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Hamlet as an Existential Play

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Hamlet, a play written by William Shakespeare, is about a prince and his mission for vengeance. Hamlet’s quest for revenge covers the 20th century philosophical movement; existentialism. Throughout the play, prince Hamlet regularly questions his purpose and existence as he mourns over his father’s death and his mother’s incestuous affair. Concurrently, this serves a perfect opportunity for the author to illustrate his existential viewpoint. Shakespeare merges existentialism into his literature through Hamlet’s views on faith, existence and death.

Hamlet’s personality and behaviour reveal his perception on religious faith. Hamlet is damaged by the marriage of his mother and his uncle. His hatred on Claudius starts off long before his conversation with the ghost. Hamlet compares the two kings. “His hatred on Claudius starts off long before his conversation with the ghost. Hamlet is damaged by the marriage of his mother and his uncle.” (I.II.143-144). He calls Claudius a satyr; a creature part man and part goat. Satyrs are known to only live to fulfill their sexual desires. On the other hand, he calls King Hamlet a Hyperion; a Greek God. Undoubtedly, Claudius is referred to as a satyr not because he killed his brother, but because of his relationship with Gertrude.

“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me the uses of this World! Fie on’t, ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed” (I.II.129-136).

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This quotation highlights Hamlet’s overall personality in the play. This proves he is a man of inaction. There is a lot going through his mind, but he lacks activity and progress. Moreover, Prince Hamlet contemplates committing suicide and wishes God had not made it illegal. He hesitates to kill himself but never considers his mission to assassinate Claudius to be a sin of God. Hamlet uses the idea of faith as a tool to stay inactive and to hold his animosity on Claudius.

Shakespeare explores the idea of existence through various scenes in the play. Distraught of the betrayal, tired of the mental distress, and disappointed with his lack of action, Hamlet continuously questions if life is worth living after all the pain he suffers from.

“To be, or not to be? That is the question Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleepv No more and by a sleep to say we end The heartache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished!” (III.I.65-73).

In this quotation, Hamlet ponders his existence. He is unsure whether it would benefit ending his life because nobody knows what lies after death. Importantly, this incidence highlights a new thought, questioning if there is a continuation to sweet life after the bitter end. This crucial idea suggests that even mortality might fail to bring peace and contentment. Therefore, accomplishing nothing with self-murder. This exemplifies Shakespeare’s idea that existence does not lead to pleasure.

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Hamlet as an Existential Play. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Hamlet as an Existential Play.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Hamlet as an Existential Play. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Sept. 2023].
Hamlet as an Existential Play [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Sept 21]. Available from:
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