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Philosophical

Philosophical ideas in Hamlet are similar to those of the French writer Michel de Montaigne, a contemporary of Shakespeare's. (Artist: Thomas de Leu, fl. 1560–1612).

Hamlet is often perceived as a philosophical character, expounding ideas that are now described as relativist, existentialist, and sceptical. For example, he expresses a subjectivistic idea when he says to Rosencrantz: "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so".[77] The idea that nothing is real except in the mind of the individual finds its roots in the Greek Sophists, who argued that since nothing can be perceived except through the senses—and since all individuals sense, and therefore perceive, things differently—there is no absolute truth, only relative truth.[78] The clearest example of existentialism is found in the "to be, or not to be"[79] speech, where Hamlet uses "being" to allude to both life and action, and "not being" to death and inaction. Hamlet's contemplation of suicide in this scene, however, is less philosophical than religious as he believes that he will continue to exist after death.[80]

Scholars agree that Hamlet reflects the contemporary scepticism that prevailed in Renaissance humanism.[81] Prior to Shakespeare's time, humanists had argued that man was God's greatest creation, made in God's image and able to choose his own nature, but this view was challenged, notably in Michel de Montaigne's Essais of 1590. Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man" echoes many of Montaigne's ideas, but scholars disagree whether Shakespeare drew directly from Montaigne or whether both men were simply reacting similarly to the spirit of the times.[82]

Hamlet's scepticism is juxtaposed in the play with Horatio's more traditional Christian worldview. Despite the friends' close bond, Hamlet counters Horatio's faith with the seemingly agnostic comment, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 859


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