The Nature of Moral Choice in Hamlet
- Date:Jul 01, 2019
The nature of moral choice in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet Existentialism is the fundamental idea of the play, Hamlet. Everybody isengulfed in seeking the essence of existing, with the choices more inclined to the individual choices and interests, than to the interest of the others or the society (Corbett, n.p.). Everyone is seeking a life of his/her own, without the need to evaluate how such choices will influence or even affect others. This character is most conspicuous in Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude. To them, life is a matter of existing, a matter of a choice between to-be and nothing else. None of the characters seem to be influenced by external forces. They embark on making decision on their own, based on their perception of life, its value and its meaning (Corbett, n.p.).
Hamlet is the major character whose actions depict Existentialism. In fact, to him, life has a meaning only if it favors his choices and his way of thinking, regardless of who will be hurt by the choices he make. This is first displayed by his protest over his mother being married by Claudius. To him, this is a wrong choice, owing to the fact that, Claudius, who is his uncle, caused the death of his father (Shakespeare, 28). Therefore, he is determined to protest this move, terming it as simply unacceptable. Thus, in his disapproval of the marriage between his uncle and his mother, he does not mind hurting his mother and even rebuking the generosity of his uncle, just to reinforce his viewpoint. This is a choice he has made against all odds, with seemingly no one supporting him. Everybody is rejoicing for the marriage between the new king and old queen, but he continues to stick by his protest oblivious of the external forces against him.
He seems to go against the wishes of the others, in pursuit of his goals. He is insisting on loving Ophelia, although she has disappointed him many times. In fact, he is doing that against the will of Ophelia’s father, whom he does not like either (Rabkin, 63). This is extended further in the scene where Hamlet finds the king in prayer and wants to kill him, yet he reasons that it would not be good revenge, since killing a man in prayer is a display of weakness. Vengeance is supposed to be an act of real courage (Rabkin, 78). Though he is accused of a barbaric reasoning, it is a further indication that his choices are individually based, and not prone to the influence of external forces. This is a clear search for existential meaning.
The same ideology of Existentialism is displayed by Claudius and Gertrude, when they decide to marry after Claudius kills his brother, who was the king. It is expected that Gertrude would mourn the death of his husband, but instead, she opts to marry his brother even before the mourning ends. This is a personal choice, devoid of the external forces; a characteristic of Existentialism (Corbett, n.p.). Further, it was odd for Claudius to kill his brother and marry his wife, oblivious of the disapproval from his nephew and the unacceptability of incest by the society. Therefore, it is clear that the nature of moral choice in this play is based on individual interests and reasoning, as opposed to the societal perspective, which is an aspect of Existentialism.
Corbett, Bob. What is Existentialism?, March 1985.
Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. First Quarto 1603. Shakespeare Association; Sidgwick & Jackson, 1951. Print.