What do you live for? “Hamlet”, by Shakespeare, explores the ideas of individual reasoning of existence. Several characters in the play have their own rationale as to why they live and why they think it is worth it. The play demonstrates themes of existence, revenge and power. The characters’ ideas about life and death develop more and become more prominent towards the end of the play. Hamlet, whose father has passed away, continues to contemplate life and the reason for his existence. His mother, Gertrude, greatly contrasts with Hamlet’s point of view and lives a happy life by not caring about anyone else.
She and her newlywed husband, Claudius, have the same attitude towards life, and the belief that they have to be selfish to get what they want. Examination of Queen Gertrude, King Claudius, and Prince Hamlet’s personalities in Shakespeare’s Hamlet unravels the dissimilar desires and motivations people have when reaching their goal of a happy life. Ignoring the her most important role of being a mother, Gertrude, who is also a queen and wife, puts aside her son’s feelings, knowing her actions will hurt him and cause chaos in his world, in order to satisfy her own needs.
Gertrude urges Hamlet, who has had a full two months of mourning, to move on and stop weeping over the death of his father. She tells Hamlet, “Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted color off… Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity”(i. ii. 70-75). Having the same amount of time to mourn, Gertrude is already over Hamlet’s father’s death. Gertrude’s shallowness comes to light when she chooses to ignore her son’s call for comfort and downplay the entire incident. Hamlet does not take Gertrude’s advice well and loses some respect for her, finally starting to see her true side.
He both disagrees about moving on too quickly and disapproves of the new marriage. Gertrude’s instinct of moving onto a new husband, who happened to be her dead ex-husband’s brother, in such a short period of time exposes her one true purpose in life: to retain her blissful self-preservation. She is happy with her life and even if a tragic event occurs, she moves on and finds happiness elsewhere.
It is only when Hamlet shouts“but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty! ” (iii. iv. 03-106) that he reveals the reasoning behind her actions. Hamlet reassures her that she has forgotten about his father’s death, married a murderer, yet continues to live happily because her sexual desires and needs can be fulfilled by King Claudius. Gertrude replies with, “O Hamlet, speak no more: Thou turn’st my very eyes into my soul, and there I see such black and grained spots, as will not leave their tinct (iii. iv. 99-102)… These words like daggers enter in my ears. No more, sweet Hamlet! ” (iii. iv. 107-109), frustratingly trying to make him stop condemning her with such unsympathetic language.
She reveals that she knows her actions have upset Hamlet but also by saying “will not leave their tinct” she means that what she has done is done and cannot be undone, something Hamlet would wish for but also understands. Just as she told Hamlet to forget about his father’s death, she is now telling him to move on from the sins she has committed. Gertrude, an authority figure to Hamlet, can argue back or even deny his accusations However, by choosing to do neither, Gertrude reveals how she already believes she is guilty of Hamlet’s accusations.
At this moment, Gertrude at this moment is confronted by her own wrong doings, and she stands just as guilty as King Claudius, a murderer. King Claudius’s hunger for power leads him to his own death. His plan is to kill his brother and take both his thrown and wife. Claudius is a smart king. His dangerous and manipulative nature gets him far in his devious plan. but because he ends up dying, he does not successfully achieve his goal. Claudius’s first manipulation occurs when he tries to cover up his brother’s death with his own wedding.
Claudius states, “With an auspicious and a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, in equal scale weighing delight and dole” (i. ii. 11-13), explaining how both events have equal value, and that people would focus on the marriage over the death because of its recency. He has influence over all of Denmark and uses the marriage to draw away from the attention of the murder committed. His precise planning enables him to enjoy life for a brief period of time because he partially achieves his goal; being powerful.
Unlike any other character in the play, Claudius is the only one who shows full commitment to his plan and has no doubt in himself when things do not go as planned. When Hamlet revealed Claudius’s murder, Claudius begins to ask for forgiveness, but comes to a halt when he realizes that he does not want to give up what he has worked hard for. “But O, what form of prayer can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder? That cannot be, since I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did the murder, my crown, mine own ambition, and my queen” (iii. iii,55-59), he speaks to himself.
