Hamlet & Macbeth: Shakespeare on Heroes & Anti-Heroes

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NOTE: This 2-lecture course is excerpted from the 8-lecture course Shakespeare's Catholicsm: A Critical Analysis of the Bard's Life and Plays taught by Joseph Pearce. Click here to purchase the full course.

Spies, Lies, Sanity & Sanctity

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s best-known play, the longest and most difficult to understand, a mystery of mistakes that continues to confound critics. It is full of perplexing questions:

    • Is the ghost actually Hamlet’s father or an evil spirit bent on destroying Denmark?
    • Is Hamlet a noble and conscientious young man struggling heroically against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?” or a hopelessly melancholic procrastinator?
    • Does Hamlet love Ophelia, or is his love, like his madness, merely feigned?
    • Is Ophelia an innocent lamb slaughtered through others’ sins, or is she in some way culpable for her own madness and death?
    • On a panoramic level, does the play present a moral vision of reality signifying the triumph of Christian hope, or does it point to the chasm of nihilistic despair?

As your professor, eminent scholar of English literature Joseph Pearce, illuminates, Hamlet reaches its own ripeness in the readiness of Hamlet to put his trust in God. This conversion makes Hamlet ready to meet whatever providence may bring, which is why he says, “If it be now, so be it, or let be.” Hamlet begins with relativism but ends with an acceptance and embrace of divine providence.

Heroes & Anti-Heroes

We see the opposite of Shakespeare's hero in his anti-Hamlet, Macbeth. Professor Pearce walks us through the manifold contrasts between the two works. Both plays open with a strong supernatural presence: Hamlet’s ghost who seeks justice, and Macbeth's three witches seek to deceive and pervert Macbeth’s mind and will. Hamlet is first seen full of despair, contemplating suicide, before ascending in virtue. Macbeth begins in triumph and admiration, heralded as a hero, before descending through sin. And these divergences only scratch the surface of Professor Pearce's insights into the two works.

Self-Deception Over Faith & Reason

As Macbeth continues, Macbeth loses his reason and virtue, left with nothing but his own bitter inquest on life as “signifying nothing.” In choosing himself above others, he loses everything, even his own soul. "The play is as much about the decay of philosophy as it is about the decay of morality" is just one of countless insights uncovered by Professor Pearce throughout this course.

Join Joseph Pearce for a fascinating look at two seminal literary figures on divergent paths embracing virtue and vice. Discover how Shakespeare's heroes and anti-heroes are alive and well today in our modern world. And gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how the everyday choices we make determine our ultimate destination.

Joseph Pearce