The Case of Hamlet's Conscience

Belsey Catherine

in Shakespeare in Theory and Practice

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780748633012
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652235 | DOI:
The Case of Hamlet's Conscience

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This chapter describes the treatment of revenge in Hamlet in the light of the allegorical drama and the practice of casuistry. It first suggests that there are parallels between the casuistry of William Perkins and the morality treatment of conscience. It considers the role of Conscience in the moral plays in discouraging mindless ‘resolution’, or Wrath. Then, it addresses the problem of revenge in order to suggest that, while a linguistic analysis of Hamlet supports Eleanor Prosser's contention that private revenge is regarded as a sin, there remains the public problem of Claudius' crimes. Hamlet's conscience opposes resolution with thought, especially the thought of ‘something after death’. The morality opposition between Wrath and Conscience foreshadows the conflict played out in Hamlet's soliloquies. If Hamlet were a morality play, it would present a simple antithesis between conscience and wrath, or between mindless revenge and thought.

Keywords: Hamlet; conscience; casuistry; William Perkins; morality; Wrath; Eleanor Prosser; Claudius

Chapter.  7810 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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