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Concept of existentialism in hamlet by william shakespeare

Even among vast, innumerable schools of thought, the worldview most adhered to by a character can serve as an insight into their personal motivations, interactions, and conflicts. And nowhere is this more evident than in relation to the titular character of William Shakespeare's most famous play, "Hamlet," in which the Prince of Concept of existentialism in hamlet by william shakespeare displays in both thought and action, a series of philosophical observations and beliefs that influence his decisions throughout the work.

Nihilism, Morality, And The Rejection Of Authority Both "Hamlet" and its protagonist are deeply rooted in the ideas of German Philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, who is most often associated with the belief of Nihilism, that being the concept that all values are intrinsically meaningless and that nothing can ever truly be known.

For instance, when Hamlet speaks with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about his view of Denmark as a prison, he makes it clear that that his own unique perspective is responsible for that idea when he states, "for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" 2. This declaration encompasses one of the basic tenets of Nihilism. Hamlet understands that ultimately, there is "no objective order or structure in the world" except that which each individual gives it.

He denies "the possibility of certainty" or absolute truths constructed around a subjective opinion of the world, and he recognizes that the reality of any given truth, whether moral or societal, is reliant on those perceptions and the person who holds them "Internet".

This quote is also representative of another Nihilistic notion; that being the denial of "genuine moral truths or values" "Nihilism". While Hamlet believes there is no inherent establishment of morality in the world, he also believes that the subjective perception of the masses or the individual, can create one, however fallible it may be in its execution or efficacy. For example, Hamlet condemns Claudius for the act of murder, yet he commits the same "heavy deed" through his murder of Polonius in Act III 4.

Furthermore, Hamlet embodies Nihilism in his rejection of most "authority exercised by the state; by the church, or by the family" "Nihilism". He consistently rejects the "traditional truths" of the social order as hollow perceptions and "unjustifiable opinions" "Internet". This can be seen through Hamlet's complete disregard of the authority of the king, and concept of existentialism in hamlet by william shakespeare extension, the monarchy. Not only is Hamlet unashamedly disrespectful to his sovereign uncle, but he also denies the ultimate supremacy and superiority of the Crown and nobility as a whole.

In this, he claims that heroes and Kings only constitute what public perception makes them out to be.

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In his eyes, though they may appear superficially greater on the basis of a title, their supposed eminence doesn't detract from their worth as ultimately being equivalent to that of everyone else, including a lowly beggar. He recognizes that the prestige and dominance of idols or political figures exists only insofar as the collective population is willing to believe, rather than accepting this authority as a fundamental or worldly truth. This idea is also expanded upon in Hamlet's relationship with Ophelia in the beginning of the play.

In Act I of the play, Laertes warns his sister of the dangers of pursuing a romantic affiliation with Royalty, and questions the sincerity of Hamlet's affections for her.

Existentialism in hamlet essay

He insinuates that with the Prince's "greatness weigh'd," Hamlet could never truly love a girl of lower station, and that he won't likely get a choice in who to marry due to the importance of royal relations 1. And though the relationship did suffer many hardships throughout the course of the play, even resulting in death, none were actually a direct result of Hamlet's social status. At some point before the events of the play, Hamlet loved, or at the very least, showed interest in Ophelia, giving no thought to regal tradition or social hierarchies.

It's clear that Hamlet doesn't acknowledge nobility as being innately greater than any other human being, linking Nihilism to its roots in antfoundationalism. Evidently, this definitive skepticism carries on into other aspects of Hamlet's varied belief system.

Existentialism in hamlet essay

Existentialism, The Drive To Action, And Awareness Of Self Hamlet's Existential musings are directly connected to his Nihilistic viewpoints, with neither being mutually exclusive in their close association to the other. Throughout the play, Hamlet struggles with the crucial reason to live, motivation to act, and the very purpose of existing as opposed to its alternative.

This "investigation into the meaning of being" is closely tied to and worsened by the shared Nihilistic and Existentialist belief that life itself is inherently meaningless "Abbagnano". No idea quite plagues the Existential mind like that of choice, and this is evident in Hamlet's overall mental state throughout the progression of the play. Because "existence is constituted by possibilities from among which the individual may choose," the concept often appears as an important aspect of the philosophy, as well as Hamlet's Existential conflict in Shakespeare's tragedy "Abbagnano".

