Essay about Suicide in William Shakespeare's Hamlet
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Suicide in William Shakespeare's Hamlet
In two of his soliloquies, Hamlet questions whether life is worth living. With characteristic ambiguity and indecision, he wavers as he considers both the Christian and the classical perspectives on suicide. Much of the debate surrounding Shakespeare’s treatment of suicide in Hamlet develops from interpretations of those soliloquies. Focusing primarily on his most famous soliloquy at the start of act three, much critical debate has arisen over the subject of his ruminations, whether on suicide or revenge, as critics draw parallels of development in what is seen as the oppositional thematic relationship between self-murder and murder of the king. Although Hamlet’s spiritual conscience and his…show more content…
The circumstances of Ophelia’s death and burial, although not entirely certain, suggest suicide. The gravediggers introduced at the beginning of act five discuss openly the manner of Ophelia’s death, the First Clown questioning why she is “to be buried in Christian burial that willfully / seeks he own salvation” (5.1.1-2). That he phrases this inquiry in terms of a “pursuit of salvation” suggests the religious implications of suicide, in that the individual, despairing of salvation from God, acts on his own behalf. There is likewise the implication of active pursuit rather than the cultivation of Christian patience and long-suffering. Yet, despite Ophelia’s obvious display of insanity, the Second Clown speculates that “if this had not been / a gentlewoman, she should have been buried out o’ Christian / burial” (5.1.22-24). Seeing the approaching funeral procession, Hamlet observes the “maimed rites,” suggesting in his awareness of the implications of such a subdued funeral ceremony that he is conscious of the ramifications of committing suicide. The amount of speculation on Ophelia’s death and burial in the play, even among lowly gravediggers, points to the growing discussion surrounding suicide that emerged at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Despite the history of church condemnation, general thought on the ethical
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