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Humanistic Side of Hamlet

Hamlet: A Picture of Renaissance Humanism

The renaissance was an era of fantastic modify in philosophical thought and morality. Before the 15th century, monastic scholasticism had dominated European considering. Monasticism’s emphasis on a black and white system of morality, which relied on a dogmatic and narrow interpretation of Christian theology, developed a method that valued rules and regulations over inherent understandings of appropriate and incorrect. However as Greek and Latin texts began to surface in Italy during the 15th century, a fundamental shift in thinking began to take place. The concept that the human experience must be studied to advance and develop moral understanding began to take form. But as the shackles of a rule based morality program started to be overthrown, philosophers and writers have been faced with a new danger, moral nihilism. In England, William Shakespeare tackled the evolving social and moral changes introduced by the renaissance in his play, Hamlet. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet character is a personification of the evolution of philosophical humanism into moral nihilism, and this is shown via Hamlet’s initial quest for revenge, his inner search for the truth of his father’s murder, and his eventual hollow revenge over Claudius.

Hamlet’s initial response to his father’s death can be seen as a representation of the Middle age’s scholastic mindset. Hamlet is completely a component of the religious and chivalrous considering of the time at the starting of the play. He is devastated by his father’s death. When describing his grief to his mother, Hamlet says, “Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, That can denote me really. These certainly “seem,”For they are actions that a man may possibly play. But I have that within which passeth show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (Act 1:V 82-87). His discomfort is beyond the trappings of grief, his really soul aches for his father’s death. Hamlet wishes nothing at all far more to join his father in the fantastic beyond, but curses that he is forbidden to do so. He says in anguish, “Oh, that this too, as well sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!” (Act 1: V 129-132). This is essential, as at this point Hamlet is a firm believer in the rules primarily based morality of the middle ages. He wishes to commit suicide, but he cannot due to the fact it is forbidden by a divine decree.

Hamlet’s rule based morality is additional reinforced when he meets the apparition of his dead father. Hamlet requires the command for vengeance to heart, declaring, “And thy commandment all alone shall reside Inside the book and volume of my brain, Unmixed with baser matter” (Act 1: V 103-105). This quest reinvigorates Hamlet, as it gives his suffering a goal and a cause. His father killed Claudius, and thus Claudius should then be killed in return. This is the most simple assertion of the middle age’s moral precept of an “eye for an eye.” This pre-apparition Hamlet is the representation of the Scholastic rule based morality method. As other information and realities are brought to light regarding the murder of his father, Hamlet is created to question the black and white morality of the apparition’s commands.

Hamlet’s quest for revenge, which represented the starting of the humanistic philosopher’s quest for knowledge, would then evolve into an ambiguous inner search for truth that would cast doubt on Hamlet’s prior moral technique. One particular of the main themes that is present by means of out the play, is the ambiguity that is present in all human affairs. When the apparition later appeared before Hamlet, he questioned himself, “the spirit that I have noticed might be a devil” (Act II: V 560). He was unsure if what the spirit stated was true, and feared the consequences of carrying out its deadly orders. It is rather unclear by means of out the play whether Claudius did indeed murder the king, and Hamlet constantly postpones his scheme to gather far more and a lot more proof. He is torn in between the burning want for vengeance and his inner yearning for truth and righteous action. In his soliloquy in Act II, Hamlet mourns, “Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon – He that hath killed my king and whored my mother, Popped in amongst th’ election and my hopes, Thrown out his angle for my proper life, And with such cozenage – is’t not ideal conscience To quit him with this arm? And is’t not to be damned To let this canker of our nature come In further evil? (Act II V. 63-70). Even when Claudius’s midnight prayer establishes his guilt in murdering the preceding King of Denmark, the reader is still produced to feel apprehensive of Hamlet’s wish for revenge. Claudius proves to be an effectual leader who suffers from guilt in his previous misdeeds. He even prays to God hoping that 1 day he can seek forgiveness.

