Define Hamlet as an existential character based on his soliloquy in act 3, scene 1.

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Before we can examine Hamlet as an existential character, we have to review what an existential character is. Existential characters tend to focus on the individual and the individual's choice, but all this individualism often makes them anxious about life and death and situations they can't control. These characters can see the absurdity in the world, and they are concerned with being authentic in themselves and not being caught up in self-deception. Further, existential characters are often conflicted about religion and faith.

With these characteristics in mind, let's look at Hamlet and his famous soliloquy. Hamlet is certainly anxious here. He doesn't know what to do about avenging his father's murder or if the ghost he has seen and spoken to is even who or what it claims to be. Hamlet is beginning to feel that perhaps death would be easier than life at this point.

Hamlet, therefore, asks a question, “To be, or not to be,” to live or to die. He is in a situation over which he feels no control, and he is anxious. The whole world seems absurd. His father is dead, perhaps murdered. His mother has married his uncle. Maybe it would be easier and more peaceful to die, to end the “heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to.” He longs to shuffle “off this mortal coil.”

Yet Hamlet doesn't want to be deceived in his choice. He doesn't know what comes after death. He dreads to find out, to visit “the undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns.” He is conflicted about his faith. He no longer knows what he believes, yet his individual conscience tells him that he cannot kill himself. He feels like he is a coward for that choice, yet he holds back and chooses to continue to live. We can see that, as an existential character, Hamlet is focused on his individual choice of life or death in a world that seems absurd and threatening.

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