Uploaded by Breanna Penaflor


Benjamin Bac Sierra
Enlish 1B
18 July 2019
Hamlet​: The Purpose and Futility of Existence
In his tragedy ​Hamlet​, William Shakespeare explores and analyzes the themes of mortality and
the inevitability of death through the development of Hamlet’s understanding and beliefs for the
value in life and life’s purpose. Hamlet’s obsession with existence and mortality exposes his
nature to be introspective and a man of thought, introducing his need to understand the purpose
of existence. This allows Shakespeare to analyze and interpret the meaning of different elements
of mortality, death, truth, and justice. In ​Hamlet​, the pain death causes to others, the continuous
questioning of existence through death, and the reason for living come together as the play
exposes human nature’s desire for “cognitive closure”. While due to the inevitable and
unknowable mystery of death, as no being will ever empirically experience death and be able to
tell the tale, Shakespeare offers a story on the most universal human dilemma for the purpose of
life through an analysis of Hamlet’s development in understanding existence and death, and the
futility of life experienced by all characters in pursuit of their purpose.
When virtues and principles are the reasoning to give life purpose it is easy to live by
them without question, but when they are used to act against oneself and others they are cause to
become obsolete and futile to couple virtues with purpose to live. In ​Hamlet,​ Laertes stands as
Hamlet’s foil, as shown in the play Laertes is a man of action driven by his virtues and passion.
Through Laertes, the audience can see the consequences when one acts on their virtues of being
an honorable son and a concerned brother. When Laertes returns to Denmark (Act 4 Scene 5), he
is enraged and charges the castle with a mob in riot over his father’s death. Enraged, Laertes
looks to Claudius for answers and demands for his father and the person responsible for his
death. At that moment Laertes is rash and acts without thinking, allowing the upset of his father’s
death guide his actions, one could say already set out to draw blood of the person responsible for
his father’s death. His purpose for return and the purpose of his actions is guided by seeking
revenge against his father’s killer also manifest his existential purpose of being a man of honor
and loyalty to his family. However, these virtues that his character holds unravel to be his
downfall. Laertes is so headstrong to be an honorable son and avenge his father’s death, his
character is corruptible for he is blind by it. Claudius takes advantage and inflames Laertes’ rage
by promising he will satisfy his desire to avenge Polonius, spinning Laertes into his web of
dishonorable deeds as they devise a plan to kill Hamlet. There’s even a moment before fencing
match where Hamlet apologizes to Laertes for the death of Polonius, and Laeretes accepts
Hamlet’s apology but also rejects because of honor, his obligation to avenge his father’s death.
One could see this as a missed opportunity for clarity to prevail and possibly avoid what was to
come. As the scheme unfolds Laertes ends up poisoned by his own repier, and his purpose turns
futile for what good is it to achieve revenge if it means the cost of one’s life. Laertes’ futility in
being the honorable son gets him nothing other than commit acts that grate against his
conscience and the end of his life. Laertes confesses before he dies as he is filled with guilt from
what he has done because what influenced his actions counters the virtue of honor, acting under
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche derived the concept of the “will to power” (as a
psychological principle), inspired by the concept of a “cosmic Will” by Arthur Schopenhauer,
(roughly) an irrational force found in all individuals that explains the human behavior “in terms
of a desire for domination or mastery over others, oneself or the environment” (Westacott). The
purpose of existence for Claudius is power. Claudius’ shows to believe in the power of “I”, and
the significance of self-power is the motive behind all his immoral acts. Claudius’ “will to
power” is expressed by the crimes he commits, beginning with murdering the old King Hamlet,
also his brother, in order to obtain the crown of Denmark, therefore the power of the crown and
the lady he desires, Gertrude, the late king’s wife. Claudius technically unrightfully takes from
King Hamlet what was once his by murdering him. Through the lens of Elizabethan society it is
unrightful because a man made king is done so by divine right. In this belief the king is equated
to God on Earth because God chose the individual. However, through the “will to power” lens,
Claudius justifies his acts as a means to live out his purpose to rule as king and obtain the power
he desires. This desire for power seems to be a natural force influencing Claudius’ reasoning and
calculations that led him to the top. Though committed in crude and immoral ways, Claudius
stands on the power of “I” and his belief that he exists to live in power not behind the shadow of
his brother.
