Death and Suicide in Hamlet
Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, Death is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all. In Hamlet, Prince Hamlet struggles to cope with his father’s death and his mother’s rash decision to marry his uncle, King’s Hamlet brother, Claudius, less than a month after his father’s death. After an unexpected visit from his father’s ghost, Hamlet discovers that his uncle murdered his father. This new information sets Hamlet on a path of revenge that is highly entwined with death. As Hamlet devotes himself to avenging his father’s death, he appears to enter into a deep melancholy and apparent madness. As time goes on, Hamlet almost becomes obsessed with death to the point where he contemplates it from numerous perspectives. In William Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, Hamlet evaluates death and suicide morally, religiously, and visually throughout the novel to reveal the complexity of choosing life versus death.
After a sudden death, everyone reacts and experiences their grief differently from those around them. Less than one month after King Hamlet’s death, Prince Hamlet mourns the loss of his father as any typical person would do. Hamlet’s depressive state leads to an intervention from his mother and uncle. His mother, Gertrude, questions why Hamlet seems to be sad and depressed. She states, Do not forever with thy vail lids, seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die (I.2.72). She attempts to explain to Hamlet that death is a natural part of life and at some point everyone must die. Which is why she tells Hamlet that it would be better if he moved past his father’s death and no longer hold onto him. However, Hamlet is unable to accept and move on after his father’s sudden death. Hamlet asserts, Seems,’ madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems’ (I.2.79). Hamlet firmly confirms that he understand that at some point everyone must die, but at the moment he truly feels grief and wants to express it. Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, responds to Hamlet with not so loving advice, he states, But you must learn your father lost a father, That father lost, lost his (I. 2. 92). Claudius tells Hamlet that yes he lost his father, but everyone does, it truly isn’t a big deal. Claudius proclaims death is human nature and everyone must die, thus there is no reason to mourn over them for very long. Gertrude and Claudius both declare that while death is sad, the only thing that can be done is to move on and live life before death comes for Hamlet to.
Throughout the play, Hamlet begins to question the religious dilemma that is connected with suicide. Early on, Hamlet states, O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, or that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! (I.2.133). After his mother’s wedding, Hamlet wants nothing more than just to die, but to commit suicide is a sin in the eyes of God. Thus, by committing suicide he would simply be damning himself to hell, which will also cause pain and suffering.Leading Hamlet to dismiss the thought and prolong his suffering. As Hamlet begins to suffer the effects of the death and pain that surrounds him, he begins to contemplate once again if there is any point to continue living. Within his famous soliloquy in Act 3, scene 1, Hamlet presents the morality of choosing to end one’s own life.
He proposes the dilemma of choosing to commit suicide as an escape from life’s troubles, or to live because of fear of the unknown. He begins with, 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 (III.1.64). Hamlet weighs the consequences of giving up or fighting the pain, struggling to find what the right thing to do is. Hamlet is able to recognize that others who suffer also wish for death, but doesn’t know if he should kill himself because he is unsure if death will truly bring him peace.He concludes that the only reason people end up choosing to live is because of the uncertainty of the afterlife.
Hamlet states, Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death (III.1.84). Hamlet now wonders if it would just be easier to suffer through life than it is to escape into the undiscovered country (III.1.87). While Hamlet would rather die than to live in a world where his uncle killed his father and married his mother, but the idea of venturing into death that holds no certainty is terrifying. While death seems to be a peaceful release from life, the afterlife is unpredictable and no living soul knows what occurs after death.
As the play comes to a close, Hamlet ponders on the futility of death. In Act IV, scene 3, Hamlet answers Claudius’ question, Now Hamlet, where’s Polonius? (IV. 3. 19), by saying: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots (IV. 3.22). Hamlet illustrates with gruesome imagery of rot and decay that occurs after death to suggest that it doesn’t matter who the person was in life, because they all end up in the same place inside a worm. While, Polonius was a nobleman in life, in death he is just food for the worms to allow them to survive.
Symbolizing the inevitability of death, from the King to the lowest beggar. Hamlet illustrates this concept of deterioration in the grave once more in Act 5. In his scene with the gravediggers, Hamlet finds the skull of Yorick, the King’s jesters. While speaking to the skull, Hamlet wonders if the skull of Alexander the Great looks similar after decay. Hamlet then states, Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust: the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel? (V. 1.216).
Hamlet once again muses on the process of decaying that a body goes through after death. In this state, he ponders what existence leads to. Hamlet discusses the no matter what a person did during their life, even if they were absolutely amazing, in the end, they always go back to where they came from. Hamlet recognizes that in death the mighty ruler, Alexander the Great, is no different from a simple jester.