Death As Analyzed Through Socrates And Hamlet

2343 words - 9 pages

“Death, the one appointment we all must keep, and for which no time is set” (Charlie Chan). Although many believe it to be ominous, death, signifies an end to this earthly and material life; the life of which we are sure of. Plato’s Phaedo and Shakespeare’s play Hamlet offer different perspectives on the life we are unsure of, namely death or the afterlife. Through the characters of Socrates and Hamlet, readers are offered two contrasting outlooks on death. On one side, Hamlet is haunted by the fear of the unknown, and leads his morality astray. Inversely, Socrates portrays a man who is relieved by the prospect of death. Both Hamlet and Socrates demonstrate inherent differences in their internal characteristics, but most notable difference is the characters’ contrasting outlooks on the meaning of life and death. Socrates, considered the leader of philosophy, WANTS to die, because only in the afterlife will he be able to see the truth without the distractions of his body. Hamlet, on the other hand, fears what will happen in the afterlife. He would like to escape his life, which at the moment is nothing short of depressing, but he worries that the afterlife might prove to be a bad dream, even worse than his life at this moment.
In Phaedo, Socrates uses what he believes to be philosophical truths in order to convince his “twice seven” that the soul is eternal, and the body corrupts it. Therefore Socrates goes on to comment that any true philosopher would gladly face death because, “those who happen to have gotten in touch with philosophy in the right way devote themselves to nothing else but dying and being dead” (Phaedo, 64A). Only through death does one have the chance to separate the soul from the body, and therefore experience the true Forms without the baggage that the bodily desires entail. In contrast, Hamlet struggles to face death upfront because of his fear of the afterlife and his inability to break away from his conscience. This is shown in his inability to act purposefully and with assurance to kill Claudius and also in his inability to commit suicide. Without the confidence that the afterlife will be better than his “sea of troubles” (Hamlet, 3.1.59) and the realization that many questions he grapples with cannot be answered fully, Hamlet is unable to make controlled and premeditated decisions. His reliance on “a belief beyond a reasonable doubt” creates a life full of rash decisions and madness. Hamlet, similarly to the people present in the jail during the last day of Socrates, is unable to face life alone, make decisions for himself, or reach his own answers. Through Hamlet, we can see the direct problems that stem from dependence on a single person or group of people. Like many of Socrates’ followers, Hamlet relies on his father for all answers to life and the afterlife. When he dies, Hamlet is distraught Socrates’ followers, similarly, rely heavily on him, the father of philosophy, to convince them of his views. On his last day,...

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