Hamlet at the Crossroads: Aristotelian Themes of Choice and Virtue in Shakespeare's Hamlet

BrotherAnthony (An Sonjae)

Published in: Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities 21  Winter 2005 pages 11 - 20 (College of Liberal Arts, National Sun Yat-sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan)

        It is very hard to imagine that there is something still to be written about Shakespeare’s Hamlet that has not already been better said elsewhere.  However, there is some interest in pursuing a question that is not often pursued.  Few recent texts seem to focus much on possible links between Aristotle’s writings on Ethics and the way Hamlet negotiates with ethical questions in the play.  Yet there are several points in the play at which Hamlet seems to have something in mind from his studies in the Nicomachean Ethics; there are even reasons for wondering if the less often studied Eudemian Ethics did not furnish some elements.  Fundamentally, Hamlet is a play about the ethical choices available to a prince whose royal father has been secretly murdered by the man who is now his king and step-father.  The main tension in the play is that between passion and reason, revenge and justice.  The themes of action and acting involve metadramatic sideplay but in the end, the action that Hamlet is required by his own conscience to perform virtuously is to kill a king.  It is not surprising that the play portrays a very thoughtful Hamlet struggling to identify and choose the right course of action so that he will not lose his moral integrity.  Hamlet the thinker does not vacillate so much as ponder in a very Aristotelian manner on what ethical courses are open to him.  So long as his considerations have not found a solution, he can only wait and feign madness.

        When Shakespeare made a very agitated Hamlet say, “Now, mother, what’s the matter?” (3.4.7) as he comes storming into her “closet,” and follow that up with “What’s the matter now?” only six lines later, he could hardly have realized how extremely modern and colloquial he would still sound more than 400 years later.  In contrast, Gertrude’s response “Why, how now, Hamlet,” (3.4.12) today sounds archaic and rather silly, although she is simply echoing Juliet’s Mother’s impatient “Why, how now, Juliet?” (R&J 3.5.68) when Juliet lingers on her balcony after saying farewell to Romeo.  Neither Mother likes to be kept waiting by their child.  “What’s the matter” is probably as common an expression today, in Britain at least, as it was in Shakespeare’s time, and Shakespeare uses it over fifty times in many plays, according to Bartlett’s Concordance.  The expression’s continuing use is presumably why it stands out so strongly in Hamlet, where the general style of speech is as uncolloquial as we expect of Shakespeare.  But what makes that phrase so strikingly modern is more than just the colloquial feel of “what’s the matter?”  It has at least as much to do with the way Hamlet addresses his Mother as “Mother.”

        That is still today a confrontational mode of address, stressing the hierarchical and conventional nature of the child-mother relationship as a way of potentially challenging and resisting it.  By addressing his mother as “Mother” in this tone at this point, Hamlet joins the serried ranks of the world’s unhappy, mother-dominated sons.  He has come to her Closet because his mother has sent for him, and while she clearly expects him to obey her, Hamlet seems to reckon he is no longer her little boy; it is not so obvious that a grown-up son should come running every time his aging and domineering mother sends for him, even if she is his Queen, too.

        It is easy to understand at least part of Hamlet’s very modern irritation at this point in the play as a response to the fact he has been informed, repeatedly, by his least favorite people, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, then by Polonius, that his mother wants to see him.  The events during the performance of the play-within-the-play make it likely that he is being called to a scolding for having been a naughty boy and upset his new step-father.  Today, too, men of Hamlet’s age who address their mother as “Mother” are usually affirming a resistance.  It is a word that often indicates a wish by the son, youthful and dynamic, to establish a distinction, a zone of freedom from a perceived threat of domination by the stubbornly old and out-of-date parent.  Nobody in the English-speaking world ever addresses their Mother as “Mother” when they are feeling happy and affectionate, I think.

        In many of Shakespeare’s plays, the younger characters are clearly vested with strong symbolic value as “bearers of fresh, bright future promise” in contrast to the weariness and hopelessness of the parents’ generation.  It is no secret that Shakespeare frequently explores at the end of a play the essentially optimistic theme of a “passing of power” from the stale, worn-out old generation of parents to a fresh, young newly-wed couple.  This motif finds its final, most obvious representation in The TempestRomeo and Juliet is such a tragedy precisely because both are their parents’ only child.

