Existentialism in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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In tragic novel Hamlet, Hamlet ,the protagonist, is a very distinct character with traits that make him one of the most intriguing and fascinating characters to ever be written. After his father’s questionable death, Hamlet has become tentative, pessimistic, and dissatisfied. Furthermore, Hamlet holds now revulsion for his stepfather’s scheming and his mother’s lust and frailty-after their mistimed marriage. Hamlet’s enigmatic and paradoxical nature draws the readers to the character. He is at once an ultimate iconoclast, in a self-loathing state relentlessly, whereas he is the adulated hero of Denmark. He is dejected, dispirited, and suicidal. Still, concurrently, he is a thinker and an introspective. Hamlet is notorious for having self-contradictory beliefs and traits - he is impulsive yet wary, gracious yet uncivil, gentle yet vicious. His universal character makes him so remarkable and unforgettable that many readers identify and associate themselves with Hamlet. Shakespeare has successfully crafted Hamlet in a way that he somewhat seems relatable. He has to a great extent captivated readers. Hamlet does not represent any specific individual in society at any time; however, he has traits that reflect many members of society. Hamlet is depressed and can’t seem to make up his mind for the most part; he is sharp-witted and clever; he tends to obsess about himself and his own problems while disregarding other people’s problems. These traits, whether good or bad, are commonly found throughout society today, but they do not portray society as a whole.

In Hamlet’s first scene, Gertrude and Claudius express their disapproval over Hamlet’s mourning over his father’s death. Gertrude urged him to” cast thy nighted color off”(Hamlet.i.ii.66), but Hamlet replied resentfully saying that his inner sorrow is so great that his appearance is merely a small fraction of it. Hamlet is utterly depressed about his father's death and his sorrow exacerbates due to his mother’s untimely marriage and his uncle’s inconsiderate behavior and personality. In that same scene in act 1 following the king and queen’s departure, Hamlet’s sadness and hopelessness are apparent in his first soliloquy. “too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,Or that the Everlasting had not fixed,His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (Hamlet.1.2.133-136), his suicidal thoughts depict the extreme sorrow that has been unleashed after the death of his father ;however, he cannot go through with killing himself because it’s a sin.“O most wicked speed, to post/With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”(Hamlet.1.2.159-160);although saddened by his father’s death, the larger cause of his misery is Queen Gertrude’s disloyal and unsuitable marriage to his uncle. Additionally, he considers their marriage to be an incestuous affair. This soliloquy shows Hamlet’s deep affection for his late father while showing that Hamlet prefers to conceal his resentment towards his uncle and mother and remain passive. Moreover, the soliloquy depicts Hamlet as depressed, frustrated, defeated, and angry towards all his misfortunes. In short, Hamlet's initial reveal in the novel is not so pleasing. His contradictory attributes of displaying emotion and yet concealing opinion do not reflect a good prince,”It is not nor it cannot come to good/ But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue”(Hamlet.1.2.162). For a prince must not let his own feelings impact his judgment, and so far Hamlet has not shown this ability.

An important soliloquy takes place in Act 3, Scene 1 that helps build up Hamlet’s evolution. Hamlet had previously created a plot to take revenge -after he became certain that Claudius has killed his father- and was about to recover his sense of courage back only for it to crash again . The first quote of his third soliloquy “To be, or not to be”(Hamlet.3.1.56), Hamlet is contemplating the idea of killing himself again in order to end the suffering. At this moment, Hamlet is so depressed more than ever. Hamlet is now debating whether he should endure life or simply kill himself ending all the misery. However, Hamlet is afraid of the afterlife. Thus he cannot kill himself, simultaneously he is afraid of what life will throw at him. This soliloquy shows that suicide wasn’t only a simple thought that he seemed to have but it is something that Hamlet is debating further and deeply thinks about. Another dilemma that Hamlet seems to suffer is that he is hesitant about killing Claudius ,fearing the consequences of doing such an act. The seventh soliloquy (happens after he learns of Fortinbras’ plan to invade Poland) portrays an entirely different Hamlet;Hamlet's evolution from a weak man into a confident one is shown in this particular soliloquy.Hamlet scolds himself again for not avenging his father’s death, telling himself that if a thousand soldiers -Fortinbras’ army- are ready to die for a worthless land then he can surely die avenging his father, especially if he has the right motives. Hamlet believes that humans should have purpose and Hamlet has found his -seeking vengeance for his father’s murder. Hamlet ends the soliloquy saying, “O, from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth” (Hamlet.4.4.65-66). This quote shows the change of Hamlet’s determination, courage, and confidence and how it will assist him in his quest to seek vengeance. Moreover, it highlights his no longer existent cowardness that was previously shown in the other soliloquies.

“The readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be”(Hamlet.5.2.223-225), in other words, even if the duel might be a bad idea, Hamlet sees when a man is ready to die, there is no reason to put it off because even if that man has riches beyond heaven, it doesn't matter. This further shows how has changed from being hesitant into being optimistic. when Hamlet shows how prepared he is to combat Laertes, claiming he has rehearsed in advance and he is optimistic that he might win. Regarding the importance of this quote, Hamlet finally realizes here that there are divine forces that determine the fate of a man's life. This moment is significant since it shows Hamlet’s willingness to act and he does in fact act. .Unfortunately, since Hamlet’s tragic flaw is inaction, he learns to act too late. Although he does ultimately kill Claudius in the final scene of the play-thus finally completing his purpose in life -, it wasn’t due to any previous planning, but rather it is because Claudius’ plan to kill Hamlet backfired.

Hamlet is an innocent character. The burden of revenge is placed on him by his father's ghost. He is too young and naive to plan killing claudius. It is not easy to plan someone's murder. It is not fair. Hamlet is placed in a difficult position. He has suffered enough by losing his father and his mother to Claudius.He can either take revenge and suffer the consequences or he can chose to continue living with the fact that Claudius had murdered his father, stolen his mother, and gotten away with everything. Hamlet is by no means a terrible person.He holds a strong sense of justice,which shows at various situations such as when he need further evidence for the crime against his father before deciding to kill Claudius.Hamlet’s downfall, however, is that he tries to take justice into his own hands-complicating the matter even more. He strives for justice to be served;yet without a balance of honour , he creates a chaos that ends many lives.Through these tragic death events. It is suggested that thinking and plotting about revenge only makes it more difficult to be carried out since there is no logical reason for pursuing it. Revenge is a thoughtless act motivated by emotions and feelings.

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Existentialism in Shakespeare's Hamlet. (2020, May 14). Retrieved April 22, 2024 , from

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