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What is Hamlet trying to say when he says, "There is a special / providence in the fall...

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ldgfaf | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 5, 2008 at 7:53 AM via web

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What is Hamlet trying to say when he says, "There is a special / providence in the fall of a sparrow" (V.ii)?

I want to know what is Hamlet trying to say when he speaks these words.

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cybil | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted January 5, 2008 at 8:15 AM (Answer #1)

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Here, Hamlet explains to Horatio the reason he is willing to engage in the fencing match with Laertes. Earlier Hamlet has said "We defy augury." He means that omens and signs, indicating the match may be a bad idea, mean nothing to him, have no influence on him; he has no fear of them.Augury is the divination of, the reading of, signs, omens, portents that indicate the future.

"Providence" has several senses of meaning. In this sense, "there's a special / providence in the fall of a sparrow," Hamlet uses it to mean a demonstration of divine care, direction, concern. He expresses the idea that Providence (God) cares about every evil that occurs and every ill that comes to pass. He means to reassure Horatio about his fate should the duel prove treachery since Horatio has just warned him that he cannot win and that he must listen to his own mind about it: If he has misgivings, he must opt out of the duel.

HORATIO
    You will lose this wager, my lord.

...

HORATIO
    If your mind dislike any thing, obey it: I will
    forestall their repair hither, and say you are not
    fit.

Hamlet uses an allusion to a Bible verse in Matthew that declares God controls the life of a sparrow, thus is in control of all even greater lives. Hamlet reveals his belief that his life and future are cared for by God and that, therefore, he is willing to proceed without fear even if his heart is troubled by it.

HAMLET
    But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here
    about my heart: but it is no matter.

there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow

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