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Hamlet and Divine Intervention

Although it is clear the Hamlet believes in divinities, he does not act as if he believes the divinities shape his life. Rather than letting the divinities resolve the issue of his father’s murder throughout the play Hamlet repeatedly relies on his own devices and efforts to avenge his father’s death by killing the new King, Claudius. To determine if Hamlet acts throughout the play consistent with the lines from Act V one first needs to determine what Shakespeare means in that passage. Looking at the preceding line helps put it in context.

“When our fated plots do pall, and that should learn us / There’s a divinity that shapes our ends . . . . ” (V,ii,9-10). It appears Shakespeare is saying that when one has made plans and they do not work out, he should recognize that the failure of the plans is due to the influence of a divinity shapes our lives. Shakespeare does not tell us what divinity he is writing about, but it appears to be either the Christian God who has cause the plans to fail or that it is Fate, divine in the since of a Greek or Roman belief in fate as a divinity.

The question becomes, which one? To answer this question, one rely on the text to discover what Hamlet believes. It is clear he believed in God for he recognizes that God has forbidden suicide, “[o]r that the Everlasting had not fix’d [sic] His canon against self-slaughter! O God, God . . . .” (I. ii. 131-132). He also believes in purgatory, heaven, and hell. His father appears to be in purgatory, “I am they father’s spirit,/ Doomed for a certain time to walk the night,/ . . .

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature/ Are burned and purg’d away” (I. v. 9-13). He believes in heaven and hell for he refuses to kill Claudius after he has confessed and is in a state of grace and killing him in such a state would reward Claudius by sending him to heaven (III,iii,76-79). Having established a belief in the Christian divinity does not however, prove that Hamlet believed the Christian God shapes his life. It does not appear that he does. Hamlet does not ask God for help or advice on what he should do.

He does not attend mass or make use of the sacraments in order to gain God’s assistance. Instead he relies on his own thoughts and his own devices. Fate as the divinity appears more promising. He recognizes that fate plays a hand in everyone’s life at least in so far as everyone is fated to die. In the graveyard scene (V. i. 207-216) he is reminded of this when he finds the skull of Yorick. Hamlet talks about the birth, life, death, and decomposition into dirt of Alexander the Great and Caesar, two of the most powerful men in the world at the time they lived.

In the end, they come to nothing. In Act III. i. 540-544, Hamlet schemes with one of the players to perform a play in which he has inserted a few lines that will align the play with the death of his father in hopes of getting a reaction from Claudius. This may signal an attempt for Hamlet to assume the role of Fate as he directs and orders the players. Hamlet has taken the role of Fate when he makes his plan that will force Claudius to reveal his part in the King Hamlet’s death. In Act III. ii.

1-270 his plan goes as planned and Hamlet forces the reaction from Claudius, and he convinces himself that Claudius has killed Hamlet’s father. Since Hamlet believes in Fate, does his behavior indicate that he thought his own actions were shaped by Fate? It does not appear the he does. Throughout the play Hamlet struggles to make decisions about his course of actions. He is torn by his natural desire to do those things he knows are right and his loyalty to his father, whose spirit seeks revenge.

Throughout the play he plots, schemes and plans his actions. If he believed in Fate with a result beyond the ability of man to affect the outcomes of his actions, it is unlikely he would have agonized so. In conclusion, although Hamlet believes in the Christian God and in Fate, his actions throughout the play do not indicate that he believes a divinity will affect the outcomes of his action. This brief mention in Act V seems to be more a recognition that Hamlet himself has set into action a complicated plan that is beyond his own ability to control.

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