What is Hamlet's view of life, and how does it change throughout the play?I'm currently writing a paper on Hamlet's view of only life (how I wish it was his view of life AND death), and I know that...

What is Hamlet's view of life, and how does it change throughout the play?

I'm currently writing a paper on Hamlet's view of only life (how I wish it was his view of life AND death), and I know that his view is very pessimistic/confused. However, that doesn't really give me pages to talk about, so I was hoping that there might be more to his view of life?

Thank you in advance!

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The thing is, Hamlet's view of death often gives us clues about his view of life. For example, when he's in the cemetery with Horatio, talking to the gravedigger, he says to his friend,

Alexander died, 
Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to 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 turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Of, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
should patch a wall t' expel the winter's flaw! (5.1.191-198)

In other words, Hamlet says that, when Alexander the Great died, he was buried and returned to dust, and dust is dirt, and dirt turns into mud, and so why couldn't someone plug a barrel of beer with mud made of the dirt that used to be Alexander? Similarly, Caesar died and turned to clay, and he now he could plug a hole to keep the wind out. It's strange that these powerful rulers can now be used to plug up a hole in the wall. Taking such a view of death has a couple implications for life: first, it is fleeting(soon enough, it's gone and then all we did is really meaningless), second, our accomplishments ultimately do not matter once we are gone. In other words, life isn't nearly as meaningful as we think it is.  

Later, though, when Hamlet is challenged to spar with Laertes, he tells Horatio,

We defy augury. There a special providence 
in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not
to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—
the readiness is all. (5.2.207-210)

Hamlet means that he has no superstitions. He believes that God controls all, even something as seemingly small as the death of a bird. Everything works out the way it is supposed to. If something is supposed to happen, it will, whenever it's supposed to. We just need to be ready for it. This thinking about life—that everything is controlled by God and that everything happens when it is supposed to—certainly seems somewhat more optimistic than Hamlet's earlier statements. He seems, now, to contradict his earlier thinking about life's meaninglessness. His stating that God's hand has a role in each thing that happens, even the smallest things, makes it seem as though, to him, life does have meaning and purpose.  

lcassidy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the play, hamlet is very discouraged with life because his mother remarried so soon after his father's death.  He is very melancholy and no one quite knows the reason for his being depressed.

After his father's ghost appears to him, Hamlet becomes even more depressed because he know has the unbearable task of avenging his father's death by killing his uncle.  This is evident in his "to be, or not to be speech", where he contemplates suicide.  Once he realizes that dying and facing the unknown is far more terrifying than avenging his father's death, he changes his attitude somewhat.

When Hamlet finally realizes what must be done, he gives himself "pep talks" in order to motivate himself.  For example, when he says that he would speak daggers to his mother, but throw none.  He also devises "the mouse trap scene" to catch Polonius' guilt.  Although these are not quite effective, his attitude on life changes because he has a goal and a mission to accomplish.  

Near the end of the play, when he fights with Laertes, again, Hamlet demonstrates a will to live.  He has a deep desire to expose the king's offense against his father.  And, at the end of act five, he realizes his goal by killing the king.  Of course, in the process he also loses his life.

All in all, Hamlet is not a very happy character throughout the play.  Although he has moments where he is a little less depressed; he is never fully happy.