Essay on William Shakespeare 's Hamlet - Existentialism

1651 Words Sep 27th, 2016 7 Pages
Actions Speak Louder than Soliloquies: Existentialism in Hamlet
In the 1600s, existentialism did not yet exist in name, but the ideas behind the movement were circulating during William Shakespeare’s time. Existentialism as we define it now focuses on “existence before essence,” the idea that humans exist and then write their own narratives, not the other way around (Crowell). One of the most influential leaders of the existentialist movement was Jean-Paul Sartre; his lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism” explains many of the principal concepts of the movement and defends his theory against its critics (Sartre). Many of the conflicts that Sartre and other existentialist philosophers discuss manifest themselves in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. By subtly sprinkling these ideas throughout the play, Shakespeare makes the audience reevaluate the customs and supposed truths of the time without making the play controversial. In Hamlet, some characters fail to adopt existentialist mindsets, and as a result, they suffer the anguish and despair of which Sartre warns. Other characters embody the values praised by existentialists, and Shakespeare rewards them, if not with a happy outcome, at least with some of the most quotable lines in all of literature. Through existentialist elements, Shakespeare infuses Hamlet with a modern understanding of the world.
Free will is an important tenet of existentialism. Sartre and many other existentialists reject the idea of fate and predetermination in…

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