Hamlet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What new philosophy motivates Hamlet in act 5?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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At the beginning of act 5, Hamlet and Horatio visit a graveyard and see a fresh grave being dug. They do not yet know it is for Ophelia. At the graveyard, they encounter the gravediggers and talk with them about death. The gravediggers are matter-of-fact about it. Hamlet also finds the skull of Yorick, the court jester whose back he used to ride around on as a boy. Hamlet ruminates on death, asking Yorick's skull,

Where be your gibes
now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Hamlet, who has been thinking about death obsessively throughout the play, now begins to understand how little control he has over life and death. Death, he realizes, is the great leveler, a force that equally kills the mighty and the powerless. After all his intense desires to control circumstances, Hamlet's new philosophy now becomes the idea that fate or providence rules the universe. Events, he decides, will unfold as they are meant to unfold. At this point, he becomes more willing to simply allow events to happen as they will and to stop agonizing over every decision.

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lmetcalf eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hamlet has been so concerned through the first four acts of play about making good choices and the potential consequences of all of his actions that he has been slow to take action against Claudius and avenge his father's murder.  But in Act 5 he realizes that he doesn't have control over everything in his life and he needs to just respond to the moment.  He specifically says to Horatio that he realizes that "there is a divinity that shapes our ends rough hew them how we will."  What he means is that we humans can make choices and take actions that give shape to our lives, but that there is a fate/destiny/Providence that is also in play that will also give shape to our lives -- probably some of the finer points of our lives are out of our immediate control.  Hamlet follows this thought up later when Horatio is cautioning

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