By comparing and contrasting Hamlet and Frankenstein, address the concept of free will as it relates to the person in the context of modern European history. These two works seem to depict two men and a monster who have lost at least a portion of their free will to either revenge, pride, jealousy, or some other passionate state. By using quotes from the text, explain how the concept of free will has changed or remained close to the Orthodox perspective in seventeenth- and nineteenth-century English thought and literature.

Both Shakespeare and Shelley explore the concept of free will in contrast with the concept of fate; in fact, fate versus free will seems to be a prevalent theme in English literature. Hamlet, Frankenstein and even the monster represent the complexity of human nature and the conflict between free will and fate, which to some degree corresponds with the medieval and modern Orthodox Christian teachings about the concept of free will.

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The one Shakespearean play that manages to present the eternal contest between fate and free will in the most elaborate and most intricate way is Hamlet . Hamlet is the classic Aristotelian tragic hero; he's intelligent, insightful, and moral, and he appears to have good intentions; however, he's also oversensitive,...

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The one Shakespearean play that manages to present the eternal contest between fate and free will in the most elaborate and most intricate way is Hamlet. Hamlet is the classic Aristotelian tragic hero; he's intelligent, insightful, and moral, and he appears to have good intentions; however, he's also oversensitive, confused, and conflicted. Throughout the play, Hamlet battles his inner demons—he struggles with the strong desire to avenge his father's death on one hand and his moral responsibility to not commit sin and go against the word of God by taking a life on the other.

The ghost of his late father—the representative of fate in the play, directly instructs Hamlet to seek revenge:

Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Ham. Murder!
Ghost. Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.
Ham. Haste me to know it, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.

Is Hamlet a man destined to murder his father's murderer? Hamlet has to make a choice whether to let fate determine his path and disregard his conscience and do what he perceives is "the right thing" or not do anything and live with the consequences; "To be or not to be" is what he asks himself and fails to find a satisfying answer.

Him not choosing to do anything, however, is actually a choice in its own—one that he makes consciously, by his own free will. Shakespeare summarizes the conflict between the concepts of fate and free will with the wise words of the Player King:

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown.
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.
So think thou wilt no second husband wed,
But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead.

Similarly to Hamlet, Victor Frankenstein is smart and ambitious, but he's not as conflicted as Hamlet; in fact, he's convinced that fate determines his path. In contrast, the creature understands that there's no one to blame but itself for its actions; it is its will that determines its way of life. In this context, Shelley presents the conflict between fate and free will. Victor represents fate, and he is fate's slave:

"I thank you," he replied, "for your sympathy, but it is useless; my fate is nearly fulfilled. I wait but for one event, and then I shall repose in peace. I understand your feeling," continued he, perceiving that I wished to interrupt him; "but you are mistaken, my friend, if thus you will allow me to name you; nothing can alter my destiny listen to my history, and you will perceive how irrevocably it is determined."

On the other hand, the creature represents free will—it is fate's master:

Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.

Both Victor's and the creature's choices may be considered consequences of circumstance, and Victor and the creature might be perceived as victims of emotion and impulse; at the same time, however, it is their own actions and choices that ultimately lead them to their downfalls in the end. Thus, Victor and the creature, as well as Hamlet, represent the paradox of free will.

Many Orthodox Christians believe that God gave humans free will and the ability to choose between good and bad; He respects their choice, which is why there is a balance of good and evil in this world. He created humans in His own image and gave humans the freedom to think and act how they please.

In this context, it can be seen how the Orthodox theological theories concerning the concept of free will are often explored in English literature; Hamlet and Frankenstein are just some examples in which humans suffer the consequences of their own actions. They are presented with the opportunity to receive God's grace, and they can choose to accept it or to reject it.

It is notable to mention, however, that fate also plays an important role in the literary works of these eras; while many of the characters make their own choices, it can also be argued that their choices have been influenced by their environment and by the forces of nature.

Thus, the depiction of free will in many works of English literature remains quite close to the Orthodox perspective, both in the Middle Ages and contemporary times; however, the power of fate and destiny, which some argue overpowers free will, and the question of whether or not humans follow their own will or God's will, are also common topics in these works. In this sense, the explanation of the concept of free will steers away from the Orthodox theological teachings.

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The concept of free will in relationship to the person plays an important role in both Hamlet and Frankenstein. While these two works share some similarities, they have numerous distinctions that stem from the context of their production during two very different phases of modern European history. Hamlet is a powerful representation of English Renaissance concerns, involving the correct place of the person within a universe that operates according to religious principles. In such a universe, an individual would try to determine how to behave morally and ethically in accordance with God’s plan.

In contrast, Frankenstein—which was written more than 200 years after Hamlet—represents Romantic reevaluation of ideas that emerged in the eighteenth century, or Enlightenment era, when science had begun to fundamentally alter human perceptions of the individual. In an increasingly secular world, scientific laws were as important—or perhaps more important—than those laid out by divine forces. At the same time, the individual might be liberated from God’s control, but they might experience more profound doubts about the correctness of their actions.

In one of Hamlet’s soliloquies, he addresses the place of “man” in the world, explicitly comparing him to a god yet finding him wanting, as he is lacks divine essence and is merely made of dust. Hamlet proclaims, “What a piece of work is a man,” and later makes several comparisons: “how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god.” But because a man is not a god, he remains governed by God’s laws—such as the determination of sin. This prevents Hamlet both from taking his own life and from killing his uncle while at prayer.

A quotation from Frankenstein regarding free will concerns Victor’s doubts about the correctness of his action, when he played God by creating the creature. Victor has convinced himself that his research was fundamentally scientific but must admit that he transgressed the appropriate limits of human action. He entered “into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life.” The creature, an assembled artificial being, cannot have its own free will because it is not human or created by God.

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