How does Shakespeare in Hamlet present the extent to which human beings are free?

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Shakespeare addresses issues of fate and free will throughout Hamlet. The Classical Greek iteration of tragic drama dictates that the hero of the story is ruled by fate, each choice he makes irrelevant to the ultimate predetermined outcome. Shakespeare effectively turns this convention on its head with Hamlet as the tragic hero.

Rather than be ruled by fate, Hamlet is a man of choices. Each decision he makes has direct consequences, yet Hamlet carefully considers the potential repercussions of each choice. The reason he waffles so long about killing Claudius is because he recognizes it as his choice alone.

When Hamlet’s father’s ghost instructs him to take revenge upon the murderous Claudius, Hamlet doesn’t immediately obey. In fact, the majority of the play is spent as Hamlet ruminates on whether it is morally justifiable to murder his uncle. This indecision is itself a choice, and this shows that Hamlet determines his own fate.

Even though he chooses to end Claudius’s life at the very end, it isn’t because of his fate. The ghost represents the fate that Hamlet is supposed to fulfill, yet he falters on numerous occasions because of his choices. He only chooses to kill Claudius after Gertrude is poisoned and Laertes reveals the king’s responsibility in the matter. This choice is made only after Hamlet himself is doomed from Laertes’ poison-dipped blade. His final choice is to eliminate an evil man from the world, who is responsible for the deaths of Hamlet’s parents and Hamlet himself.

Shakespeare suggests that while fate may try to influence human beings, it is ultimately up to each individual what happens to him or her. Therefore, the extent to which one controls one’s own life is that which one decides to allow.

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