his ensuing  eternal punishment.

At the beginning of the play, Faustus is ambivalent about death and the afterlife.  He says " I'll conjure though die" emphasising his refusal to stop practising necromancy despite knowing that it will lead to his demise and eternal punishment. The Chorus hints to the audience that Faustus' pride and over-reaching ambition will inevitability lead to his downfall when he parallels him with Icarus in a classical allusion, whose "wings mount[ed] above his reach". The words "settle", "depth" and "farewell" in Faustus' soliloquy all reference a closure and the imperative in his acknowledgement that he "must die an everlasting death" also highlights his inability to escape his fate.  He declares that "damnation terrifies him not" and repeatedly mentions his "fortitude" to establish his lack of fear. Faustus is also told by Mephistopheles that he will be "tormented with ten thousand hells" but Faustus' dismisses this as an "old wives tale". Initially Faustus is not concerned about his soul and does not believe that it can be eternally punished: he "confounds hell in Elysium" and refers to the "vain trifles of men's souls". It therefore becomes paradoxical when Faustus makes an agreement with hell to give them his soul, despite not believing in the Christian concept of eternal punishment. It is because of Faustus' arrogance and his hubris that he refuses to believe in hell even after he is confronted with it.

 In Hamlet, the audience also witness characters who are ambivalent about death, preferring instead to focus on the present. Laertes is happy to fulfil his role as a revenge hero and therefore send himself to hell by revenging his father's murder. He is prepared to face the consequences of his actions, exclaiming that he "dare[s] damnation". Claudius is also more concerned with life than the afterlife, his "limed soul, ... struggling to be free/ Art more engaged" : the metaphor highlighting that he cannot relinquish his worldly pleasures and so "cannot repent". However, other characters in the play view death with fear and apprehension.  The ghost shocks guards as they have "fear surprised eyes" and become "distill'd/ Almost to jelly". During the 16th century the newly formed Protestant Church dismissed the idea of purgatory and therefore apparitions were regarded as delusions or devils in disguise who had come to tempt unwary victims to their death and damnation. Hamlet is conscious that the he might be being fooled by the devil and so is more wary about his actions because he does not want to be tricked into damnation. When Hamlet meets his father's ghost, he wonders whether it "may be the devil" because "the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape" : he worries that the devil might be attempting to bait him into killing Claudius so that he will go to hell. Hamlet also comments that the afterlife is a place "from whose bourn no traveller returns" and yet his father has supposedly done just this. Hamlet therefore has to try to look for proof that he is not being tricked, a concern that Shakespeare's audience would have shared when the Ghost 'cries [from] under the stage', an area known as 'Hell'. Hamlet fears that the devil will take advantage of his grief and despair over his father's death and his mother's "o'er-hasty marriage”, he worries that "perhaps/ Out of [his] melancholy" the devil "abuses[ him] to damn [him]". Hamlet is shocked by how quickly his mother, forget about his dead father and by the "most wicked speed" in which they married, yet Faustus understands that we are quickly forgotten in death and so he commits himself to the deal with the devil in an attempt to use his necromancy to ensure he is remembered after his death.

Join now!

Both plays present negative attitudes towards hell and purgatory. When Hamlet meets the ghost, he is shocked by the tales that the ghost tells him about the "most horrible" "prison house" that is hell.  Hamlet pities the "poor ghost" who has to experience "sulph'rous and tormenting flames".  In Doctor Faustus, hell is viewed negatively: it is described as "ugly hell" with "adders and serpents" coming to plague Faustus and the devil is horrifying, threatening  "to tear [him] in pieces". Both protagonists personify hell, suggesting its threatening nature: Hamlet refers to it directly as "rebellious hell" and Faustus describes its "roaring ...

This is a preview of the whole essay