The French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées about a very interesting way to believe in the Christian God. Pascal argues that people have to choose how to act: whether to believe in God or not. However, Pascal arrives at the conclusion that belief in the Christian God is the rational course of action, even if there is no evidence that He exists. Pascal’s claim is that it is better to believe that God exists because the expected value of believing that God exists is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief (Pascal 154).
Analogously, Shakespeare’s Hamlet addresses a problem concerning whether and how to act. Though Hamlet is often analyzed as a play about indecisiveness and, hence, Hamlet’s failure to act adequately, another potential perspective is that the play shows the reader the many uncertainties that individuals experience during their lives and how many unknown variables are taken for granted when people act or when they judge other people’s actions. Throughout the play, Hamlet pursues the truth of his father’s murder to take revenge justly against the murderer. Therefore, Hamlet's inability to act is due not to his indecisiveness but to his desire to discover the truth as a rational human being so as to confirm the validity of the ghost's message and the ghost's true identity.
Hamlet’s rationality can be understood when he utters the most famous line of the play, “To be or not to be: that is the question” (3.1.56). Hamlet's statement marks the central theme of the play, the difficulty of attaining certainty, and gives the reader an insight into Hamlet’s psychological dilemma. However, before Hamlet poses the character-defining “to be or not to be” question, the ghost of his deceased father appears and informs him that “The serpent that did sting thy father's life/Now wears his crown” (1.5.39-40). Hamlet, then, swears to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle, Claudius. Nevertheless, Hamlet has a...
Cited: Pascal, Blaise. Pensées and Other Writings, trans. Honor Levi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, 152-158.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, ed. A. R. Braunmuller. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
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