When Hamlet states, "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space," he is making the assertion that his existential view of self could allow him to choose a blissful awareness in a subjectively intolerable situation 2. The reality of any given circumstance then, lies in his ability to choose and act upon a reaction.

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However, in Hamlet's denial of absolute law and authority, along with his Existentialist view of self as the dominant agent of change, it's actually The LACK of a definite or predetermined course of action that drives him into an inability to act at all. Hamlet has abandoned worldly illusions, revealing life as nothing. In Hamlet's eyes, this "nothingness is the source of not only absolute freedom, but also existential horror and emotional anguish" "Internet".

  1. As an intelligent and free-thinking entity, he yearns for something more than beastly gratification. Not only does this reinforce the Nihilistic and Existentialist view of self as the sole agent of absolute freedom, but lends Hamlet and mankind itself a "transcendence of Being with respect to existence" "Abbagnano".
  2. When Hamlet states, "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space," he is making the assertion that his existential view of self could allow him to choose a blissful awareness in a subjectively intolerable situation 2. This "investigation into the meaning of being" is closely tied to and worsened by the shared Nihilistic and Existentialist belief that life itself is inherently meaningless "Abbagnano".
  3. Because "existence is constituted by possibilities from among which the individual may choose," the concept often appears as an important aspect of the philosophy, as well as Hamlet's Existential conflict in Shakespeare's tragedy "Abbagnano". This "investigation into the meaning of being" is closely tied to and worsened by the shared Nihilistic and Existentialist belief that life itself is inherently meaningless "Abbagnano".
  4. Did you notice any other philosophical ideas in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that I didn't mention here?
  5. The reality of any given circumstance then, lies in his ability to choose and act upon a reaction.

Giving no thought to social authority, Hamlet understands there is no precise, obligatory, or genuinely moral method by which to direct his revenge or his own existence. He has the freedom to confront his conflict and carry out a solution by his own parameters. However, this leaves an innumerable quantity of "diverse possibilities," all of which carry their own distinctive consequences that Hamlet will have to accept "Abbagnano".

Hamlet struggles with the ability to make a single choice, much less act on one. This indecisiveness is prevalent in his plot to achieve revenge, and his motivation to live in a meaningless world, as referenced in the famous "To Be Or Not To Be" soliloquy 3. Hamlet battles with the personally justifiable way to act and reason to live, caught between two extremes and cursing himself as a coward for his failure to act in any capacity.

Ultimately, this broad range of choices only expose what is "mortal and unsure," leaving him in a perpetual stagnancy 4. His search to find a right answer in a world devoid of answers is very much representative of Existentialist thought.

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Though Hamlet certainly has an objective, his efficacy or lack thereof is only worsened by his "action and inaction alike" "Internet". More so, Hamlet is characteristic of the Existentialist Nihilist viewpoint in his search for purpose as a living, sentient being.

At one point, Hamlet questions, "What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? In the context of this inquiry, Hamlet is not only criticizing himself for his own indecision metaphorically sleeping in the aftermath of his father's death by hesitating to exact revengebut also drawing a distinction between living and merely existing. As an intelligent and free-thinking entity, he yearns for something more than beastly gratification.

This validates Hamlet as an Existential character, as he seeks the very essence of humanity and a fulfilling life in an inherently futile world. Not only does this reinforce the Nihilistic and Existentialist view of self as the sole agent of absolute freedom, but lends Hamlet and mankind itself a "transcendence of Being with respect to existence" "Abbagnano".

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  • And nowhere is this more evident than in relation to the titular character of William Shakespeare's most famous play, "Hamlet," in which the Prince of Denmark displays in both thought and action, a series of philosophical observations and beliefs that influence his decisions throughout the work.

Essentially, Hamlet can shape his existence around his view of self as being greater than the base components attributed to him by his society and by his nature, echoing back to his Nihilistic perspectives.

