In Hamlet, what are some arguments that can be made based on the observation of the lack of free will of the play's characters?I am eriting a speech on Hamlet and I need help formulating a good...

In Hamlet, what are some arguments that can be made based on the observation of the lack of free will of the play's characters?

I am eriting a speech on Hamlet and I need help formulating a good thesis/argument. I have noted that most of the charaters lack a certain free will and are controlled by the wills of other characters. But this is a mere observation, and I need a stronger thesis that can focus on one or two of the characters, and not on a brood description. Any suggestions?

Asked on by niso212

5 Answers | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Unless Shakespeare became a Calvinist, he would not portray any character as lacking free will. The problem in Hamlet is not that people lack the freedom of choice; rather, it is that they lack the courage and decisiveness necessary to make their choices.  Hamlet's hesitancy comes from his melancholic and extremely rational being; he constantly deliberates on what is the optimum method of ridding Denmark of its evils.  In addition, Hamlet is greatly affected by the Elizabethan concept of the Chain of Being and the superstition characteristic of the age.

tinicraw's profile pic

tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Ophelia is controlled by her father. Even though it was customary of the time period for girls to obey their fathers completely, she is shown to be weak-minded as well. Compare her to Juliet and there is a significant difference. (I sometimes wonder what influence Juliet would have had on Ophelia had they been friends.) Speaking of which, Ophelia didn't have any friends, so that made things worse for her. Maybe you could discuss the notion of how much can a person be controlled when s/he is isolated from other social sources. Hamlet had friends, but they too were influenced by the Ghost as post #2 so aptly puts it. The next question might be where free will gets its power. A strong and healthy mind? A stable family or support group? Neither Hamlet nor Ophelia had either of these to support them during their trials. Both were slapped with grief which can be an enemy to free will, as well shown through Ophelia's suicide and that final act of giving up. Who had power over her at that point? Hamlet? Her father? Answering these questions might lead you to a strong thesis.

rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The one character who, it could be argued, controls Hamlet is the ghost of his father. He sets him on the path to revenge, and then intervenes to set Hamlet back on the path to gain it in the scene where he is chastising his mother. Beyond that, Hamlet is basically his own person, which is, as you say, a bit unique in the play.

quentin1's profile pic

quentin1 | (Level 2) Honors

Posted on

So 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?

missplum's profile pic

missplum | College Teacher | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted on

Unless Shakespeare became a Calvinist, he would not portray any character as lacking free will. The problem in Hamlet is not that people lack the freedom of choice; rather, it is that they lack the courage and decisiveness necessary to make their choices.  Hamlet's hesitancy comes from his melancholic and extremely rational being; he constantly deliberates on what is the optimum method of ridding Denmark of its evils.  In addition, Hamlet is greatly affected by the Elizabethan concept of the Chain of Being and the superstition characteristic of the age.

I'm with mwestwood. You'll have a stronger thesis if you discuss the abuse of free will or the neglect of free will.

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question