Does Hamlet feel "the readiness is all" and the rest is up to providence, or does his fit of passion in killing Claudius reveal he is still undecided?In Shakespeare's Hamlet

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Your question refers to Shakespeare's tragic play, Hamlet, Act Five, scene two. Horatio is concerned that some kind of trap may be lying in wait for Hamlet. Hamlet says,


Not a whit, we defy augury; there's a special

Providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to

come, if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now,

yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man has

aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be. (V.ii.211-215)

In this speech, I do not believe that Hamlet is undecided. Horatio urges him to wait if he has a bad feeling about the "sword play" with Laertes. However, there seems (to me) to be a certain resignation to Hamlet's attitude. He is committed: "we defy augury" means that he will stare down bad omens, ignore them, and move forward. An especially beautiful line, "there's a special / Providence in the fall of a sparrow" seems to allude to the Bible verse that speaks of God's universal knowledge—he knows even when a sparrow falls:

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26)

Hamlet speaks of providence: God. I believe he is saying, there is God's hand in all things: even in Hamlet's meeting of Laertes. He may being saying, too, that whatever is to happen is something God has planned (predestination).

Hamlet now knows that Claudius has killed Old Hamlet for certain. He also knows that Claudius tried to have Hamlet killed in England. Hamlet is fairly certain that Laertes blames Hamlet for the death of Polonius, as well as Ophelia's sad fate, and so Hamlet expects treachery from Laertes, even though Hamlet has admired him almost like a brother. Laertes' grief and need for revenge are deep, and have been coated with poison by Claudius.

Hamlet explains that whatever is to come, will come. If not today, then tomorrow, but it will come. Hamlet's light spirits while he jests at the beginning of the "game" entertain those who watch, but it may speak to Hamlet's acceptance of the inevitable: God's plan for him. I do not think Hamlet goes into the ring without knowing what his fate may be.

Hamlet is prepared to kill Claudius if opportunity allows it. Hamlet could have killed Claudius while he prayed, but he did not want his uncle to go to Heaven having just prayed (he thought). Old Hamlet never received the mercy of being absolved of his sins before he died. Later, because Hamlet believes the King his in Gertrude's room in the midst of some incestuous act, he stabs through the curtain (arras) and kills Polonius believing it is the King—and does so without hesitation.

Of course, once Hamlet realizes that Claudius is responsible for his mother's death—Claudius' own wife—and for the treachery with Laertes, Hamlet does not kill Claudius because he knows he is dying from Laertes' poisoned sword. Based on what Hamlet said to Horatio earlier, I believe he expects that things will end one way or another now, and if Hamlet dies in the process, that is what is meant to be.

I believe that Hamlet is resolved to face his fate, recognizing that providence will have a hand in what happens.


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