The Existentialist Views of Hamlet
Do we matter? Will anything we do endure? These are questions from existentialism. The dictionary defines existentialism as "the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for his acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad" (Merriam Webster). In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Hamlet struggles with the concept that nothing from our lives last and time grinds everything away. Hamlet's major conflict was his existentialist view of the world.
Does a prince of Denmark have any worth if "Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel? Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away" ( V. i. 206-209)? Hamlet saw examples of lives crumbling to dust. Twenty thousand men and twenty thousand ducats are spent on "A little patch of ground that hath in it no profit but the name. To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it." ( IV. iiii. 19-21). These lives are expended for nothing and even Hamlet's father, a good and wise king, was murdered with only Hamlet mourning for an extended period. The king's wife said "Seek for thy noble father in the dust: Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity." ( I. ii. 72-74) and she later encourages Hamlet to stop pretending to mourn for his father. Hamlet protests that he feels actual grief for his father but he fears that his father's life is already becoming meaningless.
This existentialist worldview forced Hamlet to overanalyze before action because he wanted his acts to have a lasting impact. He becomes too contemplative about decisions. He would not murder Claudius in spite of the ghost of his father ordering him until the play proved guilt. Even with this proof, Hamlet will not kill Claudius during prayer because he believes his decision will matter and he must choose wisely. In the graveyard, Hamlet saw people's skulls and wondered what the courier's compliments or the jester's tricks had brought them but another spot in the earth. Hamlet saw the acts of well respected...