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Shannon Haas Honors English III Mrs.

Stoltz 11/7/2011

Hamlet Essay

The concept of a presence of 'fate' or an idea that all of the events in a person's life are out of his or her control, is an idea that has been pondered over the centuries. Because William Shakespeare's plays were written in a time where many things about the world were mostly unknown, and in a time when misfortune and plague caused a pessimistic outlook in life in the European people, fate was a great alternative to explain the previously inexplicable events. The concept of free will, however, has always been a direct contradiction of that. Almost all of the events written by Shakespeare can be argued as products of fate or choices made with one's own free will. In examining various aspects of the plot, the reader can compare and contrast which view is more relevant to the play as a whole. Depending on where the reader's opinions lie, Shakespeare's Hamlet can be viewed as a tragedy brought on simply by fate, or a tragedy created by free will. When the reader starts at the beginning of the play, Prince Hamlet is already grieving over the loss of his father. Hamlet receives terrible news that his father, the former King Hamlet, has not simply died of old age but has been murdered by his brother. In visiting him, the spirit of Hamlet's father gives him a terrible burden, which he has to carry throughout the whole play and deal with on his own. One could argue that this is an example of fate. The ghost came to him specifically because he believed that the only way to get revenge was to have his son revenge him. This sets the ball in motion for the entire tragedy of the play, and from then on Hamlet is set on avenging the death of his father. This event can also be viewed from a more logical viewpoint, if one was arguing in favor of free

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will. Hamlet has the choice after being visited by the spirit to avenge him or not to avenge him. He chooses to pursue the death of his father and that blind ambition to please his father is what leads to his ultimate downfall. Hamlet actually questions whether the ghost is real or not, or if he really is mad and the spirit was merely a devil trying to play tricks on him. Because of this, Hamlet may have made all of this up as a personification of his own grief. It was Hamlet's own uncle who chose, using his own free will, to kill his brother, and it was Hamlet's own choice and his own free will that led him to decide to pursue the revenge he feels his father deserves. The relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia is quite a rocky one, and their interactions together are not at all insignificant to the tragic outcome of the play. Ophelia begins to alienate Hamlet halfway through the play because of her father's wishes. One could argue that Polonius's seemingly unreasonable suspicion of Hamlet and his character is only part of the fateful events, and that Ophelia had no choice but to obey her father because fate willed it to be so. However, one could also argue in favor of free will, and reason that Ophelia herself made the decision to alienate Hamlet, not Polonius. She could have easily stood up for him and could have noticed his strange behavior. Whatever the case, Ophelia's withdrawal from Hamlet distresses him and fuels the downward spiral that he completes by his tragic death. One can only wonder how the story might have been different of Ophelia had been more receptive and possibly helped Hamlet with the horrible burden he had to bear. Ophelia's death is also an event to be argued in both ways. It could be argued that Ophelia did in fact slip off of the side of the bank and drown in the water, completely by

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fate, which then led to the extreme rage of Laertes and the eventual death of the King, Queen, Hamlet, and Laertes himself. It also could be argued that Ophelia made the choice herself, with her own free will, and that her death was in fact suicide, and a manifestation of her own grief for both her father and her lost love, Hamlet. Finally, the entire tragic death of Hamlet and the last scenes of the play can be argued as fateful or all products of individual choices. Gertrude's drinking of the poison cup without knowing it was poison and Laertes getting slain by his own sword are definitely events that could be viewed as fateful. However, Hamlet's choice to continue to stay quiet about his father's murder and wait so long leads to an escalation of rage and the eventual hasty events that lead to him being killed. It was his own choice to take part in the competition with Laertes, even though Horatio warned him against it. Similarly, Laertes made the decision out of pure rage to go ahead with the competition and eventually accidentally kill himself with the poison intended for Hamlet himself. All of these decisions could be argued to lead to the eventual tragic ending. All in all, whichever view the reader chooses to take, or if they have a mixture of both opinions, Shakespeare's Hamlet supports both the ideas of fate and free will. In examining pivotal points in the play, one can argue that both fate and free will are present and the reason for the tragic events.