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Many works reveal existentialism as a philosophy towards life. Someone who believes in this philosophy tends to become lonely, as one of the key concepts of existentialism is that we are alone. As demonstrated in Shakespeare’s tragic play, Hamlet’s attempt to come to terms with his existence pushes him to the edge as his loneliness overwhelms him. His soliloquies show elements of existentialism, revealing his turmoil of spirit and developing his character as being increasingly isolated. In Hamlet’s speeches, we see that he is an existentialist.
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When the ghost appears to Hamlet of his father passed, Hamlet is horrified. This encounter further pulls Hamlet away from reality as the ghost fills his head with ideas and a mission; Hamlet will revenge his father and kill Claudius. Claudius is revealed to us as being a hostile social force when the ghost comments, “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life / Now wears his crown.” (1.5.39-40). He refers to his murder being committed by Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet admits that “â€¦memory holds a seat in [his] distracted globeâ€¦” and that he must “â€¦wipe away all trivial fond records, / all saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, / That youth and observation copied there;â€¦” (1.5.97-102). By this, Hamlet means that he must do something about his life path and not dwell in the past. This resolve suggests the importance of the present. Hamlet is aware of the importance of acting on his impulses now because he realizes that something like pain can be easily forgotten. He wants the revenge to be as meaningful as possible to exact his vengeance properly.
Estrangement from oneself can occur in many different forms. Hamlet’s thoughts and actions are disconnected. His mind is telling him to take revenge and kill Claudius, but his body does not obey him. He is in constant turmoil and contradiction with himself which brings him to be separated in his intentions versus his operations. This estrangement is disadvantageous to Hamlet in completing his task.
Hamlet chastises himself for his failure and procrastination in regard to his father’s murder. In the observation from another of Hamlet’s soliloquies, “The spirit that I have seen / May be the devilâ€¦. Out of my weakness and my melancholy, / [He] abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds / More relative than this. The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” (2.2.596-603) Hamlet doubts his father’s ghost’s credibility and is further isolated from those around him. His resolve makes him focused on this mission and Hamlet’s relationships with others suffer. The relationship with Claudius was already on edge, but Hamlet pushes him even farther away as he plots to kill him.
The famous quote “To be, or not to be: that is the questionâ€¦” (3.1.57) reflects on the human condition. Hamlet views the world in a different way than the other people around him. He realizes that people are alone and that things are not always as they seem. His insight scares and baffles other characters who interact with him. This is why Ophelia is also pushed away as Hamlet struggles with his inner turmoil and isolates himself from not only his mother and new king, but his girlfriend and love interest as well. This also reveals the absurdity of life. At this point in the play, Hamlet’s madness is being contributed to rejection of Ophelia’s love. This absurdity is only revealed to the readers of the play who have insight into Hamlet’s mind and intentions through his emotional soliloquies. The absurdity is further shown as Hamlet reflects on ending life. He describes the relief of dying, of leaving this world of pain and discomfort. However, one can never know what follows death and the fear of this prevents us from finishing ourselves off without living as much of this life that we can. Hamlet’s observation of this human condition remains absurd in our belief in it and our willingness to hold on to what we know.
Hostile social forces are exposed to Hamlet in different forms. Claudius and Polonius plot to send Hamlet away, Ophelia rejects his love, his mother remarries and neglects her son, and Hamlet’s boyhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, spy on him and betray his trust. With so much betrayal it is no wonder that Hamlet turns inward and becomes more isolated. As time goes on and Hamlet deals with all his problems, his family and friends are pushed farther away. His isolation is nurtured by his need to destroy Claudius, with the consequence of ruining his own social life.
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Hamlet elaborates his soliloquies by referring to Greek and other gods as well as mythological creatures and characters. As written in Hamlet’s voice, he informs himself to, “â€¦let not ever / The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:” (3.2.385). The reference to Nero is a Roman emperor who put his mother to death. This is a melodrama created by Hamlet who tries to justify his behaviour by comparing Greek and mythological stories to his own life and circumstances. This technique is demonstrated in various points in the play and further stokes his estrangement as disconnection from the world of reality.
The pressing finality of death is a significant aspect of existentialism. Hamlet endures Ophelia’s death, his own father’s death, deals with the discovery of Yorick’s bones, his caretaker when he was a child, and his task to kill Claudius. He is also presented with this element when he is confronted by Fortinbras and his army. Hamlet meditates that to his “â€¦shame [he sees] / The imminent death of twenty thousand men” (4.4.58-59). Hamlet not only sees the imminent death of these men, but he is aware of his own imminent death. This cognition shares with us his emotional confusion and shows us the extent of his existentialism.
In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, we are presented with speeches and soliloquies displaying Hamlet’s emotions. His philosophy is unique in that he lives by existentialist values and aspects of life. Hamlet’s isolation brings him past the edge as everyone he cares for dies. His estrangement from himself, the threat of hostile forces, and the absurdity of life all contribute to Hamlet’s isolation and existentialism. The pressing finality of death and the importance of the present finally get the better of Hamlet who suffers his own fatal injury and must himself enter the world of the deceased. It is even existentialist that he will now be buried alone, and still be isolated and estranged from this world.
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