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Shakespeare in Theory and Practice$
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Catherine Belsey

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780748633012

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748633012.001.0001

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The Case of Hamlet's Conscience

The Case of Hamlet's Conscience

(p.139) Chapter 9 The Case of Hamlet's Conscience
Shakespeare in Theory and Practice

Belsey Catherine

Edinburgh University Press

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

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