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Published: 17-09-2019

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Existentialism as a Part of Hamlet

“This above all, to thine own self be true” (1.three.88). As Polonius gives this guidance to his departing son Laertes, he also states 1 of the defining principles of the philosophical branch identified collectively as existentialism. A paradigm firmly rooted in the individual encounter, existentialism champions duty and states that man is nothing at all but the sum of his choices (Sartre, 9-37). Falling neatly in line with Jean-Paul Sartre’s ideology is Shakespeare’s Hamlet: a character plagued by existential anguish after the premature death of his beloved father and the hasty, avuncular marriage of his mother. Nonetheless, Hamlet – getting a God-fearing man of the sixteenth century – finds himself at odds with Sartre’s stout atheism. A diversion from the zealous Christianity proposed by the father of existentialism, Sren Kierkegaard, reveals Hamlet as a pious man possessing the devoutly existentialist traits of individuality and individual duty.



A cardinal principle of Sartre’s philosophy is that of anguish, described as follows:

The existentialists say at when that man is anguish. What that signifies is this: the man who requires himself and who realizes that he is not only the individual he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the exact same time, selecting all mankind as effectively as himself, can not assist escape the feeling of his total and deep responsibility. (18).

This sentiment is closely mirrored by Hamlet. Laertes describes Hamlet’s bothersome scenario to his really like-struck sister, Ophelia: “He may possibly not, as unvalued persons do/ Carve for himself for on his option depends/ The security and overall health of this complete state” (1.three.19-21). As the Prince of Denmark, his selection is affected by his responsibility for the nicely-being of his subjects, which depends upon his decision. To avenge his father and embarrass his mother could not be the ideal outcome for Denmark as a complete. Nonetheless, God and private conviction compel Hamlet to totally free his father from the confines of hell and unleash his vengeance on an incestuous royal family. What further complicates this dilemma is Sartre’s notion of the nonexistence of a priori ethics (24-27). Hamlet has no book to seek advice from for guidance, and no one particular to tell him the “correct” path to tread upon. He have to discover the answer inside himself and possess the faith to act on that response. Hamlet expressly mentions this idea in a conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “for there is nothing/ either very good or bad but thinking tends to make it so.” (two.two.253-254). This aptly demonstrates the axiom that all queries of ethics are of a subjective nature, immune to a standardized rational approach. Circumscribed inside conscience are a country’s future and the realization that no 1 may possibly assist one more individual in his or her own, individual journey: Hamlet is a hopeless existentialist.



Two other facets of Sartre’s philosophy are the absurdity of life, and the lack of an a priori which means to life. No goal can be noticed as the apparent finish to the struggle of life, nor is any discernable meaning quickly visible. Instead, each particular person must produce an individually intimate meaning within this brief and brutish existence (49). Hamlet’s thoughts on this topic are revealed in his speech about Alexander:



Alexander died, Alexander was buried,

Alexander returneth to dust the dust is earth of earth We make loam and why of that loam whereto he was

Converted may they not stop a beer barrel? (5.1.211-214).

These demoralizing thoughts about Alexander the Fantastic, whose exploits are planet-renowned, indicate the futility of Hamlet’s existence: we might finish up absolutely nothing but a cork stopping up the flow of beer. Moreover, the epochal soliloquy in the very first scene of Act 3 is an examination of life’s meaninglessness barbaric occurrences, as well as the role of conscience in defining our actions. “To be, or not to be: that is the question” inquires whether life is actually worth living, contemplating “the thousand all-natural shocks/ That flesh is heir to!”, and that man’s part is “To grunt and sweat under a weary life” (3.1.56-77). These suicidal and punitive tendencies are repelled by Hamlet’s Christian conscience and faith he states, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,/ And thus the native hue of resolution/ Is sicklied o`er with the pale cast of thought” (three.1.83-85). He immediately doubts no matter whether it is profitable to wake up on the morrow, and examines his possibilities for revenge with his anemic resolution. This lugubrious theme of utter despair is prevalent in a excellent deal of existential literature, from Camus’ detached wanderings of “Meursault in The Stranger” to Gregor Samsa’s inescapable, insectile existence in Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”. Thus, Hamlet is tantamount to Atlas: with the weight of the globe bearing down on him, he should continually strive for which means, and continually examine his faith and conscience.



The only portion of Hamlet’s character not constant with Sartre’s philosophy is his steadfast faith in God it is right here that he strays towards the zealous Christian, Kierkegaard. Concerned with the lack of faith in his modern religious neighborhood, Kierkegaard despised “Sunday Christians”, believing that truth was in the minority and that profound faith – and not logic – was the basis for salvation (Gaarder, 372-384). Hamlet is angered at Claudius and Gertrude not only simply because of the harm they did him, but due to the fact of the damnation that is to stick to. To his mother, Gertrude, Hamlet declares:

Heaven’s face does glow

O’er this solidity and compound mass

With heated visage, as against the doom

Is thoughstick at the act. (3.4.49-52)

Ninety-eight lines later, Hamlet orders Gertrude, “Confess yourself to heaven,/ Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come” (3.four.150-151). This incensed advice speaks to Hamlet’s concern for the eternal. It also explains his reflection on “what dreams may come” in his infamous soliloquy, due to the fact suicide can not be an alternative for a devout Christian (three.1.66). Hamlet is further explained as a Kierkegaardian character in that he is given a murderous task by his father’s ghost – not uncommon in the archetypal Senecan tragedy – but have to ultimately trust himself to carry out what he believes to be just. The truth of the situation lies in the minority: Claudius, and Hamlet’s deceased father. Neither of these men are utterly reputable for that reason, it boils down to an person decision after again.

Faith is required for Hamlet to enact his revenge: each faith in himself, and faith that the ghost was not a demonic apparition, but a tortured soul seeking salvation. The appearance of one’s cadaverous relative is something but an appeal to logos subsequently, faith is necessary to appease one’s conscience. Hamlet’s faith and devotion to God explain the most ironic scene in the play, in which Hamlet attempts to kill Claudius but finds himself unable to since he believes that Claudius is praying, when in actuality he is not (three.three.73-96). Hamlet could easily be regarded an existentialist concerned only with his eternal salvation and troubled by the seeming absurdity of his globe, supported only by his faith in God and in himself.



In summary, the protagonist of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” may possibly be fairly aptly named an existentialist character as a consequence of his sense of responsibility and his inability to make choices. These could, additionally, clarify his reluctance to take action in the play. Also, Hamlet’s realization that all answers are discovered inside himself and that no one may possibly tell him what to do additional exemplifies the existential nature of the character. Even his belief in a Christian God can be reconciled with the inclusion of the father of existentialism, Sren Kierkegaard. This explains the continual regard for salvation, and Hamlet’s faith in God and in himself. Hamlet is, above all, an enigmatic individual continually demonstrates an existential ideology.
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