Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tragedy written between 1599 and 1602 but taken place during the renaissance.
The main character of the play, Prince Hamlet of Denmark, shows qualities of a humanist. Humanism was a renaissance cultural movement with the idea that human needs and values are more important than religious beliefs. Hamlet displays these attributes throughout the play when he questions the basic truths and ideals of his life, and his humanist philosophy. Hamlet questions the afterlife and whether or not he should commit suicide. Hamlet says, “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.” (127). To stay alive and suffer or to kill himself and suffer forever is what he has been pondering for many scenes of this play. Hamlet suffers because he does not know who to trust, when finding out his step father had killed his father in the most deceiving way.
Also, his mother’s betrayal once she married her husband’s murderer shortly after his death. Though he thinks about dying, he is scared of what could happen to him in the afterlife and doesn’t know if there is a heaven or hell that is waiting for him. Knowing that committing suicide is a sin with consequences, he questions his subconscious that is making him a coward. As a humanist, Hamlet does not believe in god but he believes in his creation of humans. “What a piece of work is 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!” (102-103). During the Age of Reason, humans played important roles, not just God.
He believes that a man is like a work of art. He sees the beauty in the human mind and understands its uniqueness. He says that there is nothing more beautiful than the body of humans, and we surpass all species of life. He only believes in god with this theory, but when it comes to other things like spirits and the afterlife, he starts questioning. Hamlet’s beliefs of afterlife changes throughout the play, but he had once believed that humans are nothing after death just like “dust”.
Hamlet questions a spirit that comes into his life that resembles his father. The ghost tells all information to Hamlet about how he had passed on, and his stay in purgatory. After admitting that the stepfather of Hamlet was the one who had killed him, the ghost asks hamlet to execute the revenge. As soon as Hamlet overthinks the ghost, he says “The spirit I have seen may be a devil, and the devil hath power t’ assume a pleasing shape.” (119). He starts to doubt the ghost, but still listens to the information give. He does not follow through with the revenge the ghost had wanted, until he was for certain that the ghost was not the devil himself.
Hamlet does not only question the people around him, but also the apparitions he sees. Prince Hamlet’s humanism is demonstrated throughout the play. He questions his family, God, spirits, and the afterlife. He overthinks and starts having doubts, just like every critical thinking empiricist does.