At the heart of every great tragedy lies the universal struggle between the human inclination to accept fate absolutely and the natural desire to control destiny (Stockton). Like most of his plays, in Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet one of the prevailing themes centers on the question, “Does fate and providence overrule man’s own choices and decisions?” Throughout the work, the main character Hamlet views Fortune in various differing lights as he plots and plans his revenge. This complex interpretation of Fate’s influence is also shared with Horatio, Hamlet’s most treasured friend. Their assessments seem to waver in different situations, or as they experience something in particular. Fate and Fortune, and Providence in all her ambiguity are all sometimes seemingly bound to the actions of man and other times they are inescapable.
At the start of the play, Horatio and his companions, Bernardo and Marcellus, witness the sudden and frightening apparition of Hamlet’s deceased father, former king of Denmark. The three friends are “[harrowed] with fear and wonder” as they encounter the ghost and Horatio is convinced to attempt conversation it (Shakespeare, I. I. pg. 2). Before engaging the ghost, Horatio recalls the time before “the mightiest Julius fell” when “the graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead / Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.” (Shakespeare, I. I. pg. 4) In that instance, the rising of the dead precipitated the brutal and premature demise of Julius Caesar, a horrible misfortune that rocked all of Rome. Likewise, Horatio sees the parallelism in the appearance of King Hamlet’s ghost concluding that his manifestation must be Fate’s morbid signal of impending doom and disaster (Weller).
When Horatio finally speaks to the ghost he beseeches it to reply saying, “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate / Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid / O speak!” (Shakespeare, I. I. pg. 5) This request, contrary to his former statement concerning Caesar, suggests that Horatio also thinks fate is not inevitable. For if the ghost reveals a critical piece of information concerning Denmark, Horatio feels as though the Fate’s intentions can be circumvented (Weller).
Further on in the play, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude entreats him to visit her in her chambers. Her plan is to chastise him for his offensive and insensitive antics but before she can begin, Hamlet confronts her instead, rebuking her for her incestuous relationship with her dead husband’s brother. So threateningly ferocious is he that Gertrude is driven to cry for help. The meddlesome Polonius who hides his face among the drapery in turn also cries for help and Hamlet who believes the voice to be Claudius, his father’s murderer, stabs at the voice, silencing it forever. When he learns that the dead man behind the curtain is not his intended target, he makes this statement. “Take thy fortune. / Thy find’st to be too busy is some danger.” (Shakespeare, III. IV. pg. 73) ...