Basically life consists of a number of decisions we have to make unaware of what the outcome might be and what the right decision is. As humans we constantly have to decide what’s true or false and what’s right or wrong. Humans are free. We can decide what we want – it’s subjective. We have to choose ourselves if we want to live a true and authentic life. Hamlet goes through this several times and by making a choice he knows that he is responsible for his actions. Based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I would like to make a few remarks regarding the existential and oedipal themes.
The story of Hamlet takes place in the Kingdom, Elsinore, in Denmark. Hamlet’s father is dead, and his mother, Queen Gertrude, has within a short time married the father’s brother, Claudius, who has assumed the throne. Hamlet has a bitter abhorrence of the marriage and he doesn’t feel that there has been grieved sufficient over the death of his father. In particular he is angry at his mother, who has not only perpetrated incest, but also forsaken the promises she gave her former husband. One night a ghost appears and at the request of the frighten guards, Hamlet decides to seek out the ghost. The ghost signifies itself as the deceased king.
The ghost narrates the story of his death, and Hamlet discovers that his father didn’t die a natural death; he was poisoned by his own brother Claudius. Hamlet swears to avenge his father’s murder. Hamlet starts to behave bizarre and people become fearful for his mental health. He finds it hard to take the revenge he has sworn and to avoid that Claudius gets suspicious, Hamlet acts like a madman. By mischance Hamlet kills Polonius, and his mother is in a state of chock; on the one hand because of the murder of Polonius, on the other hand because of the truths Hamlet is speaking out about Claudius.
His mother, Gertrude, becomes convinced that Hamlet is right. Claudius finds it necessary to get rid of his lunatic and murderous stepson and therefore he sends him to England with a letter that commands the king of England to execute Hamlet. Hamlet rewrites the letter, and instead it is his followers that end of getting executed. He himself returns to Denmark, where an angry Laertes, the son of Polonius, meets him. Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel to the death and decides to poison the tip of his rapier. Claudius ensures the outcome of the duel by poisoning the cup that Hamlet will fortify himself with during the fight.
Nothing passes of as expected: Getrude drinks from the cup and Laertes wounds Hamlet lethal with the poisoned rapier, but is also getting hurt himself. Hamlet realizes the connection of the matters, and kills Claudius. When they’re all dead, is only Horatio, Hamlet’s faithful friend, left to tell about the occurrences. All of us can make a summary or an account of Hamlet, but what is the play really about? What is the underlying concept of the play Hamlet? In a certain sense it’s all about nothing. The tragedy about the Danish prince Hamlet is a play full of unanswered questions and unresolved actions.
Under all of this lies the mysterious emptiness – everything we know nothing about. Most of it is ambiguous; everybody lies, whispers and suspects each other for the worst. In act 1, scene 4 occurs the scene where Hamlet has his conversation with the ghost. The ghost claims that he is indeed the ghost of Hamlet’s father and says that he needs revenge. Sooner rather than later, since he’s doomed to burn in flames until he gets it. “And for the day confined to fast in fires till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away”.
He’s trapped in the purgatory which is the place where the dead passes through purification before they can go to heaven. The ghost reveals that it is Claudius, his very own brother, who is the murder and he also reveals how he did it. Every person in Denmark was told that he was bit by a poisonous snake when he was sleeping in the orchard, but that’s all a lie: “But know, thou noble youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown. ” Further down the ghost tells Hamlet that his uncle snuck up to him while he was sleeping in the orchard and poured poison in to his ear.
The poison ran through his veins and curdled the blood. Hamlet promises to avenge his father, and this promise has a huge impact on the rest of the play. The ghost is pleased, but he warns Hamlet not to corrupt his mind or do any harm to his mother – he shall leave her to God and her own guilt. The ghost exits, and Horatio and Marcellus enter. Hamlet makes them swear on his sword that they won’t tell anything to anyone and also he prepares them on his future behavior: he finds it appropriate to act a little crazy. This scene contains several existentialistic features.
The scene starts the whole plot. Hamlet has to make a choice, and he chooses to believe the ghost. Before meeting the ghost, life has no purpose to Hamlet. He feels lonely after his big loss of his father. The ghost puts everything in order for him and life suddenly has a meaning. Hamlet has always seen death as a reliable end of suffering and a place to seek comfort. Despite the fact that even Hamlet’s friends are afraid of the ghost, Hamlet decides to follow it when the ghost beckons to him. His obsession with death is so great that he is willing to risk it all.
It is clear that the ghost isn’t an existentialistic ghost: “But that I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow op thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres…” The ghost finds death horrible as a prison. You’re received and judged in the end of life and somebody is going to take care of you. In the start of the scene Shakespeare sort of describes the nation as a diseased body. “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark”.
