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Free Will In Hamlet And Dr Faustus English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3153 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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According to Aristotle, art imitates life. Doctor Faustus and Hamlet are good early works that reflect the modern man mentality. Spengler was first who noticed at the German Magician the spirit of modern man (Spengler, 1928). Charles Lamb, one of the outstanding critics of English Romanticism era, saw in Hamlet a prototype of modern man, when he wrote that “we all have a Hamlet in ourselves.” (Hornblow, 1919). It is possible to suppose that Faustus and Hamlet are just two different manifestations of one phenomenon. Their anxiety and their metaphysical rebellion are still characterizing the human reality. They are a symbolic embodiment of that kind of thinking, which still relates to our times.

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Modern man is the reincarnation of Faustus in Hamlet. The gods are dead, but the earth isn’t turned to Paradise. The old social fabric is disintegrated, but the person has failed to weave better. Science that freed the human mind from the yoke of darkness and show the way to the bloodiest war in history. Both tragedy, Dr. Faustus and Hamlet are problematic, and led around themselves the critical debate that takes the third century.

Life which is based on tradition is always easier than freely life. Ethical responsibility sooner or later leads to alienation. A man who has to choose one correct way between many opportunities must feel the disturbance because his state of mind doesn’t feel spiritual security which is based on irresponsible existence. In Medieval Europe, the tradition has been an only leader in human lives. The free will question was just another abstraction in theological jargon. Today we have the ability to think on this issue deeper.

If you get a grasp of the text, you may find that in the play the protagonist not only resists the logic of events, as withstands to the will of the creator. Shakespeare doesn’t regard with favour to Hamlet too, because he confer obesity and breathlessness to hero. Why does he provoke him to questionable actions? Hamlet takes revenge on his creator, performing the actions which are clearly incompatible with the status of hero. He does not trust the ghost, suspecting the author in him “Where do you acting out? I will not go on …” (Edwards, 1985). It is possible that Hamlet kills Polonium, lurking behind the carpet, intending to hit Shakespeare (I aimed at superior …). Hamlet clearly loves Ophelia, but he refuses, knowing that she was imposed on him by the same invisible author to complete a dramatic conflict. And so on … Much becomes clearer if we accept the assumption that the true conflict of the play that the hero tries to escape from the plot of the tragedy and goes against the will of the author. Shakespeare refers to Hamlet as God to Shakespeare, and vice versa. Hamlet waits from Shakespeare an explanation of his life, just as Shakespeare seeks its justification at God. They both had the answer – silence.

This modernist assumption is not explanation of the play, but only the condition of its understanding. The essence of “Hamlet” in a crack, which split up Hamlet in two halves. Hamlet was the first tragic hero, who found that a painful rift in the soul through which penetrates evil, is not a defect of personality, but part of his fate. Generator of the tragic human inheritance is a contradiction between ethics and morality. Ethics – is a code of conduct that promotes the survival of society: the law of debt and guarantor of order. Moral – the inner connection of the individual with higher values: the intuition of good and bail will. In traditional society, conflict of ethics and morality occurs as a failure and is recognized as a rock. The paradigm of personality – is fate. The tragedy of the private life is transcendental, i.e. it is caused by disturbance of per-established harmony of the higher spheres. And grumbling is pointless. Rock leads the submissive and drags the rebellious.

New time not only puts the person in front of choice, but also compels to it. Experience of the history not only facilitates the severity of his inheritance, and vice versa – exacerbating his earlier doubts about his moral agony. The tragedy of life is immanent, that is rooted in the unfathomable depths of the metaphysical mind. Just there, in person’s own soul, the person must find its cause and leads his life out of it at his own risk. He has been given freedom as a recognized need to be themselves. Each step, when you find yourself, leads to a void, where there was nothing before, and every mistake is fraught with unpredictable consequences. The paradigm of the individual – is freedom. The first who understood and experienced it was Hamlet.

When Hamlet responds to the theological question about choosing of free will or mission, he emphasizes on the mission as a good Protestant. Even logic of the plot required it. Infiltrating deeper into his motivation, we see that his decision came only due to theological dogmas, rather than with a personal beliefs. But in the text of his question, his response has almost rhetorical properties. It becomes a decoration of the monologue and does not stand in the middle of the action value. When Hamlet tells Horatio that he has a letter where Claudius prescribes the death penalty to Hamlet – which is the main theme of the scene – Hamlet says aphoristically:

“Our indiscretions sometime serve us well

When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends …” (Shakespeare, 1601).

Again, when Horatio tries to convince Hamlet not to take part in a dangerous duel, Hamlet removes dramatic pose:

“Not a whit, we defy augury; there’s a special

providence in a fall of sparrow.” (Shakespeare, 1601).

