In "Hamlet" did Hamlet live and die by making decisions based on his free will or did forces greater than him make them for him?
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This answer could go both ways, but I think that there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Hamlet was a pretty indecisive guy, and he waited for other forces to push him into decisions that he might not have made otherwise. Take his mission of revenge for example. He doesn't enact it until the very end of the play. He had ample opportunities, throughout the play, to, of his own free will, just go and kill Claudius. He even comes upon Claudius after the play, where he has had pretty convincing evidence that Claudius is guilty. But, he doesn't kill him then. He gives a paltry excuse that he wants to kill him while he is committing a sin, not praying, so that his soul will go to hell. It takes 3 major events to prompt Hamlet to act out his revenge. The first is evidence of Claudius' intent to kill him in the letter to R&G. The second is being on the battelfield and seeing all of the death around him; he resolves to action. The third is after his own mother has been poisoned by Claudius and Laertes has told Hamlet that Claudius did it. It took ALL THREE of those major events for Hamlet to FINALLY decide, "Oh, alright! I guess I can't ignore his guilt anymore. I guess I'll kill him now." If those events hadn't happened, Hamlet might have grown into an old bitter man, pining away in corners about how life is miserable, but never acting on anything. So, I would say that greater events in the play made the decisions for him for the most part. I hope that gives you something to think about, and good luck!
Hamlet is forced into action by his father's ghost. Then, there are a series of events which continue to spur Hamlet to action: the Mousetrap play, Claudius' suspicion of him and his plots to kill Hamlet, Gertrude's behavior, and Horatio's advice. Hamlet is also spurred to action through Laertes' explanation of the plot he and Claudius have against him.
Ah, something that can be argued either way! These are the fun types of discussion questions! I am a BIG believer in free will, and Hamlet is no exception. No, Hamlet didn't choose for his father to be murdered nor did Hamlet choose for incest to arise within his family, but his actions, however, are under his control. If they weren't, then Hamlet truly was insane (yet another interesting and controversial argument). Hamlet could have chosen not to "put an antic disposition on" and therefore not driven Ophelia to insanity. Hamlet could have acted less rashly and not stabbed Poloniusbehind the arras. Hamlet could have killed Claudius while he was kneeling in church. The list goes on and on. Oh, I'm sure Hamlet would love to blame it all on "fate." We all like to do that. My reply would be, "Sorry, buddy, that flimsy 'fate' argument doesn't fly here. Let's accept the consequences of our actions like real men, eh?"
I think Hamlet himself sees a balance between the two. In Act 5 he says, "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." He knows that his actions are his choice and he must live with the consequences, but some of the circumstances in which he must take action are not in his control.
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