Conscience Versus Reason: Stoicism in Hamlet

In Hamlet, the philosophy and ideas of Stoicism make their appearance onstage and shape the themes and dialogue of the play. Stoicism, which praises the superiority of reason and civilization over the more base element of emotion, is the backbone of much of the conflict in Hamlet. Hamlet's dedication to his Stoic beliefs ends up causing many problems for him as well as setting up a dichotomy between reason and emotion that marks the play. Hamlet considers emotion to be the opposite of reason, and therefore any actions that come as a result of emotion are undesirable. Hamlet finds that he must reason himself into a state of murder before he can exact his revenge on Claudius, but a murderous state is one that can only be reached through emotion for Hamlet. This philosophy of Stoicism leads Hamlet to believe in a man-versus-beast and reason-versus-emotion dichotomy, but it is only through the consideration of conscience that characters can know whether or not they are behaving morally. Hamlet's belief in these false dichotomies wastes time and ultimately causes further harm to his family and friends, but Hamlet's respect for his conscience is what preserves his morality, as it is the only fixed star in the play....

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