Hamlet lives in a society where the church forbids vengeance, however personal honour often overcomes the ecclesiastical law. He is a man of great contradictions, being reckless yet cautious and tender yet ferocious.
Hamlet's cultural identity causes conflict between his two primary duties. As the son of Old Hamlet, it is Hamlet's duty to avenge his father's murder yet as a citizen and Prince it is also his duty to protect the king and keep stability in society. Because it is Claudius, the King, whom Hamlet would need to kill in order to fulfil his duty to his father, a tension is created as to which duty should take precedence. Hamlet's essential dilemma, and perhaps something that the modern men in the audience would be able to relate to, is the conformation between duty and morality, courage and fear.
The Ghost, claiming to be the spirit of Old Hamlet, tells the story of his murder and commands Hamlet to kill the culprit, the newly crowned King. This would make an Elizabethan audience very wary of the ghost because they believed that a revenger's soul would be damned, and therefore, if Hamlet went through with the act of murdering Claudius, would endure suffering after death. However, the Elizabethan audience would also be aware of a similar story of murder and corruption surrounding King James of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots.
Hamlet obviously held tremendous respect and awe for his father and is unable to forget `So excellent a King' even when all those around him have done so, his mother remarrying after Old hamlet was `But two months dead'. Hamlet seems to accept his duty as a son immediately and acknowledges it in his first soliloquy; this shows the more physical, animal side to his character that ...
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Hamlet has been asked to do something that is given a task that is for all intents and purposes, against his nature. He does not come across as an ardent character, and believes in reasoning and thinking, as he is taught at Wittenberg. Additionally, Hamlet's emotional state after his mother marries his father's brother can not help with the decision he is forced into making. Therefore, it is not only Hamlet's duties and obligations that hold him back, it is also his state of mind. After his father dies hamlet feels must surely feel that there is nobody there fro him, especially as he feels his mother has betrayed him. Being a Christian, Hamlet's religion tells him to believe in forgiveness and not revenge. The duty for avenging his father's death completely converts his character, and he uses the pretence of madness in order to undergo the task.
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