The Uncertainty of Life After Death


Although Hamlet seems suicidal throughout the play, it is not only revenge that is keeping him from committing suicide. Hamlet is somewhat religious and he fears what may be in store for him when he dies. Even though his current suffering is immense, he is not sure that it is worse than what is waiting for him when he dies.

“…Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

 The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

 No traveler returns, puzzles the will,

 and makes us rather bear those ills we have,

 than fly to others that we know not of?” (pp 64, lines 76-82)

Hamlet widens the scope of this fear of death and includes it as a part of the human condition. His word choice is very specific and the use of the words grunt and sweat creates an image of a poor working person. This person must have extreme anxiety about what follows death because the person has a miserable life but prefers living to death. We do not actually know if there is a heaven or if there is a hell and we do not know what entitles a person to go to either of them. The fear of a worse situation after death inspires a more accepting view of his current reality.

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2 comments

  1. Andrew-
    It is very interesting that you bring this up. While I was reading, I too found that Hamlet values his spirituality and lives according to his religion. He seems to understand some of the basic tenets of Christianity, however while reading, I found that there are elements of Christianity that Hamlet is missing or not accepting, and your quote certainly relates to this. One of the first times we see Hamlet’s spiritual beliefs in is Act 1 Scene 2, lines 130-133 when he says, “Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!” Here, he laments over the fact that he should not commit suicide because it is a sin. Because he knows it is a sin, he is conflicted over taking his life, showing he values God’s ways. We again see his religion coming to play in Act 3 Scene 1, lines 126-130 when he is telling Ophelia to go to a nunnery. He talks about how he is arrogant and has ill will within himself, stating that every one of us is a sinner. Although his crazy rant about sending her to a nunnery and telling her not to have children because they will be evil is certainly dramatic and not true, his notion that we are all sinners is. This is the first place I noticed that he is conflicted in his understanding of Christianity, because even though we are all sinners, he is missing the fact that through Christ we are forgiven. He instead takes this to a dramatic place telling Ophelia never to have children and goes off on a wild rant! This then brings us to your passage about his thoughts of suicide being suppressed because of the ambiguity of what happens after death. In the 16th century, religious anxieties were running rampant, showcasing the effects of the Protestant Reformation on Christian ideas about mortality and the afterlife. We see this clearly illustrated through Hamlet. Your passage struck me the most however because throughout the novel Hamlet is guided by his spiritual beliefs, but then here he fears death because of the unknown occurrences after death. For me, I was surprised and confused because if he is a Christian, which we see through the text, I don’t understand why he is questioning afterlife. A true Christian who accepts Christ, believes Christ died for out sins, and believes the truth of the Gospel has the hope of eternity in Heaven. Hamlet’s separation from this and pondering seemed interesting to me. This is something that I was curious about and thought it would be interesting to discuss because it seems like a paradox in his life.

  2. I completely agree with your interpretation. I think that although Hamlet’s family life and emotional and mental condition is very questionable and not desirable, the one thing that Hamlet has going for him is his socioeconomic status. As you said, he carefully chooses the words grunt and sweat, as he must picture the working class to do as they complete their labor. I think Hamlet thinks that when he goes to either Heaven or Hell, he will lose that socioeconomic class and be on the same page as all of the other people he has been a superior to for all of this time. Then, if his mental and emotional state do not change, he has, in his eyes, lost completely everything.

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