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Sebastian Novoa Gam

Four Great Tragedies
Mtro. Juan Carlos Calvillo
What a piece of work is man: Hamlet, the Absurd and The Myth of Sisyphus
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is
or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” This is how
Albert Camus starts his 1942 essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. I will try to elucidate the concept of
the Absurd that Camus develops throughout this essay, in relationship with the nature of Hamlet’s
thought in two soliloquies, one speech, and one final realization, that together will articulate a
statement proposed in the same essay: “Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined.”
Before we begin, it is necessary to outline the context in which the Absurd begins to take
place inside this play. Using the words of Hossain: "Shakespeare shows his interest in complex
existential issues through highlighting characters that experience themselves as divided,
damaged, and even dissolved." (Hossain 1). With this in mind, the context in which we find
ground to exemplify the first postulates on the Absurd begins to unfold in the second scene of the
first act. Is in this manner in which we find young Hamlet: divided, damaged, and dissolved,
“(…) in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His
exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a
promised land.” (Camus 6). Hamlet is forced to return to the land that his now dead father once
ruled, only to realize that his uncle has seized the crown and his mother, without delay, is now his
wife. Amidst everything that has happened, Hamlet is confronted with the absurd particularity of
his sorrow by his own mother: “Ger. Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, passing
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The zenith of this “nausea” becomes articulated in one of the most famous prose speeches in the play: 2 ./Nor windy suspiration of forced breath. madam! nay it is.” (Camus 7).” (Camus 21)./Seem to me all the uses of this world!/Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden.e. their meaningless pantomime makes silly everything that surrounds them. flat and unprofitable. moods.”(11). nor the fruitful river in the eye.' /'Tis not alone my inky cloak. It is thus a divorce from reason itself: for Hamlet sorrow does not just seems./Nor customary suits of solemn black. madam. ii 133-137). The mechanical aspect of their gestures. Hamlet. According to Camus. the absence of any profound reason for living. Before we advance to the central purpose of this essay (i./For they are actions that a man might play:/But I have that within which passeth show. recognizes “(…) the ridiculous character of that habit. Hamlet ceases to apprehend the world as something intelligible. Ay. If it be. the insane character of that daily agitation. Ham. Camus says “[that] we get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking./That grows to seed. “Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. it is common. but that it bursts from the comparison between a bare fact and a certain reality./Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage. the people that surrounds him “secrete something inhuman. just as Camus after him. between an action and the world that transcends it. “the feeling of absurdity does not spring from the mere scrutiny of a fact or an impression. and the uselessness of suffering” (Camus 6) in his first soliloquy: “(…) How weary. shapes of grief.through nature to eternity. ii 72-75). ii 72-75). The absurd is essentially a divorce./Together with all forms. stale. good mother. That it should come to this!” (Hamlet I./These but the trappings and the suits of woe. things rank and gross in nature/ Possess it merely. Why seems it so particular with thee?” (Hamlet I./No. (Hamlet I. it is: Seems. this incalculable tumble before the image of what we are… this is also the absurd” (11). I know not 'seems. /That can denote me truly: these indeed seem. Hamlet becomes pervaded with the “nausea”: “this discomfort in the face of man’s own inhumanity. Ger.”).

The world evades us because it becomes itself again. and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame. it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet. Hamlet cannot elude the feeling [that] for a second we cease to understand it[the world] because for centuries we have understood in it solely the images and designs that we had attributed to it beforehand. The birth of absurdity. Hamlet cannot fail to recognize the divorce between what he knows and what he really knows. The falling of his rock has not granted him the consciousness of a victory. like Sisyphus. ii 303-318) Although this speech is crossed with his antic disposition. Why do we have to suffer the uselessness of suffering? Why do we have to act? Why do we have to be the tool of some unknown force that dictates the fate that follows? Questions rather than answers. in which the chain of daily gestures is broken. this most excellent canopy.I have of late—but wherefore I know not –lost all my mirth. is what the fourth soliloquy proposes. It withdraws at a distance from us… But the time has not yet come. 3 . He is a pawn of the forces that made him the “scourge and minister”. seems to me a sterile promontory. forgone all custom of exercises. what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me … (Hamlet II. (11) Even when he is acting. because henceforth we lack the power to make use of that artifice. this majestical roof fretted with golden fire. why. We are left to decide “whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. the air. all is not well. /Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. to me. which must be settled among men.”(10). consciousness awakes with just two endings: the return to the habit or suicide. has its roots where “the void becomes eloquent. /And by opposing end them?” (Hamlet III. When one begins to be “undermined”. He has begun to think. i 57-60). Just one thing: that denseness and that strangeness of the world is the absurd. his rock is not his thing. look you. He is now undermined. He. unlike the final assertion of Oedipus. We are left with a why. the earth. this brave o'erhanging firmament. Camus says. That stage scenery masked by habit becomes again what it is. and he cannot make of fate a “human matter. is forced to push a rock in the form of habit but. in which the heart vainly seeks the link that will connect it again.” (Camus 78).

Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life. The same structures that were supposed to give meaning to our existence are the ones that deprive us from the real experience that is life: “Yes. which is to burn the heart they simultaneously exalt—that is the whole question. When Hamlet says “the readiness is all”. in time. But whether or not one can live with one’s passions. That cannot be. It is thus a battle between action and inaction what dwells within the play and in these previous lines. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows.” (Camus 56).”(57). the final “Let be” that Hamlet enunciates. we too become “undermined” by the harsh reality in which we are living. This world has too divorced from reason. ‘Begins’— this is important.” (Camus 16). And he is his only end. it is in this life. and. At the end of the awakening comes. deprived of the eternal. Bibliography 4 . This is called becoming a man. he accepts that contemplation “cannot give [him] everything. where he abandons the realm of contemplation and becomes “the man” that Camus proposes.” (56) It is the final realization of the play. the consequence: suicide or recovery (…) Mere “anxiety. [He] do[es] not want to put down to [his] account either nostalgia or bitterness. He has begun to think and he will not stop for the rest of the play because “from the moment absurdity is recognized. Now I know it only too well.” as Heidegger says. and [he] merely want[s] to see clearly. whether or not one can accept their law. By understanding what the Absurd in Camus proposes in relationship with what is happening inside Hamlet’s mind. man is his own end.One day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.(…) What follows is the gradual return into the chain[the one of habit] or it is the definitive awakening. Consciousness demands clairvoyance: “There always comes a time when one must choose between contemplation and action. but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. is at the source of everything (Camus 10) If in killing himself Hamlet confesses that life has surpassed him the purpose of his awakening becomes stagnant. the most harrowing of all. If he aims to be something. [He] want[s] to ally [him]self with time. it becomes a passion.

The Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays.Camus. Albert. Existentialist Readings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: An Overview. Repr. 1998. Bangladesh: Ibais University. Justin O’Brien. Four Great Tragedies. Trans. London: Hamish Hamilton. William. 1955. Amir. Shakespeare. Print. New York: Penguin. Hossain. 5 . 1965.