        Hamlet has ample reason to be exasperated, not simply by his mother and the messengers she sends to call him, but by the whole plot of the play he finds himself in; he must be wondering what theatregrams or narremes Shakespeare has been using.  After all, Hamlet is one of the very rare major adult male characters in a Shakespearean play to have a mother still alive and in a position to scold him.  The situation was later to be revisited by Shakespeare at the end of Coriolanus, a hero who also addresses his mother as “Mother” more than once, but who unlike Hamlet finally gives in to her, with fatal consequences to himself.  And where almost all the other Shakespearean characters of Hamlet’s age are given a chance to form a romantic couple, here it is his mother who is the blushing newly-wed while Ophelia and Hamlet never have a snowflake’s chance of getting their romantic act together at all.

        It would also be possible to argue that Hamlet stresses his lack of sympathy toward his mother at this point because he has by now fully realized that she has been guilty of folly in remarrying so rapidly and even suspects, as he more than implies in the following lines, that she was already guilty of adultery before King Hamlet’s death and might have been aware of her lover’s murderous plans.  The main gist of Hamlet’s analysis of her motivations seems to be that in her fundamental choices she was swayed by considerations of passion, of physical pleasure.

        The physical disgust regarding her sexual relations with the new King that Hamlet expresses at various points in the play do not seem tempered by any excuse that she had no choice.  As widowed Queen, she was hardly subject to financial constraints that would require her to remarry; likewise, she should not fear political rivals and there are no indications that she is consumed by a need for the power that being wife of a living king brings.  Hamlet seems to be saying throughout the play that his Mother’s fault lay in her fundamental choice of pleasure, when considerations of virtue would have kept her from remarrying at all and certainly from marrying her deceased husband’s brother, whether that were legally permitted or not (a moot point).  This topic of the choice of virtue over pleasure is one we will need to pursue further in other ways.

        Hamlet is often considered to have a psychological problem, a very low estimation of himself, because of the way he seems to compare himself so negatively with his Father.  Many commentators have made much of Hamlet’s words in the First Soliloquy where he is speaking of his uncle: “My father’s brother─but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules” (1.2.152-3).  This, they claim, is strongly ironic, for everyone knows that the new king is quite unlike the old one, and that Prince Hamlet the Hesitant is a far cry from Hercules the Heroic, who in Hamlet’s eyes seems to be identified with his father.  Even the very acute Harold Jenkins in his Arden edition of the play is satisfied to comment in his footnote to the line: “Hamlet gives an indication of his feeling of inadequacy” (189).

        Yet it could be argued that, if we ignore the obviously biased viewpoint of Hamlet, the old king and the new king seem very similar indeed, virtual twins in fact─both effective monarchs, both of them men of action and skilled in diplomacy, and both of them devoted to and loved by their wife.  It would be an interesting production that would set two exactly identical portraits on the wall of the Queen’s Closet for Hamlet to point to.  We ought not to believe Hamlet so readily, perhaps, in judging who is like and unlike whom.  And it would be even more serious if he were believed unquestioningly when he seems to be saying that he himself cannot possibly be compared to Hercules, for as a renaissance humanist scholar he knows very well that he can be and should be compared to Hercules without having to have strangled serpents in his cradle as a baby.  Jenkins’ footnote to the line indicates that both Saxo Grammaticus and Belleforest did in fact compare him favorably to Hercules.

        Hamlet is a reader of books and thinker of thoughts.  When he utters the First Soliloquy, it could be thought that he is beginning to sense that his father has joined the long string of examples begun by Boccaccio in his De Casibus—adapted by Chaucer as the Monk’s Tale, rewritten by Lydgate in his Fall of Princes, and expanded in the various editions of the Mirror for Magistrates—of victims of the arbitrary turning of Fortune’s wheel.  He, like so many, was a king cut off in a flash at the height of prosperity with no warning and for no apparent reason.  Hamlet has yet to hear the Ghost’s tale of murder but when he hears it, it makes no real difference to the fact of the matter, since his poisoning uncle was at best an unwitting agent of whatever power the shifts of Fortune answer to.  The stress that the Ghost lays on his complete lack of “readiness” for death, “Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d,/ No reck’ning made” (1.5.77-8), only shows that King Hamlet had not cultivated the wisdom that comes with any awareness of Boethius’s Lady Philosophy’s indications that Fortune’s wheel is ever turning, her slings and arrows are ever at the ready, and prosperity never lasts long.  Everyone should be ready to die at any moment, especially powerful and militarily successful monarchs.

