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Hamlet: An Existential Tragedy Essay

2330 words - 9 pages

The concept of tragedy has always been praised for its ability to connect to an empathetic audience. This cathartic element present in tragic plays is an emotional response that many individuals constantly seek for the purpose of self-identification. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest questions of humanity pertains to the nature of their existence. As the debate over the meaning of life ensues, the notion of existentialism has been birthed to help individuals understand what their life’s meaning is. Although recently fathomed, this philosophy can be seen across a wide array of literary works that astonishingly predates the conception of existentialism itself. Individuals can identify specific elements that they empathize with and that inexplicably creates a cathartic moment in which the writer anticipates. More importantly, the idea of existentialism is seen in almost all of the great tragedies and rightfully has a direct correlation. In the tragedy, Hamlet, William Shakespeare incorporates the existential elements of the absurd, nothingness, and freedom into the events and characters allowing for an emotional response from the audience.
To begin, the element of logical reasoning and its subjective weakness on the human mind becomes exposed to the audience from the start. The play begins with the sighting of the Ghost amidst the castle grounds and further leads to the confrontation between this same apparition and Hamlet. At the peak of their conversation, the Ghost reveals that his beloved brother Claudius also serves as his murderer and commands Hamlet to seek vengeance upon him. This moment is one of the heaviest sightings of existential characteristics in the tragedy as it lends insight into Hamlet’s ethics and actions. The mere fact that there is a spiritual apparition present in the play is absurd enough, but the philosophical absurdity can be found through the Ghost’s request. In his book Fear and Trembling, Søren Kierkegaard discusses the idea of a teleological suspension of the ethical and how it can affect the traditional psyche of an individual. Kierkegaard takes on a religious aspect to this suspension and advocates the fact that some will abandon the normal morals and ethics in which they adhere to for an absolute faith in God’s word. He states that, “The tragic hero gives up the certain for the still more certain, and the eye of the beholder rests upon him confidently” (Kierkegaard 44). What this means is that although man cannot fully understand his role in life, he can instead live upon good faith in his actions and beliefs. However, he surrenders all of what he knows in order to achieve a better unquestioning faith in God. Furthermore, Kierkegaard uses the example of Abraham and Isaac to further explain his point. Abraham is mandated by God to kill his son without falter and Kierkegaard describes this absurd phenomenon as both arousing and appalling (Kierkegaard 44). Abraham is fully prepared to carry out this...

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