Protestantism In Hamlet Essay

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While the inclusion of the University of Wittenberg in Hamlet, may seem merely a minor detail, it constitutes a clear and blatant reference to Protestantism and thus engenders a religious reading of the play, which bespeaks Denmark’s identity as a Protestant Polity and characterizes Hamlet as a Protestant Prince. The Protestant reference to the University of Wittenberg accentuates through contrast distinctively Catholic elements of Hamlet – principally the purgatory-state of Hamlet’s father’s ghost and the repeated reference to Catholic performances, rituals, and rites – and exposes tension between Protestant and Catholic beliefs and practices, speaking to a broader anxiety about faith, correct belief and proper practice that characterized…show more content…
In the first instance King Claudius requests that Hamlet remain in Denmark saying, “For your intent / In going back to school in Wittenberg / It is most retrograde to our desire” (I.ii.112-114). Directly after the king’s speech, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, echoes her new husband’s sentiments: “I pray thee stay with us; go not to Wittenberg” (I.ii.119). In these first two occurrences of Wittenberg, there does not seem to be any real reason for or significance in referring to Hamlet’s university by its proper name. The prince’s attendance at this specific university does not contribute to or advance the plot; therefore, its inclusion seems completely superfluous, unless we consider how the naming of the school and the subsequent religious connotations characterize Hamlet as a Protestant Prince. For Shakespeare’s early modern audience, the University of Wittenberg was explicitly linked to Protestantism. The religious reformer, Martin Luther, himself was a professor at the university and Wittenberg was widely known as the center of the Protestant Reformation; therefore such a reference in Hamlet would have had clear religious associations, connotations, and
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