It is this realization of self, that finally spurs Hamlet into his eventual action, and the play's concept of existentialism in hamlet by william shakespeare. Rather than Humanism in its modern secular sense, Hamlet embodies a sort of Renaissance Humanism, standing at a midway point "between medieval supernaturalism and the modern scientific and critical attitude" "Lectures".

These opposing concepts, as well as the philosophy that concept of existentialism in hamlet by william shakespeare them, are very prevalent in the way Hamlet conducts his life, as he ultimately stands as both a product of, and contrarily a man outside of, his time.

While the theistic beliefs of his Age are certainly ingrained in him, they interweave with his Hellenistic, logical, and scientific understandings, even overlapping with his other philosophical beliefs. When contemplating suicide in Act I for instance, he states, "Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd his cannon 'gainst self-slaughter" 1.

Even as a Nihilist, Hamlet concerns God as his one true authority and even so, only to a certain extent. As such, Hamlet often finds himself "suspended between faith and reason". Though Hamlet gives credibility to the ideas of afterlife, heaven, and hell, he very rarely frames his own decisions around the ultimate assurance of them, instead focusing on the "here and now" and using his own experience as the "practical measure of all things" "Lectures".

In a way, Hamlet understands that his creator has endowed him with "capability and godlike reason," and chooses to use those qualities to come to his own conclusions about the world, even if they fall into disagreement with the traditional Christian dogma 4. While this almost contradictory and fittingly indecisive ideology has not freed Hamlet of "subservience to ancient authority," it casts a firm level of doubt that influences his outlook on supernatural circumstances "Lectures". While Hamlet hasn't drifted away from the principles of medieval Christianity, his "reliance upon faith" has weakened, leaving room for doubt about the "shadowy afterlife" "Lectures".

One example of Hamlet's religious views taking precedence over his practical motivations is in the moment he spares Claudius while in the middle of prayer, in the fear that his uncle would find a blissful passage to paradise; and even this is due in part to Hamlet's personal desire for revenge, wanting his uncle to face eternal condemnation rather than reward. Hamlet doesn't kill Claudius in the assurance that his soul will find a divine continuation after death, but is hesitant in ending his own life for fear of "the undiscover'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns" 3.

Hamlet's conflicting beliefs regarding the afterlife and his personal judgement of its limitations only mirrors that of the movement itself, as "the distinction between this world and the next tended to disappear" "Lectures".

The other characters in the play rarely understand Hamlet's points of view. While this is due in part to his caustic wit and intellect, it's also because Hamlet, like the Renaissance Humanists, finds himself between two worlds, and as such, is misunderstood by the whole of his society.

Even today, Hamlet remains Shakespeare's most complex and beloved character, which is an extension of his equally multifaceted belief system.

In essence, Hamlet embodies what it means to be human and the uncomfortable, terrifying uncertainties that accompany that reality. He is the isolated individual, challenging the artificial constructs, traditions, and authorities of his time.

  1. For instance, when Hamlet speaks with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about his view of Denmark as a prison, he makes it clear that that his own unique perspective is responsible for that idea when he states, "for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" 2. Not only does this reinforce the Nihilistic and Existentialist view of self as the sole agent of absolute freedom, but lends Hamlet and mankind itself a "transcendence of Being with respect to existence" "Abbagnano".
  2. That is why, in its themes of freedom, self-realization, and personal agency, the play rests firmly as one of the most elaborate examples of English Literature ever written, and one that, like Hamlet's philosophical views, will stand the test of time...
  3. For instance, when Hamlet speaks with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about his view of Denmark as a prison, he makes it clear that that his own unique perspective is responsible for that idea when he states, "for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" 2. When contemplating suicide in Act I for instance, he states, "Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd his cannon 'gainst self-slaughter" 1.
  4. This validates Hamlet as an Existential character, as he seeks the very essence of humanity and a fulfilling life in an inherently futile world.

Ultimately, "Hamlet" and its central figure weren't created for a period structured by absolute law, obedience and rigidity. That is why, in its themes of freedom, self-realization, and personal agency, the play rests firmly as one of the most elaborate examples of English Literature ever written, and one that, like Hamlet's philosophical views, will stand the test of time.

Did you notice any other philosophical ideas in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that I didn't mention here? If so, let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!