And at first and second case Hamlet’s words are rhetorical – as well as aphoristic. When he really thinks about free will question and mission question, he becomes intellectually on the side of free choice:

“What is a man,

If his chief good and market of his time

Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

Sure he that made us with such large discourse

Looking before and after, gave us not

That capability and godlike reason

To fust in us unused.” (Shakespeare, 1601).

So, this “godlike wisdom” does not lie in Hamlet, he experiences only anxiety of alienation. According to Coleridge, Hamlet’s excessive intellect caused his inaction. Just thinking does not cause passive position in life. It is caused by such kind of thinking, which is in a modern jargon of psychoanalysis, “dehumanize” every phenomenon to the extent even, that whole world is peopled by threatening “Others” (Ellis, 1979). Images in his outlook become strange and threatening. His consciousness becomes estranged from the world: he examines every phenomenon from the inhuman point of view. He sees uncertainty everywhere even in himself: What is the Man? Who am I? To be or not to be? Why? Without answers to these questions, Hamlet every time gets deeper and deeper into a state of aloof.

“Aloof” must be understood as mental condition in which the person ceased to feel the center of its universe, and instead of the normal egocentrism, he even sees itself remote and alien from their feelings. Aloof is not caused by their free will, but only a sense of unlimited freedom – the sense of loneliness in indifferent universe. The Romantics felt that feeling, especially Byron. And John Keats kept that feeling in mind when he wrote, “we are for gods – like flies for cruel boys”(Scudder, 1899). In a society where a sudden change of value and traditional relationship between humans are broken, aloof leads to indifference and to passivity. Those who feel aloof, are separated from society, but never resist to that evil which has led them to this condition. Because aloof man does not belong to the world of fertile plain, it faces a crisis of identity – and experiencing a world through “dehumanized” perspectives. Even the very existence shows as nonsense.(Alexander, 1964).

Actually this happened to Hamlet. When he doubts about the expediency of existence, he responds to the anxiety that grows from freedom. When he asks the question, what is the man, he looks for lost identity. When he condemns the universe, he rebels against absurdity.

We mean the words that begin with “to be or not to be” seems to know even children – Hamlet draws the image of the waste, meaningless existence, lonely in the universe, the existence which was described by pain and passion: “switching by time whip”, “Despair”, “evil caused by oppressor”, “image of pride”, “furious pain of indifferent love”, “delay of justice”. In this tragic universe, the Man is just another objective reality: he is not better and is not worse than insects or stones from the road and he suffers unbearable situations of his life only for fear of the unknown future. Only because of the “unknown world” fear he does not take his own life.

Because of this aloof world view Hamlet passes the tradition which explained the reason of existence for centuries. Christian world view which had existential value in the Middle Ages, taught that life is just preparation for death, that real life belonged to the other world. Theologians compared life to room with two opposite windows. This room is a metaphor of life. Suddenly a bird flies into a window and fly out another one. This is a metaphor of the soul (Cazeaux, 2007). Even immortality becomes a threat for Hamlet. He shakes in the presence of poverty, recognizing the existence of bitter paradox: “For centuries the church has being taught that man is only one ring in the “Great Chain of Being.” (Britton, 1995). In contrast, Hamlet sees man which likes only one minor thing – I emphasize the word “thing” – among many things in space where even the very existence of man depends on the smallest organisms, such as the worm. And so he says sardonically: “We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service – two dishes, but one table. That’s the end.” (Shakespeare, 1601). He repeats this same idea then: “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.” (Shakespeare, 1601). He sees a paradox between reality and imagination, thinking about Yorik’s skull which was dug from the earth by gravediggers: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy … And now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gore rises at it.” (Shakespeare, 1601). Hamlet sees a man in an aloof image:

“Does thou think Alexander looked on ‘this fashion’ in the earth?

And smelt so? Bah! … To what base uses we may return, Horatio.” (Shakespeare, 1601).

Hamlet imagines the Man as chip, suffering being – no, not a being only a thing – because is it the difference between the value in the existence of conscious human and unconscious rock, wood or animal? And what a nonsense! This thing wants to get away from its essence, wants to connect to transcendental ring in the chain. And poverty like a bottomless abyss, looks into its mortal eyes. Everything is changed in the life except loneliness in the freedom. So Hamlet misses, loses the consciousness in an aloof.

Even caution of critics Dover Wilson, who said “Shakespeare did not know about these thoughts” – adopting modern theory in science to Shakespeare’s works – is not quite relevant. (Wilson, 1921). He knew life and knew human nature well.

And so, universe for Hamlet – in his own words – it is a “smelly and threatening collection of fumes”. Is it possible to imagine more dehumanized image? The Man – it is a “essence of powder”. Can you imagine a more aloof identity?

