Free Will and Free Conscience in Hamlet
This chapter continues exploring the Protestant perspective on free will in Hamlet. This will is helpless (i.e. Laertes) and remains so even when bolstered by a strong conscience (i.e. Claudius), comprising an unerring guide to ethics (the synteresis) and the power to influence the free will. Nonetheless, for Protestants, all conscience could do was remind people of law, sin, and punishment. Efforts to ennoble the conscience were denigrated by Protestants as casuistry and identified with the detested Jesuits. In contrast, Protestants imagined a ‘regenerated,’ converted conscience, enabling Christians to instinctively follow God’s will. In Act Five, Hamlet boasts of possessing this conscience. Interestingly, however, Shakespeare seems more interested in exploring the unregenerated, fallen conscience—the one shared by all humans and even by all Christians who are not currently in a state of grace.