In the Elizabethen era, religion was very important. The Roman Catholic Church had gained enormous power and influence over the centuries. It claimed to be a gateway to Heaven and could send those it wanted to Hell. To the Roman Catholics there was also such a thing as Purgatory, the place where the soul is sent to be cleansed before entering Heaven. The Protestant Church, another powerful religion during the era, rejected the belief of Purgatory. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare introduces a ghost and illustrates the characters’ perspectives and beliefs. While in the opening acts, Shakespeare seems to favour spirituality, in fact, in Hamlet, he demonstrates that a balance between carnal and spiritual concerns is essential to success. Indeed, Claudius’s excessive concern with carnal pleasure and Hamlet’s spirituality mislead them, whereas Horatio thrives from his ability to strike a balance between extremes.

        Shakespeare illustrates the dangers of excessive carnal passion through Claudius. This king cannot resist power and material gain, manipulating and even killing the people that stand in his way. After watching “The Mousetrap”, Claudius feels guilty of having committed regicide in order to obtain his crown, his kingdom, his wife. Kneeling in a church, praying for forgiveness, Claudius confesses, “I am still possess’d / Of those effects for which I did the murder, / My crown, mine own ambition and my queen” (3.3 54-56). Claudius knows that nothing he has accumulated in this world will carry much weight in Heaven. Everything he has done to gain a good life has damned his soul. He realizes how he has made a mistake, but his carnal nature will not allow him to part with what he has gained – it means too much to him: “May one be pardon’d and retain the offence?” (3.3 57). He asks God if he can be pardoned but still keep everything he has. This line sums up Claudius character because we see how materialistic he is. As the scene ends he states, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: / Words without thoughts never to heaven go” (3.3 98-99). Although he prays and claims to regret what he has done, he knows that his prayer is insincere and that God knows that. He has accepted his fate. Later, when Laertes later storms the castle with a mob, thinking that Claudius is to blame for his father’s death, Claudius calmly tries to prove his innocence: “We will our kingdom give, / Our crown, our life, and all that we call ours,” the King promises in order to show his sincerity in the matter, “To you in satisfaction” (4.5 204-206). Claudius stokes materialistic goods when he tries to convince Laertes that he did not kill Polonius, convinced that if he wagers such big things, such meaningful things, Laertes will immediately know that he is telling the truth. After all, his kingdom, his crown and his lifestyle is all that he possesses. Now that Laertes is angry at his father’s death, Claudius knows he can manipulate him. To begin, he asks how much he loved his father and speculates about how time can make that love become less and less visible : “And nothing is at a like goodness still, / For goodness, growing to a pleurisy,” Claudius warns, “Dies in his own too-much” (4.7 117-118). Ironically, Claudius fails to listen to his own words. Even a good thing can grow too big and die from its own excess. When Hamlet later duel Laertes, Claudius demonstrates his need for praise when he makes a big show of toasting to Hamlet’s health and dropping a pearl in the goblet – which is covered in poison. Gertrude takes the goblet and drinks to Hamlet’s health as well, refusing to listen to Claudius when he tells her not to. She is poisoned and dies – Claudius knows she is dead and still pretends that she’s just fainted and has no remorse for what he’s done. He claims to love her, but now it seems he only cares about his reputation. Hamlet is outraged and forces Claudius to drink the poisoned wine. Claudius is served with poetic justice.  After the deaths of Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet, Horatio remembers Hamlet’s request to tell his story. When Fortinbras and the ambassadors come in, Horatio says “so shall you hear / Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, … And, in this upshot, purposes mistook / Fall’n on the inventors’ heads.” (5.2 73-78) Horatio speaks of Claudius’ desire for carnal pleasure, like how he committed fratricide for the crown, and consequently, it ended up killing him. Shakespeare proves through the character of Claudius that being too carnal does lead characters to their downfall.

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        On the other hand, Shakespeare demonstrates Hamlet’s exorbitant spirituality, which eventually misleads him aswell. In the beginning of the play, Claudius rejects Hamlet’s request to leave and go back to Wittenberg. At this point, Hamlet is very resentful towards Gertrude and Claudius because of their sudden relationship. Angered, Hamlet wishes “That the Everlasting had not fix’d / His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” (1.2 131-32). Hamlet does not give in to suicide because he knows it is against God’s will. This is typical of Hamlet, he does care for his soul and is worried of afterlife. When the Hamlet Sr.’s ghost appears, ...

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