Because nothing matters, nothing is done. Hamlet can not have productive relations with his world, because this world is not spiritually productive. It does not work, because – as noted Fromm – aloof people do not work. His fabulous thinking over the situation as his melancholy is only symptom of his own tragedy. (Fromm, 1970). That’s why Hamlet goes from the scene into the scene during the whole tragedy without acting, finding himself and his free will only at the end. And, ironically, Fortinbras – a person which is quite opposite by nature and disposition of Hamlet, honors his body with military funeral.

And so, Hamlet looks at the Renaissance period with medieval eyes. He is the last citizen of dying culture, or the first citizen of a newborn culture which stands on the confrontation brink of two eras. He believes that life is a temporary state that the goal of life is death. And Faustus rebels against this perspective: “The reward of sin is death? That’s hard!” (Marlowe, 1604).

When he reads the Bible critically, he does it on his own will, not under the influence of Mephistopheles. He seeks happiness for mankind in this physical world, not in the other, beyond the grave. When Hamlet logic is strict logic, Faustus logic is the logic of classical humanism:

“If we say that we have no sin,

We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us.

Why then belike

We must sin and so consequently die,

Eye, we must die an everlasting death.

What doctrine call you this. Che sara, sara:

What will be, shall be? Divinity, adieu!” (Marlowe, 1604).

Unlike Hamlet, Faustus emphasizes the value of human dignity. When he comes to new knowledge – knowledge of the Renaissance period – he gets down to the altar of philosophy as a worthy person, rather than Mephistopheles servant:

“And I, that have with concise syllogisms

Graveled the pastors of the German Church,

And made the flowering pride of Wittenberg …

Will be as cunning as Agrippa was

Whose shadows made all Europe honor him.” (Marlowe, 1604).

Faustus emphasizes the fact – which earlier critics didn’t notice – that his decision to study black magic was voluntary – even though the allegations of Greg, Smith, and Jeffrey. He says to Mephistopheles:

“Know that your words have won me at the last

To practice magic and concealed arts;

Yet not your words, but mine own fantasy.” (Marlowe, 1604).

If the words of “evil angel” seduced Faustus, it was only because Faustus desired to understand the Absolute:

“To be on earth as Jove is in the sky,

Lord and commander of these elements.” (Marlowe, 1604).

It is not surprisingly, that old science becomes worthless with the comparison of these ambitions to comprehend Absolute:

“Philosophy is odious and obscure,

Both law and physic are for petty wits,

Divinity is basest of the three …” (Marlowe, 1604).

Recently Faustus wanted to live and die in Aristotle works. He found freedom in the “lovely analytic”. But now new opportunities have appeared on the horizon, and therefore Faustus decided to catch the moment and become godlike in the world. Syllogisms, and logical arguments were the basis of his life. (Brown, 2006).

Now, in the metaphysical riot – as Albert Camus outlined – Faustus negotiates with Mephistopheles to be a god, even though for a short time. He seemed as “superman” of Nietzsche crossed the border into the nonsense. (Wittmann, 2009).

During the whole play Hamlet is just on the verge of metaphysical rebellion. As for Faustus he jumped it. As Hamlet, he sees contradictions in human being. On the one hand, he was given “godlike mind”. On the other hand, his mind is limited by space reality: he is free to choose, but there is no guarantee that he will get what he has chosen. And he is going through, what Camus called as, “absurd situation”. (Camus, 1956). This irony characterizes his whole being. His commitment can not be realized as his thirst for knowledge can not settle down. And because of this irony – in contrast to Hamlet, – Faustus rebels against this “universal reality” – rather than against the values ​​of the era against which Hamlet rebels. Faustus rebellion is rebellion of one man against the world order. And such unequal forces in the fight make him a tragic hero.

But the Man can never win the World order. That’s why Faustus is appointed to destruction. He, like Hamlet, suffers from paradoxical mystery which was called by Hamlet as “the unknown world”:

“What art thou, Faustus, but a man condemned to die?

Thy fatal time draws to a final end.” (Marlowe, 1604).

He almost spits out the sound of the letter “D”, the first letter in the word “death”:

“Despair doth drive distrust into my thoughts.


Damned art thou, Faustus, damned!

Despair and die!” (Marlowe, 1604).

But Faustus defeat, in this enormous challenge to the gods makes him perfectly free man. He was a “minded reed” about which Pascal wrote. But at the same time, “he became homeless … fell in love with death”- O’Neill wrote about him. And in this “homelessness” and at his “metaphysical revolt” human dignity and faith in free will are expressed. (Carincross, 1975).

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So, the difference between Hamlet and Faustus is based in their views on humanity and on a mission of humanity. Hamlet sees human through the lens of aloof. Faustus looks at human from the point of view of his unlimited opportunities. To imagine these different views, I can say that Hamlet is an ancient type, such as the biblical Abraham or Job. Instead, Faustus, is a classically-Greek pagan. It is known that Western European civilization comes from the Greek tradition. And this is the reason why Faustus and Hamlet are two sides of the same coin: their spirit is at the basis even of our age.


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