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Predestination in HamletIn Act V when Hamlet says "There's a divinity that shapes our...

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quentin1

Posted June 16, 2012 at 3:37 PM via web

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Predestination in Hamlet

In Act V when Hamlet says "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will" (I think that's the quotation), what do you folks think he means by that? I'm asking because I don't know. The line hints at ideas of predestination. Is Hamlet saying God had a hand in killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or is Hamlet trying to justify his actions to his own guilty conscience? Has Hamlet finally collapsed into real madness after pretending to be mad in the previous acts?

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:29 PM (Answer #2)

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My two cents on this quote would be to interpret Hamlet's words as part of his growing acceptance of his own plan to kill his uncle. Through much of the play, Hamlet is fighting against this course of action. His father's ghost makes a clear mandate on him, but Hamlet does not want to kill his mother's husband, even if he is a murderer. Of course, Hamlet also does not want to become a killer. So he struggles against this course of action. Eventually though he comes to feel that he must kill his uncle. This quote finds Hamlet justifying his future actions, saying that there is no way around his fate, despite any attempts he would make to avoid it. 

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quentin1

Posted June 17, 2012 at 6:20 PM (Answer #3)

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Hey, e-martin, thanks for the thoughtful answer. I think it's ambiguous. Hamlet seems to be using ideas of fate to justify actions his conscience won't allow him to accept. In the case of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they got what they deserved to some extent, but Hamlet's diabolical scheme to murder them instead still looks bad. He wants to keep his conscience clean, but no matter what he does, he can't. So now he's appealing to ideas of fate--or what he perceives to be fate--to calm his conscience.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted July 9, 2012 at 7:02 PM (Answer #4)

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This quote is one of the most important in the play because it is such a departure from the Hamlet who was thinking that he could have "control" over everyone or everything. He realizes that there is a Fate/Providence/Hand of God/Divinity at play in all things -- there are just tons of things in this world he has no control over! All Hamlet can control is his actions and reactions to the events and people around him. He can't make Claudius confess, but he can decide what do once Claudius does reveal his guilt. He can't make his friends be loyal to him, but he can do what he must in order to save his life when it is threatened. 

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