Hamlet and its protagonist place liberty at their center of vision by exploring its diverse senses. Freedom in Hamlet is of different kinds, always limited and hard to obtain or keep. The play's other characters serve as clarifying foils to Hamlet himself, who as the closely watched son of the murdered king is limited in his freedom to maneuver and whose quest for freedom is both fueled and stymied by the Ghost's command that he kill his uncle. Hamlet dramatizes the felt connections between external constraints on freedom of action and internal states that inhibit or foster such freedom. To assert some degree of social and political freedom depends on attaining freedom from thoughts and feelings that block free action. Hamlet probes the early modern semantic range of free and its cognates, which could denote sociopolitical status, on the one hand, and aspects of moral character and behavior, on the other. Influenced but not bound by Stoic and Christian conceptions of freedom, Hamlet can act most freely, and ultimately kill Claudius, after achieving a sense of inner moral freedom based on trust in a “divinity” that oversees the world.
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Joshua Scodel; Finding Freedom in Hamlet. Modern Language Quarterly 1 June 2011; 72 (2): 163–200. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1161301
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