Hamlet's Enlightenment

May 5, 2008
By Paige Etheridge, Stony Brook, NY

The level of consciousness of humanity can best be divided into two components, the enlightened and the unenlightened. Those who are enlightened understand how to cease suffering and therefore end it to find bliss. The unenlightened do not comprehend how to can escape misery and are therefore doomed to frustration. The purpose of life is to go from being unenlightened to enlightenment. Shakespeare’s character Hamlet takes a journey which is a representation of the unenlightened reaching a type of enlightenment. This process which is elaborated on throughout the play of Hamlet shows how the individual can also attain this higher state of awareness and happiness for themselves.

Hamlet’s journey parallels the path to enlightenment involving the Four Noble Truths of Buddha; Dukkha (The Nature of Suffering), Samudaya (Suffering’s Origin), Nirodha (Suffering’s Cessation), and Maga (The Way: Ending Suffering). Hamlet is able to grasp a deep understanding of Dukkha. Ironically, this first step towards enlightenment is what is causing him pain:

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/
Seems to me all the uses of the world!/
Fie on’t, ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden/
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature/
Posses it merely. That it should come to this! (1.2. 133-137)
However, his torment is what motivates him to continue to reach to a higher conscious level. Thus Hamlet continues on his journey and to find the source of his distress and how he can alleviate it.
Hamlet knows that he is unhappy with the death of his father and hastily marriage between his mother and his uncle. “…Oh, most wicked speed to post/ With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”(156-157 1.2.). Hamlet further grows in awareness when he makes the discovery that “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life/ Now wears his crown” (1.5. 38-39). Thus he uncovers all origins of his torment (Samudaya). Hamlet at this point completely understand the origin of his suffering and begins to fight in order to make things right.
Hamlet then experiments using his ingenuity and wit to incorporate Nirodha. One of his plans involves the presentation of The Mouse Trap resembling the events of his father’s murder in order to get his uncle to confess his sin. “I’ll have grounds/ More relative than this—the play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (2.2 57-59) This attempt is then followed by his slaying of Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Laertes, and finally his uncle. Despite his uncle’s attempt to stop him from completing his operation, he escapes from the vessel that was carrying him to his execution so that he could carry out his undertaking to do right.
Hamlet attains Maga through death. In Hamlet’s mind, death is the only possible way for him to achieve his goal, to be released from the pain of the world. “We end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/ That the flesh is heir to; ‘tis a consummation/ Devoutly to be wished.” (3.1 6-9) Once Hamlet has completed his mission he dies. He has fulfilled his purpose as an individual and has ceased his suffering. “When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/ Must give us pause; there’s the respect/ That makes calamity so long a life.”(3.1 12-14)
Hamlet’s passage is a representation of the attainment of enlightenment. He is an ordinary being who reaches a higher conscious state and therefore frees himself from his suffering. The path in which any other individual can reach to this pinnacle is clearly presented because Hamlet has taken the journey previously. This is proof that anyone can escape from their misery and reach contentment.

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