The health of the royal family and the state is described as one. Denmark is made ill by the moral corruption of Gertrude and Claudius and the ghost can be seen as an omen. In the end it seems like Hamlet must choose a solution to a problem that was forced onto him, and still he doesn’t know if the ghost really is his father’s spirit or the devil? The Oedipus theme appears through the two characters, the father’s spirit and Claudius. The ghost father is the idealized father and the uncle, Claudius, is the rival father. Oedipus uses the idealized father to battle the rival father.
Hamlet wants to replace both of the fathers so that he can conquer his mother, but the fathers are too strong so instead he chooses to identify with them. In act 3, scene 4 Hamlet has just killed Polonius by an accident. Hamlet turns to his mother, Gertrude, and asks her what has driven her to marry such a rotten man like Claudius. Gertrude pleads with him to stop, but Hamlet continues to rail against Claudius until suddenly the ghost of his father appears again. Hamlet talks to the ghost, but his mother is unable to see it and believes him to be completely crazy, “Alas, he’s mad”.
Does the ghost choose whom he want to show for since Gertrude can’t see the ghost? The ghost has come to remind Hamlet of his revenge. Hamlet describes the ghost, but Gertrude neither sees nor hears anything and for a moment the ghost disappears. Hamlet begs Gertrude to realize that her remarriage was a sin and that she should stop having sex with Claudius. “Good night – but go not to mine uncle’s bed…” Further, he makes a treat against his mother: “Who would do so? No, in despite of sense and secrecy, unpeg the basket on the house’s top.
Let the birds fly, and like the famous ape, to try conclusions, in the basket creep, and break your own neck down”. If she tells Claudius, that Hamlet is only pretending to be mad, he will break her neck which will be most unfortunate. The Oedipus theme is characteristic for this scene. The way Hamlet reacts reflects his feelings. His disgust stems from jealousy – he envy’s Claudius’ access to his mother. Hamlet is in love with his mother and his outburst is an indication that he is sexually obsessed by his mother.
He is jealous of Claudius and this is shown in his hatred of his uncle. Claudius has not only taken Hamlet’s crown, but he has also taken Hamlet’s mother. Because of this love, Hamlet is unable to sustain his relationship with Ophelia. In act 3, scene 1 – the “to be or not to be” scene – Hamlet is speaking thoughtfully and painfully to himself. He is considering whether to commit suicide or not to end the pain of experience. Hamlet attempts to reason out whether the unknown beyond of death is any easier to bear than life. When Hamlet poses the pained question: “To be, or not to be?
That is the question — whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of trouble…” he is thinking of death. Although he is trying to ask this question in a logical way, he is still left without an answer, because life after death is so uncertain. For a moment he thinks that it might be like a deep sleep. Just after accepting this fact, he starts speculation what will come in his deep sleep – dreams… but what kind of dreams? The dreams that he fears is the pain that afterlife might bring.
Yet again he questions death since there is no relief from his earthly sufferings through death. Afterwards he goes on to list many sufferings that men are forced to go through. By the end he realizes: “But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of? ” Hamlet realizes that many chooses life over death because the inability to know what comes after life. Hamlet’s speech is very existentialistic. It refers to death, absurdity, choice, authenticity and angst.
At one point death can be seen as an achievement that ends all human pain. As he says, dying is like sleeping – a sleep that ends all heartaches and miserable things. “To die, to sleep – No more…” One the other hand death itself is pain. No one knows what the afterlife will bring us and that alone is a pain. He is afraid of life after death, and therefore he sticks with what he knows even if it’s awful. The absurdity occurs when he thinks about the real point of life. What is the point of life, when we’re all going to end op dying? Why should we fight for good things, if they just disappear when we die anyways?
Throughout the whole play Hamlet has to make his own choice, to be or not to be? Hamlet is trying to decide if he should let go of his anger towards his uncle and mother, or if he should seek revenge. He knows that if he decides to seek revenge that it may result in the end of his life. “To be or not to be” is an eternal question asked in the play of Hamlet. A question all of us know even if we don’t know the play. The question about our existence is something we all crave for the answer to. Instead of finding the answer or facing the reality, we relax in our couches while watching TV-shows with happily-ever-after endings.
We feel dissatisfied with the life we have or downright cheated out of the life we think we deserve. We yearn for life of perfect happiness that is impossible while failing with controlling the life we actually have. We live in this blame everyone but yourself culture. Existentialists on the other hand know how to handle life; it absurd and full of terrible and inescapable truths. Life does in fact have a meaning – the meaning one chooses to give his or her own existence. Each person is free to create themselves and make the ride worthwhile. Like Jean-Paul Sartre says: “To be is to do”.