Through all the schemes and dishonorable acts for the crown, the lady and power, he
loses it all at his own demise.The futility in all his calculations and slyness is it all backfires as
the consequences rise in Act 5 Scene 2. Claudius is technically responsible for the death of
Gertrude because he allows her to drink the poisoned cup of wine. He would rather have her
drink than risk revealing his ultimate plan to kill Hamlet in order to secure the power he
stole.What was the meaning then to kill the old king in order to have the queen if let her die? Not
only her life but his too. Once the truth is revealed of Claudius’ doing, Hamlet forces him to take
part in what he is responsible for by drinking the rest of the wine and then ends his life. Claudius
purpose in life fails him and proves to be futile because the desires he obtained were short lived
and no point to be king for a day, especially if one desires the power to rule as their lifetime
Existence can be rendered futile if shapen by an individual’s experience of deep sorrow,
anger, and the lack of self-worth. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy,he shares with the audience his
melancholia and the reason for this depression:
O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst (self-slaughter!) O God, God,
How (weary), stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world! (1.2.133-138)
In the first two lines Hamlet expresses he feels trapped by his flesh and he wishes to escape by
means of the flesh turning into a “dew” state, possibly a spiritual release, if the connection
between the physical properties of water and “spirit” is permitted. In the following two lines
(135-136) Hamlet shares how his religion recognizes suicide as a sin. If he were to commit
suicide he would be denied from heaven and damned to hell. In this moment, Hamlet seems to
agree with the existence of a religious afterlife, his Christianity acts as the hinder to Hamlet ever
committing to kill himself. Hamlet finds everything in this world is futile. He sees death as a way
to resolve himself of his human issues. Further in the soliloquy he reveals the nature of his
despair comes from the pain of his dead father and the disgust that his mom married her
brother-in-law just two months after his death. The audience sees that the old king’s death
lingers deep emotions of sadness over Hamlet. What makes him suffer shapes his look on the
world as a place not worth living in, here the audience sees the start of Hamlet ponder death and
the value of existence, as he will dance with throughout the play.
In a world where the dynamics of purpose in existence prompts an individual to seek
meaning, there’s a call to action based on that meaning, and the choices one makes to follow the
pure purpose or perverse it will sow to be the prevail or downfall of human existence. Hamlet’s
encounter with the ghost, who reveals itself to be his late father, old King Hamlet, tasks Hamlet
with the promise to kill King Claudius because he is responsible for the old king’s death. If his is
ever to leave purgatory the deed must be done.This promise offers Hamlet a purpose to live and a
reason for Hamlet to state: “That ever I was born to set it right” (1.5.211). This line implies
Hamlet’s belief that his existence is fated to avenge his father’s wrongful murder. In contrast to
his first soliloquy, his pessimistic perspective on existence has shifted shape due to angst and the
vow of vengeance and now looks like a position of fiery direction. This adds to Hamlet’s slow
development in the play to become more than Hamlet the thinker. Though this direction does
give ground for purpose in life, it is one that shows to be self-destructive. This motive steers the
direction of his actions (and inactions). These acts are self-destructive prominently in the play
when Hamlet puts on a display that he lost his mind to madness. Hamlet reasons to Horatio in
order for his plan to kill Claudius to follow through he must act mad to distract the king and
queen, but it seems Hamlet may have lost himself in the act.
The purpose of existence, whether it is found or not, isn’t guaranteed to bring comfort,
wisdom or greatness. It is up to the individual to decide how they let the definition of their
existence affect and guide their life,in light to bring peace, for peace of mind, peace of soul is
what all human’s end up looking for. In the last scene of ​Hamlet​, Hamlet’s last words are “...- the
rest is silence” (5.2.395). Looking at the entirety of the play, Hamlet, as much as the audience, is
constantly surrounded by noise, internal and his environment. The noise is everything from the
ghost’s words that daunts Hamlet to achieve his goal of avenging his father,the words of
Claudius and Gertrude, and the most tantalizing, his own personal thoughts. Hamlet a man of
philosophy, occupies his mind with internal introspection about existence and the unknown
existence after death, if there is one to wary. Hamlets mind is caught in the races because his
meditations about death have no answer and offer no resolution if he should kill himself or not.
Questioning of an existence after death is similar to inviting chaos to reside in the mind because
it is within human nature to promptly gratify the desire to know, to rid the mind of distress of the
unknown. However when this can’t be achieved it is common to still think about it even if it
drives one mad, or even into a depression. Hamlet’s drive for certainty in an ambiguous world is
a powerful force simply because this noise is everywhere, in the mind and all around. So, at the
last moments of his life the “silence” he speaks of is plausibly the nothingness that lies ahead. In
realization, his fear of death subsides. Hamlet’s “silence” is the feeling of true peace once one is
relieved from the human condition. Alas the “undiscovered country” will be known.
In whole, the references and analysis of the themes of mortality and existence in Hamlet
support the profound meaning of the play to question the purpose and futility of life, and address
the universal human dilemma that we fear death because it remains unknown. Through Hamlet’s
preoccupation with these concepts, Shakespeare allows his audience to venture into a story that
raises these questions members of the audience may ask themselves. This gives the audience the
opportunity to interpret ​Hamlet​ that may bring them the “silence” Hamlet spoke of for
themselves, offer peace of mind or new perspective about the purpose of life and its futility from
action and inaction. Also making the audience question what is existence, and how does the
perspective of death affect the existence in this life ? Does finding the purpose in life and reason
for existence bring happiness, and does that happiness carry over when approaching death?
Works Cited
Westacott, Emrys. "Nietzsche's Concept of the Will to Power." ThoughtCo, Jul. 3, 2019,
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New Folger’s ed. New York:
Washington Square Press/Pocket Books, 1992.