The reader is thrown into a planet of shades of gray, where murders can repent and heroes lead to far more damage than might otherwise have been wrought. This second portion is in stark contract to the black and white morality presented earlier. When Hamlet applies his crucial humanistic pondering, he finds the complexities inherent in moral reasoning and action. Does Claudius’s evil deserve the ultimate pain of death? How can Hamlet genuinely take action that is meaningful and will attain a optimistic end? Hamlet yearns for divine directive, but in the silent humanistic universe, there are no easy black and white answers. These are humanistic questions that delve deep into Hamlet’s character. How can he successfully deal with Claudius and his actions without becoming like him? This philosophical reasoning eventually proves ineffectual, and Hamlet is forced to action.

Hamlet’s humanistic quest for truth sooner or later leaves the realm of philosophy and enters the arena of moral nihilism when he begins to place his plan into action. The starting of Hamlet’s descent away from humanism begins with the confrontation among him and his mother. Whilst Hamlet and his mother are in a deeply heated argument, Hamlet hears a cry for aid from a tapestry. With no even pondering, Hamlet thrusts his sword into the tapestry, stabbing an eavesdropping Polonius dead. When asked if he knows what he has accomplished by his mother, Hamlet responds, “Nay, I know not. Is it the king?” (Act III. V 24). When she replies that he has done a barbaric issue, Hamlet replies that it is nearly as barbaric as killing a king and marrying his brother. At this point Hamlet is consumed, and his inner philosophical discourse has been silenced. With no rules based morality to guide his actions and philosophical inquiry yearning no benefits, the young prince rather begins to act impulsively and rashly. He is consumed by revenge, and the correct or incorrect of his actions is lost on him. Ironically, at this point he becomes no different than Claudius. Just as Hamlet is a son who seeks to punish a man who murdered his father, Hamlet has now deprived a son of a father. At this point Hamlet is consumed by bloodlust. The ghostly apparition of his father appears again to remind him of his deadly quest to kill Claudius. There is no hint of justice, just vengeance.

When Hamlet confronts Claudius and is lastly in a position to achieve his revenge, the hollowness and folly of his quest is revealed. Hamlet is mortally wounded, and most of the royal household lays dead at the conclusion of their confrontation. At that moment Fortinbras just steps onto the scene and sees the whole royal family members lay in waste. He then proceeds to conquer the whole kingdom in a bloodless coup. So thustly the reader should ask themselves, was justice really served? Was justice even achievable? In the end, with no divine direction or clear cut philosophical answers, Hamlet gave in to moral nihilism. His quest, which started as a search for justice, ended in untold bloodshed, the deaths of loved ones, and the fall of Denmark to foreign invaders. Hence the renaissance humanist comes complete circle into moral nihilism. In the end Hamlet became the point that he despised most, a senseless murderer.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a metaphorical representation of the renaissance era’s evolving moral and ethical framework, initial starting in a rule based God centered morality, then evolving into humanism, and ultimately culminating in moral nihilism. At the starting of the play Hamlet is devastated by the loss of his father, and is given a sense of purpose by way of the commands of the apparition to seek revenge on Claudius. As Hamlet starts to really think about his grisly mission, he begins to question the authenticity of his mission. Did Claudius really kill his father? Was the apparition a devil? What would be achieved by killing the King? Philosophical inquiry offers Hamlet no answers, and he becomes driven by a rash and impulsive bloodlust for revenge. His descent into moral nihilism begins with the murder of the comparatively innocent Polonius, and culminates in the gruesome murder of the King. In the end, practically nothing of value was accomplished, the entire royal household was killed and Denmark was conquered by foreign invaders. Hamlet’s quest for justice was in the end futile, and a very good representation of the philosophical evolution of renaissance era England.


Edwards, Philip. Tragic Balance in ‘Hamlet’. 1983. 43-52. Print. <>.

McClinton, Brian. “Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” Humanist Masterpieces. 123. (2010): 12-13. Net. three Aug. 2014. <>.

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