He tries to repent for his wrong doings but understands he is too in love with power. This reveals that his fuel for life is power and without it, he would not be able to be successfully happy. Instead, Claudius turns away from faith and hopes to be as powerful as God. Unfortunately, Claudius’ actions, just before Gertrude’s death, exposes that he only sees Gertrude as a trophy wife. He does not truly love her. After accidentally drinking the cup of poison, Gertrude falls over and Hamlet asks what is wrong with her. Claudius, who was responsible for the poison in the cup replies with, “She swoons to see them bleed” (v. i. 339).
He tries to blame Gertrude for having a disturbed response to the blood, when in reality he is to blame for killing her. Instead of cherishing the last moments he had with her, he uses an excuse to cover himself up. His actions prove that he did not love Gertrude, but instead loved her status, which he always wished to have. Hamlet constantly contemplates whether or not life has meaning and fulfillment. He wants to commit suicide because he is upset about the tragic event of his father’s death but is skeptical of what death will be, and even considers the possibility that it can be worse than living.
Hamlet is very depressed and reveals how he hates being back in Denmark by stating, “Why then ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so. To me, it is a prison” (ii. ii. 268-270). Hamlet is a prince and loved by many, but he finds himself to be trapped in Denmark, because he does not know how to handle the pressure of arevenging his father. Hamlet projects his feelings onto Denmark when he truly feels like a prisoner in his own mind. He is negatively affected mentally and physically by Claudius and Gertrude’s actions, already having knowledge of their incestuous activities and crimes.
Hamlet’s confusion about life versus death continues to advance as he becomes more mad. He later states, “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 troubles, and by opposing end them. To die, to sleep… Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come”(iii. i. 64-74). Hamlet is weighing the idea of committing suicide, with “To be”, meaning to stay alive or “not to be”, meaning to die.
Here Hamlet makes death seem appealing. He illustrates how he wants death, but the only thing holding him back, is the fact that no one knows what happens when we die. Hamlet’s thoughts on life, which are based off of both happy and sad experiences, keep him from committing suicide. Unlike Gertrude and Claudius, Hamlet does not have a set goal of what makes him happy, and because of this, he has a lot of time to think about life and its true meanings. His only motive keeping him from killing himself is the unknown truth, which he has always yearned for.
Hamlet he needs factual information and the desire to uphold justice to give him reason to live, but continues to contemplate whether it is worth it. When the spirit of Hamlet’s father appears, Hamlet receives special instruction to kill King Claudius. First, Hamlet verifies that King Claudius has committed the murder by setting up a play that reflected the king’s wrong doings. Once he found Claudius to be guilty, based on Claudius’s response from observing the murder scene, Hamlet then proceeds to execute him in a mannerly fashion. Hamlet does not trust the ghost, and investigates on his own.
After confirming that Claudius was his father’s murderer, Hamlet thinks of his own plan of making sure Claudius receives the punishments he deserves. One day, Hamlet finds Claudius praying, which would have been an easy opportunity to kill him. However, Hamlet chooses not to because he was aware that if he killed Claudius while he was praying, Claudius would go to heaven and not hell. Hamlet plans to wait until Claudius is committing a sin to kill him. The spirit’s only request was to kill the king, but Hamlet decides that Claudius deserves to go to hell, and waits to kill Claudius while he is sinning.
Hamlet believes this is the right thing to do and the punishment, hell, will be exactly what Claudius deserves. He dies knowing he avenged his father and will not find Claudius in heaven, where he hopes his father is. The contrast between Hamlet’s character with Gertrude and Claudius’s is their life purpose. Hamlet only wants to know the truth and do what is right. He finds himself struggling with the idea of having a purpose in life, but knowing more about the truth helps him make decisions, including whether life is worth living.
Although the truth creates a lot of confusion for Hamlet, he finds meaning in upholding justice. Unlike Hamlet himself, his mom and stepdad have clear goals and have an easier time getting through life based on the lies they have taken advantage of. Life may be easier with a purpose for living, but Hamlet would argue that life is all a lie and not worth it. He would agree that the only way to find true happiness is by making it up, because in reality the world is indifferent and we give meaning to things that do not matter.