Often times, people can be quite limited – that is, there is only so much that we can know. This isn’t due to some human fault but simply because uncertainty exists in the most unexpected of places: in those gray lines on that majestic painting, in every second and every second after, in those black and white squares on a checker board. It’s as if we are constantly at the mercy of strangers who have these blank faces with no expression on them. They walk towards us and demand our attention, but we fail to recognize who they are, and this lack of familiarity begets a sense of fear. However, despite our fear of the unknown and the doubt which follows it, we are taught to act under uncertain circumstances because of the fact that this uncertainty exists everywhere. If we were to act only when we had certainty, we wouldn’t act at all.
We can only find certainty in certain places. One such example is when we come back home to the comfort of our family; there is this weird feeling of belonging where we feel like we are important when surrounded by all these familiar faces. However, as soon as this semblance of certainty is taken away, we are thrown back into the darkness, not knowing where we’re going, which is a fearful prospect. The problem that exists, however, is that since life is so complex there is no way we can reach this level of familiarity with every idea or every person we meet. By nature, we have the desire to know more because even we subconsciously realize how limited our perspective is, and this is what makes us afraid. This fear is what controls us and makes us puppets to a game we thought we were in control of. If we can’t see the path ahead, we must rely on blind faith, which lacks any certainty. This makes us restless because we are designed as beings who need to have certainty, and the doubt we feel in its absence is simply a reminder to be wary of our next few actions, for we do not know what the outcome will be.
One such example of a character whose doubt prevented him from taking action is Hamlet from the Shakespeare play Hamlet. Hamlet is a character who is always filled with doubt, making him a coward and as someone who lacks the courage to act. Many people believe that if they were in Hamlet’s position, they would have acted differently. However, Hamlet’s character is a reflection of human nature itself; he is the manifestation of doubt, which exists in all of us,. Uncertainty has always been and will always be one element which dictates how we run our lives, and it did the exact same thing for Hamlet. Doubt is what makes us human and although it can be argued that it is a weakening force – as it was doubt which prevented Hamlet from killing Claudius – it is present in each one of us whether we choose to accept it or not.
Hamlet’s paralysis of action was a natural reaction, for even we tend to back away from many problems in our lives, carefully think about them, and come to a final solution. He was no different. Although during this time period, Hamlet’s behaviour would have been seen as weak and he, a coward. This is why there is so much emphasis on deceased King Fortinbras’ son as he is younger and much more ambitious than Hamlet, which makes him a leader with more potential. His decisiveness makes him appear as a distant ideal while Hamlet is our unfortunate truth. Hamlet himself was inspired by his actions when the soldiers of Norway travelled to Poland with little purpose and motivation, all for land worth less than an ‘eggshell’. Young King Fortinbras is a character foil of Hamlet as he is decisive and doesn’t allow for doubt to be an obstruction for him. Our ability to be one of these two characters is dependent on whether we can act in the absence of certainty or not.
Hamlet’s limited perspective explains why his fear is what hindered him, and this same fear of the unknown continues to haunt the lives of people hundreds of years later. We all lack perspective. Although we do grow as people and become more knowledgeable, we will never reach complete certainty in our decisions, which is why we are taught to be able to take risks. We are taught to not be a Hamlet despite the fact that we all have a piece of him inside of us. However, what they are teaching is correct, for if we continued to wait for that perfect opportunity or for when we have complete certainty, we simply wouldn’t act. Life is too complicated for us to find familiarity in everything or know absolutely everything, so we shouldn’t allow fear to dictate what we choose to do and deprive us of possible life experiences.
2 thoughts on “The Unfamiliar Face of Uncertainty – Free Choice/Hamlet Response”
This was a very enjoyable piece to read for me, and I believe it was a great analytical response to Hamlet. I find your ideas to be pretty unique here as well; for the first time, I found myself questioning why we perceive Hamlet as cowardly and immoral to an extent. I agree with your hypothesis: we are presented with the character of Hamlet to view his inability to act within our own lives, and provide a stark contrast to someone like Fortinbras: who acts immediately and with purpose. Your writing was clear, structured well, and expressive of the tone of your piece.
My only critique for this would be for you to explore the duality of perspective even more than you already have; possibly drawing a conclusion based on why we value quick thinking and action would be a great insight in to human psychology.
Thank you for this enlightening piece.
Here is my late reply. I am glad that we see Hamlet through the same lens as too often do we judge him as someone who is not heroic or courageous when anybody in his place would’ve probably done the same thing as him. On your second point, I feel that we value action and quick thinking because life doesn’t necessarily run slowly unless you are in a particular moment. We don’t have the time to analyze everything, which is why looking back in terms of evolution, whoever could act fastest would have the survival advantage. This is the problem with society as we are pressured into doing things as efficiently and conveniently as possible, gradually making us value speed more and consider overthinking, an inherent human trait, a waste of our time. Thank you for this comment.