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How does Hamlet explore the idea of existence and what it is to be human?Hamlet by...

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scarlettheart | eNoter

Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:52 AM via web

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How does Hamlet explore the idea of existence and what it is to be human?

Hamlet by Shakespeare

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 20, 2012 at 12:35 PM (Answer #1)

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After Hamlet talks with the ghost of his father, he becomes painfully aware of his humanity and its limitations, an awareness that causes him great melancholy.  His first soliloquy is rife with the futility and contemptibility of life:

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the all the uses of this world! (1.2.133-134)

Hamlet speaks of "rot" and "corruption," and "Things rank and gross in nature." Then, in his conversation with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, Hamlet defines man as a "quintessence of dust," a creature who delights him not.  In fact, he contemplates the futility of his own life and whether he should end it in his fourth soliloquy.  Moreover, Hamlet ponders the existential meaning of life in general.  His use of "we" in this soliloquy indicates that he extends the question of the meaningless of existence to all humanity:

...To die, to sleep--

'To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil

Must give us pause. (3.1.64-68)

Hamlet questions the essence of life. That is, should one suffer or end this suffering, but be punished eternally?  There is "the rub"; the sinfulness of suicide, of nothingness, is perhaps too much for one to pay for the meaningless and futility of existence.  Perhaps, then, one should create one's own meaning, or essence, by acting nobly and following a code of behavior. With Fortinbras as inspiration in Act V, Hamlet declares himself--"This is I, Hamlet, the Dane"--and decides to form his own existence by taking the existential responsibility of avenging his father's death. 



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