The conflict between fate and free will in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King

1. The conflict between fate and free will in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The play Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a tragedy that revolves around the life of the young Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Hamlet is a complex character who is juggling with the conflicting ideas of revenge and morality. He is also trying to come to terms with his own mortality. All these conflicts within him are largely due to the death of his father, King Hamlet.

The death of King Hamlet leaves Hamlet in a state of confusion and grief. He is unable to find any meaning in his life anymore. In his search for answers, Hamlet comes face to face with the central conflict of the play, which is the conflict between fate and free will. On one hand, there is the belief that everything that happens in our lives is predestined and we cannot escape our fate. On the other hand, there is the belief that we have the power to choose our own destiny and we are not bound by fate.

Hamlet is torn between these two beliefs. He oscillates between feeling that he is powerless against his fate and feeling that he has the power to change it. For instance, when Hamlet learns about the prophecy that he will kill Claudius and become king, he initially believes that he is powerless to change it. He says, “the time is out of joint: O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right” (Shakespeare 1.5.188-189). Here, Hamlet feels like he is doomed to kill Claudius and take over the throne, even though he does not want to.

However, later in the play, Hamlet starts to believe that he has the power to change his fate. This is evident from his famous soliloquy where he contemplates suicide. In this soliloquy, Hamlet says, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare 3.1.56-57). Here, Hamlet is trying to decide whether it is better to endure all the pain and suffering life throws at him or whether it would be better to end his life.

He eventually decides that it would be better to endure all the pain because it gives him the chance to take revenge on Claudius and thus change his destiny. This shows that Hamlet has started to believe that he has the power to change his fate and that he is not bound by it. The conflict between fate and free will continues throughout the play as Hamlet tries to make sense of his life and come to terms with what has happened.

2. The conflict between fate and free will in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King

The play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is another tragedy that explores the conflict between fate and free will. The play tells the story of King Oedipus of Thebes who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. When Oedipus learns about this prophecy, he tries to flee from his destiny but ends up fulfilling it anyway.

Like Hamlet, Oedipus is also torn between believing in fate and believing in free will. In the beginning of the play, Oedipus believes that he can escape his destiny. This is evident from his famous speech where he says, “I will not do it; Fate may do its worst. / I will not raise my hand against my father, / Even to save my life” (Sophocles 1. 38-140). Here, Oedipus is refusing to believe that he will kill his father and marry his mother. He is saying that he would rather die than do such a thing.

However, later in the play, Oedipus start to believe that his destiny is inescapable. This is evident from his famous monologue where he says, “Ah me! Ah me! / Why did I not die long ago? / Wretched that I am, why did I not perish / In my mother’s womb? Better for me now / Had I never seen the light of day” (Sophocles 3.1085-1089). Here, Oedipus is regretting ever being born because he knows that he will never be able to escape his fate. He has realized that no matter what he does, he will still end up fulfilling the prophecy.

The conflict between fate and free will continues until the very end of the play when Oedipus finally comes to terms with his destiny and accepts it. This is evident from his famous last words where he says, “All men must die; but death / Can come by Fate or by our own free choice” (Sophocles 5.1373-1374). Here, Oedipus has finally realized that both fate and free will play a role in our lives and that we cannot escape our destiny.

3. The relationship between fate and free will in Hamlet and Oedipus the King

Both Hamlet and Oedipus are faced with the same conflict, which is the conflict between fate and free will. Both characters start off by believing that they can escape their destiny but eventually come to realize that they cannot. In both plays, the characters go through a lot of pain and suffering before they finally accept their fate.

However, there is one key difference between the two characters. Hamlet chooses to accept his fate while Oedipus tries to run away from it. This is evident from their famous speeches where Hamlet says, “the time is out of joint: O cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right” (Shakespeare 1.5.188-189) and Oedipus says, “I will not do it; Fate may do its worst” (Sophocles 1. 38-140).

Hamlet has accepted that it is his duty to revenge his father’s death and take over the throne. On the other hand, Oedipus has refused to accept his destiny and has tried to run away from it. However, both characters eventually end up fulfilling their prophecy regardless of their choices. This shows that Fate always has the last say in our lives and we cannot escape our destiny no matter what we do or how hard we try.

4. Conclusion

The conflict between fate and free will is a central theme in both Hamlet and Oedipus the King. Both characters are faced with the same conflict and both go through a lot of pain and suffering before they finally accept their destiny. However, there is one key difference between the two characters. Hamlet chooses to accept his fate while Oedipus tries to run away from it.

In the end, both characters end up fulfilling their prophecy regardless of their choices. This shows that Fate always has the last say in our lives and we cannot escape our destiny no matter what we do or how hard we try.

FAQ

The conflict between fate and free will is that some people believe that our choices are predetermined by a higher power, while others believe that we have the power to choose our own destiny.

How our choices affect our destiny is a matter of debate. Some people believe that our choices are what shape our destiny, while others believe that destiny is something that is pre-determined and cannot be changed.

It is possible to change our fate, but it is not always easy to do so. Sometimes we make choices that seem to be in line with our destiny, only to find out later that they were not the right choice after all.