        So far as Philosophy is concerned, the Ghost’s reported sufferings in Purgatory are the inevitable result of his manifest lack of wisdom.  Unlike his father, Hamlet has read Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, of course, but he might also be expected to have been familiar with Petrarch’s most popular and often-translated treatise, De remediis utriusque fortunae, where he could learn that “human virtue and reason can withstand fortune’s relentless claims” (Schmitt 645).  His dismissive mention of Hercules in that First Soliloquy suggests another related theme he could have known from his readings.  Hercules was, after all, a major figure for renaissance writers, and not simply because of his immense physical strength displayed in the Twelve Labors.  Shakespeare surely had never heard of Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406), who was Chancellor of Florence when he composed his long but never completed De laboribus Herculis, but this unpublished, almost unread, work is worth mentioning here as only one of a series of humanist works that take Hercules as a significant symbol of Man in his most fulfilled mode.
Besides, the Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy helpfully tells us that Petrarch launched and Salutati pursued

. . . the cult of human freedom and activity, articulated through the acquisition of a sapientia (wisdom) closely linked to eloquentia (eloquence), because beyond individual moral growth and the contemplative ideal, each man is a citizen who must work for the common good of his city or state . . . . Though full of admiration for the moral heroism of the Stoics, Salutati is mindful that we are neither ruled by fate nor blindly led by natural forces.  It is through our commitment to overcoming the adversities of fortune and historical circumstances that we become virtuous: ‘virtuosi non natura sed operibus efficimur’ (the virtuous are made not by nature but by works). (page 645)

The myth of Hercules, then, recurs in many humanist celebrations of man’s constructive capacities, of the virtuous dignity which raises him to the level of the stars, that is, to the level of a divinity.

        We all know how important the question of what it means to be a “Man” is in Hamlet.  Harold Bloom has published a huge volume devoted to “the Invention of the Human” with Hamlet at its heart.  But renaissance Humanism begins with Petrarch, and as Nicholas Mann writes, “Petrarch seems to have played a significant role in the transmission to posterity of the image of ‘Hercules at the Crossroads’” (4).  Petrarch drew upon Cicero’s De officiis (I 32 118) when he placed this episode in the first book of his De vita solitaria, as a story that he mainly valued, rather oddly, as an example of the advantages of solitude.  The story is that “when Hercules came to the age of puberty and thus entered upon the road of life, he was much tortured by his desires, and withdrew to a solitary place where he meditated upon the two paths that seemed open to him: that of voluptas (pleasure), and that of virtue” (4).  He finally chose Virtue.  It appears that Petrarch is the first writer for some thousand years to revive the story. . . . Petrarch writes of young Hercules’s anguish “when, as if at a crossroads (velut in bivio), he hesitated long and hard” (4).  Hercules’s heroic choice of Virtue, the subject of endless iconographical explorations by renaissance and later artists, enabled him, Petrarch says, “not merely to reach the peak of human fame, but even, according to some, a god-like state” (4).  Indeed, there are many renaissance paintings and drawings that show the young Hercules being solicited by female personifications of Pleasure and Virtue, the former often wearing far fewer clothes than the latter, and Hercules looking as if he is rather unwillingly choosing the more decorous of the two.

        Hamlet did not have to have read Petrarch to know this story, though.  As Bagley makes clear, Cicero’s Offices had become a fixture in the Latin grammar school curriculum in England by the second half of the sixteenth century.  The story would even have been known to pre-grammar school youngsters whose education was influenced by Francis Clement’s The Petie Schole, published in 1587, for it included an English translation of Cicero’s account of “Hercules at the Crossroads.”  And English language readers could have found it translated as early as 1533 in Whytinton’s edition of Tullyes Offyces or in the one by Grimald in 1553.

        Hamlet has no illusions about the value of mere “Words, words, words” (2.2.192).  His way of speaking at times may seem designed to drive his uncle up the wall and Polonius round the bend.  Yet for Hamlet as for any humanist, eloquentia is only of value when accompanied by sapientia; not words but wise being are what matters most to him.  And he knows from Aristotle that wisdom leads to the choice of virtue in action.  “To be, or not to be” (3.1.56), he suddenly announces for no apparent reason at a moment when the on-stage audience of Polonius and the King is expecting him to start talking to Ophelia, “that is the question,” and the audience in the stalls all nod knowingly.  They fail completely to realize that the word “question” expects them to make an association with schools, where debates centered on traditional philosophical “questions” or topics formed a fundamental part of the curriculum.  The Renaissance changes in education had by no means eliminated this form of intellectual training, and Hamlet is transported back to Wittenberg for a moment as he exposes arguments supporting both sides of the topic.
But first he puzzles thoughtful members of the audience by asking himself which of the sides of his mysterious choice is “nobler,” an unexpected category since it implies that both “being” and “not being” have an essentially noble quality.  One of them can hardly signify suicide, then, Hamlet not being a Stoic Roman.  After an extended deliberation evoking the ambiguities of death, he arrives at his conclusion: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” (3.1.83).  What he appears to be saying now is that “Thinking hard can be harmful to your revenge,” but Hamlet never seems to mean what he seems to mean.  “Conscience” usually refers to a moral ability to distinguish a right course of action from a wrong one.  “Coward” is an insult applied by the violent and warlike to any who do not agree with thoughtless slaughter.  It might not be a bad thing to be called a coward, as Hamlet seems to discover when he applies it to himself occasionally elsewhere.

