The past Ultimately Determines the Future
The Past Determines Future
Spiritual guidance is often used as a catalyst for the progression of a story. In Hamlet and Inferno, the mystical are the entities that help make the tale have a conflict that allow the story to have many possibilities of resolution. Both of these beings are from the past, highlighting how what occurred in the past helps outline what happens in the future. Without this spiritual guidance, the conflict would not occur and the story would have no plot. Therefore, the mystical beings are an integral part to both stories, interlacing the two texts through the concept of divine intervention.
In Hamlet, Virgil is the ultimate guide for Dante. He serves as a dual mentor: for both Dante in the novel, and Dante the writer in his quest to define and think through his life. Virgil channels the ideas of the past to help character Dante fulfill his quest in the underworld and writer Dante to continue his poem. Without Virgil’s guidance, the journey would be never had begun. Before Dante had officially started his voyage into Hell, the hero doubted his ability and heroicness. His “soul… assailed by cowardice” (Dante 15), would have given up before his epic expedition began. By providing the security of having the backing of the divine, it allows Dante to experience Hell with a greater feeling of security. Without this confidence, Dante would not have been able to retreat into the depths of Hell with such a discerning eye. Therefore, his journey would be aimless and he would have not gained as much from his experiences. Virgil is Dante’s safeguard.
Hamlet’s late father’s apparition paved the way for Hamlet’s actions. Without the guidance given by the ghost, Hamlet would have no definite proof of Claudius’ betrayal and regicide and would have no definite route of revenge. Hamlet did not know for a fact that Claudius had murdered his father, though the situation between Claudius and Hamlet’s mother Gertrude was odd. When his father’s ghost asked him to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (Shakespeare 31), Hamlet had a mission and the story of Hamlet had a plot. Without the late King’s words, Claudius would be Hamlet’s enemy only for Claudius’ unusual relationship with Hamlet’s mother and down the road, that he inherently swiped the crown away from Hamlet, who was next in line. However, Hamlet would not have known that Claudius had murdered not only the idea of his harmonious household, but also the person he admired most: his father. Since the apparition was in fact his father, Hamlet uses his heightened passions as a vehicle to move him forward in pursuit of revenge, which also pushes the plot forward.
The spiritual guides, showing insight on the authors’ viewpoints on morality, highlight the ideas of revenge and sin. For instance, in Hamlet, revenge is deemed necessary by the spiritual guidance. The dead will not be freed until they have been avenged. While Hamlet needed to kill his villainous uncle, he could not kill him while Claudius was praying in a church, as that would give Claudius eternal salvation instead of unrelenting grief. Though Shakespeare created the idea of Hell based on Dante’s Inferno, he had not the horrendous imagery to accompany the eternal terror. Also, Hamlet, a mortal human, takes it upon himself to act as the divine and bestow a punishment unto Claudius which no mortal has the right or power to. In contrast, in Inferno, Dante is more withheld from the revenge. He witnesses characters such as Ugolino and Ruggieri performing acts of revenge for the duration of their existence in Hell. Also, the writer Dante has performed his own form of revenge by putting those he did not like in the depths of hell. While not all the choices were biased, those such as Pope Boniface VIII and Filippo Argenti were inherently put in Hell as retribution for the wrongs Dante felt were committed unto him by them. With this and his concepts behind the layers of hell and the sins they correspond with, Dante has an idea of the eternal revenge: a punishment which has been brought upon a person for the rest of their existence due to the wrongs they have done in their life.
The dissonance between the two is more the entity that brings justice and revenge than the revenge itself. Juxtaposed, these two texts parallel in both journey and thought. The idea that actions have an impact on the salvation of man and will stay with them throughout the entirety of their existence resonates through both texts. The main dissimilarity is how Virgil and the late King deal with the idea of revenge. Virgil has to keep Dante from being too invested in what is happening in the underworld. As time passes, Dante is separated emotionally from what he is experiencing. In contrast, Hamlet becomes more emotionally invested as the tale progresses. He has not the continued support of his otherworldly companion to help keep him from self-destructing and pursuing revenge blindly enough to contract his own doom. Unlike the late King, Virgil never leaves Dante’s side, providing a solid partner in his travels so that he may not get lost in the vast recesses of what is unknown to him.
Since both of the characters are reluctant heroes, guidance is necessary for both Hamlet and Dante to fulfill the plot of their story. This ties the two texts together in multiple ways. Allowing the protagonist to have a ‘cabinet’ of sorts to help them sort out their thoughts, they have a clearer idea of their path and are able to make more insightful decisions regarding their situations. This allows for the complex paths that both Hamlet and the Inferno become. With more convoluted pathways, there could be more endings to the story due to the greater amount of decisions to be made. Taking in Leibnizian philosophy, the resolutions are the best of all possible worlds. Without the presence of these helpful beings, the best of all possible worlds would be unattainable and a counterfeit of what could have been.
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