Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This study is specifically concerned with analyzing the existential elements in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, utilizing as methodology the works of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

The aims of this study are chiefly to illuminate the usefulness of existentialism as an important, prescient, and timely methodology for criticism, as well as to reveal the applicability of Kierkegaard's works for literary analysis. There have, prior to this study, been other critical examinations of Shakespeare's work, utilizing the philosophy of Kierkegaard - however, unlike those other works of criticism, this project has undertaken comprehensive analysis of the play, making broad use of Kierkegaard's work (and other twentieth century thinkers), in order to come to as complete as is possible understanding of Hamlet as an individual psychology, and with that point of orientation to map his psychosocial, religious, and philosophic growth throughout the play. In that way, this study is useful to Kierkegaard and Shakespeare criticism, as it opens avenues of inquiry that have been lately neglected in the literary criticism's development, rejected by contemporary theory, and marginalized by the institutionalized methodologies of scholarship.

In doing this study, the final hope is that general principles of criticism are derived, which can then be applied to any work of literature with equal usefulness and benefit. Indeed, this project (and others like it) is particularly important in our cultural moment, where existentialism has been sidelined, in favor of methodological forms of inquiry that purport to be value-free, or which seek to undermine the idea and applicability of universals. This study rejects the contemporary norms of such studies, and argues for a fundamental critical shift towards criticism which (re)connects the individual reader to the universals of psychological development, experiential knowledge, and the search for individual meaning, endured by figures in literature, while retaining and embracing the particular nature of individual encounters through individual readership, and individual being.

This is a study that values the individual's encounter with himself, his particular moment of existence, suffering, and his coming to terms with a rejection of institutional, societal, and hierarchical valuation. Instead, this work argues for value, and essential centrality of ontology, that is the individual effort to discover meaning - a particular resurrection of la condition humaine, tempered by Kierkegaard's methodological structure, and the sobering tragedy of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Hamlet - that becomes, and ultimately is, truth for the individual.