At the time Shakespeare wrote the play the country of England was pretty evenly split between Catholics and Protestants. So, in the opening scene when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears, members in the audience would have interpreted it in different ways.
The Protestants in attendance did not believe in purgatory. So they took it for granted that the ghost of Hamlet’s father was really an evil spirit let loose from hell – tempting the characters into grave evil or sure death. The Catholics, however, did believe in purgatory. So they would have thought that, just maybe, this spirit was good – trying to make right something that was wrong so that it could ascend to heaven. So perhaps this was a spirit should be heeded.
That is the central dilemma of the play. Should Hamlet listen to the spirit or not? Is it luring him to destruction or guiding him to redemption? Much depends on what you believe happens after death.
Then, of course, there is Hamlet’s big “To be, or not to be” speech. It’s a speech in which Hamlet is deciding whether or not to end his life. The big determining factor, again, is what will happen to him after he dies. Oh, I love the soul-searching drama of it all:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
So, good people of Nativity, in the days ahead call upon the saints, heed their holy call, pray for the dead, and ponder what is to be or not to be for us all. And ponder well!