Hamlet as an Existentialist

"This above all, to thine own self be true" (1.3.88). As Polonius offers this advice to his departing son Laertes, he also states one of the defining principles of the philosophical branch known collectively as existentialism. A paradigm firmly rooted in the individual experience, existentialism champions responsibility and states that man is nothing but the sum of his decisions (Sartre, 9-37). Falling neatly in line with Jean-Paul Sartre's ideology is Shakespeare's Hamlet: a character plagued by existential anguish after the premature death of his beloved father and the hasty, avuncular marriage of his mother. However, Hamlet - being a God-fearing man of the sixteenth century - finds himself at odds with Sartre's stout atheism. A diversion from the zealous Christianity proposed by the father of existentialism, Sren Kierkegaard, reveals Hamlet as a pious man possessing the devoutly existentialist characteristics of individuality and personal responsibility.

A cardinal principle of Sartre's philosophy is that of anguish, described as follows:

The existentialists say at once that man is anguish. What that means is this: the man who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 1125 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 8644 literature essays, 2331 sample college application essays, 378 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in