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 deceit. 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 purpose. 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, thoughtco.com/nietzsches-concept-of-the-will-to-power-2670658. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New Folger’s ed. New York: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books, 1992.