The Debate of Fate Versus Free Will in Hamlet

Categories: Hamlet

After reading and studying the play Hamlet written by william shakespear i have come to a conclusion that hamlet is arbiter of his own fate. This can be shown by studying critical texts written by both Andrew Foley(2012) and by S A Blackmore(1917). The former believes that hamlet is not in control of his own destiny and Andrew Foley believes that hamlet is in control of his own destiny because through his actions he seals his fate.

Simon Augustine Blackmore is an esteemed critic who describes divine providence as the order in which God leads his creations to their destined end.

This implies that there is no free will in any actions or decisions that hamlet makes or does because the powers above have created a predetermined path for him and that he is going to die. Hamlet does acknowledge that there is a higher power who controls everyone in Scene 2 of Act 5 when Hamlet says to Horatio “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends…(line 10 of scene 2 of Act 5).

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This means that he knows that there is a god who controls beings by guiding them through life and he then goes on to mention that sometimes we mess things up and stray away from the path that God has paved. Before this william shakespeare gives an example of the free will under control or guidance of the Divine Will; a Will which controls the mysterious and non understandable manner of human actions are carried out. Hamlet had in vain exhausted all his powers of thought and reasoning, this in turn had lifted the dark veil that had covered him from seeing his true destiny.

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The ghost of King Hamlet acts as the agent for this even though we don’t see the real effects of this until the rash killing of polonius. The killing of Polonius was the most important accident in the play. It happened in a blind thrust of passion and although it appears to be a mistake, the effects of it were unknown to hamlet. When all seemed to be going bad for hamlet, a divine providence stepped in and guided him and poise him for victory against Claudius. This was also the catalyst to Hamlet's destruction. After the killing of polonius, hamlet proceeds from crime to crime in order to survive in order to ensure the Hamlet had the evidence to prove that Claudius killed his father and this prevents him from avenging his father's death. A providence is guiding him freely so that hamlet can use his arm as the executioner of divine judgement.

Andrew foley is a critic who states that despite there being several references to which Hamlet's fate is mentioned as being controlled by a power from above there is no evidence of the powers of above having any effect on controlling humans down on earth, or of a higher power calling on hamlet, in fact there is no evidence of divine providence within the play at all. One of the times the play mentions something about Hamlet's fate is when Horatio tells Hamlet to keep watch with him in order to see the ghost of King Hamlet. Upon seeing the ghost of King Hamlet, Hamlet feels his fate calling out to him, “My fate cries out and makes each pretty artery in this body as hardy as the Nemean Lion’s nerve. Still am I called; unhand me, gentlemen. By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me. I say, away! Go on, I'll follow thee”( act 1, scene 4, lines 86-91). After listening to the ghost of his father talking Hamlet embarks on a mission to not only kill Claudius but also to purge the state of Denmark from its rottenness. Hamlet does succeed at the end but only after there are 7 lives lost and of which 4 of those people were innocent and two entire families are wiped out; including the royal family. It was Hamlet's choice as to whether he went and followed the ghost, Hamlet's choice to do what the ghost told him to do. He was not forced to act in any way by the powers above.

Andrew foley focuses primarily on the final act of the Hamlet throughout his critique on the play. He states that in Scene 1 of Act V there is very little evidence of any significant change in the character of Hamlet. In this scene hamlet is yet to accept his mortality and is disgusted by the idea of death in general and is still haunted and horrified by the prospect of death. This is proven after Hamlet returns to Denmark, when he confronts a grave digger digging a grave in a cemetery. The grave digger hands him Yorricks’ skull and Hamlet appears to be disgusted by death, his response upon seeing the skull was; ‘alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it.(Act V, Scene 1 lines 175-179) this quote proves how he is disgusted by death and implies that he has no clue that he is fated to die. If Hamlet was fated to die he would have responded differently to the prospect of death. At this point Hamlet still hasn’t accepted his own mortality and he is still haunted and horrified by the prospect of death.

Thus, Hamlet did die but he made his own choices. He chose to follow through with actions, but yet he failed to acknowledge that the consequences of his actions could involve death. After seeing the ghost of King Hamlet, Hamlet had opportunities to seek revenge by murdering Claudius however he chooses not to. If it was his Ghost of King Hamlet represents destiny, then destiny told him that he needed to do. If this was the case how come he wasn’t compelled to murder Claudius when he had the chance. If destiny was indeed a thing why didn’t he do it. Both of these critics are well known and respected critics and raise some good ideas and messages in their critical response to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Andrew foley believes that Hamlet is and arbiter of his own fate and in the end he chose to do what he wanted to do. Hamlet chooses to return to Denmark upon his escape from England and that sealed his fate. S A Blackmore believes that Hamlet is not in control of his own will and that his life is predetermined by those above due to the impossibility of him escaping seemingly perilous circumstances. However S A Blackmore’s critical response wasn’t all that helpful because he was quoting other examples from Shakespeare’s earlier works and and even wrote a few paragraphs about them. But on the whole it was a reliable work. Andrew Foleys’ critique of the ‘play’ Hamlet is much more comprehensive however it was contradictory in places and thus rendered only his conclusion relevant for this essay. Both were reliable and able to be trusted and both include quotes from the play however Foley has got more evidence due to him citing his sources and this could be due to the different time periods of the two responses. I still firmly support my hypothesis because I believe that it was the Actions that Hamlet took that caused his demise and eventually his destruction. I like the ghost of King Hamlet to be a bit like the devil. This is because the devil tries to lure people to sin and in this case that is exactly what the ghost is doing to Hamlet.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Debate of Fate Versus Free Will in Hamlet. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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