        As we have seen, Salutati considered that “virtuosi non natura sed operibus efficimur.”  In his great soliloquy, Hamlet is obviously thinking that it is better to be virtuously inactive than to be mindlessly violent, and that discretion really can be the better, more virtuous part of valor.  It could be claimed that Hamlet’s greatest novelty in his way of being is the manner in which he fights tooth and nail inside himself all through the play to find out what is the right thing to do, the right choice to make, and never accepts the obvious, immediate, emotionally gratifying answer; unlike his mother, we might think, or his uncle, or Laertes.  There is no risk of conscience making cowards of them, they plunge ahead, guided by the uncertain light of desires, pleasure, or raw hatred.

        Aristotle once wrote, in his Eudemian Ethics 3.1, “A man . . . is not brave . . . if, knowing the magnitude of a danger, he faces it through passion─as the Celts take up arms to go to meet the waves”.  We do not have to assume that Shakespeare / Hamlet knew this text; the story of the Celts challenging the sea is found in other classical works, as Jenkins points out in his long note in the Arden edition (490).  Still, themes from Aristotle’s relatively little-known treatise (only published 55 times in the renaissance, compared with 300 editions for the later, more developed Nicomachean Ethics, of which it probably constitutes a first draft) seem to underlie not only the line about “taking arms against a sea of troubles” but much of the Soliloquy.  The third chapter of Book One ends “since all excellence implies choice, it makes a man choose everything for the sake of some end, and that end is the noble . . .”.  That is perhaps a key to why Hamlet’s topic for debate (his “question”) is a choice (that only he can make) as to which is the “nobler” way of being or not being─here we have “Hamlet at the crossroads.”

        As a modern thinker, and as a reader of Aristotle, he knows that what raises man to nobility is not birth but an active choice and practice of virtue.  So the question he is pondering is rather more subtle than the stereotyped version he might well have debated at school in Wittenberg: “It is better to be alive but very unhappy than not to be alive at all”.  He almost seems to be recalling a line near the start of that same text of Aristotle: “a man was asking why one should choose to be born rather than not to be born and Anaxagoras answered by saying ‘for the sake of viewing the heavens and the whole order of the universe’” (Book 1.5)).  Equally important for Hamlet is something Aristotle writes a little later: “bravery consists in following reason, and reason bids one choose the noble.  Therefore only the man who endures the frightening for the sake of the noble is fearless and brave. . . . reason does not bid a man to endure what is very painful or destructive unless it is noble” (Book 3. 1)).

        Now we have seen that the relative scarcity of editions means that Shakespeare probably did not know the Eudemian Ethics.  The same does not hold true of the much more famous Nicomachean Ethics, that was regularly published and studied in the Renaissance in a variety of Latin translations.  Previous studies of Aristotelian features found in Shakespeare, such as that by Elton, contain ample reference to work supporting the validity of the comparison.  Elton suggests that even with his grammar-school Latin, Shakespeare would have been capable of grasping the main ideas and there was even, he indicates, at least one abridged English version dating from 1547.  He notes that the Latin text “would have provided little impediment to Shakespeare or to a Latin-familiar academic audience” (footnote 2).  He himself quotes from a Latin version by Antonio Riccobono, Aristotelis Ethicorum ad Nicomachum published in Frankfurt in 1596.
Elton’s study is limited to legal issues raised in Aristotelian terms in Troilus and Cressida, but his discussion of the themes of responsibility, choice and virtue are also of interest in the present discussion.  On choice, in particular, Elton says:

Legally, responsibility for an act implied that it be both voluntary and a matter of deliberate choice (prohairesis; electio).  “The origin of action . . . ,” notes Aristotle, “is choice, and that of choice is desire and reasoning . . . .”  Further, “choice cannot exist either without thought and intellect or without a moral state” (1139 a 32-34).  As it “involves reason and thought” (1112 a 15-16), choice is, moreover, a deliberative act of soul.  Including both desire and thought, an act of choice works to “elect” by “merit” (Troilus I.iii.349): “excellence [virtue] makes the aim right” (1144 a 8).  In sum, observes Aristotle, “choice is either desiderative thought or intellectual desire, and such an origin of action is a man.” (page 334)

This encourages us to look for passages in the Nicomachean Ethics which Shakespeare might have been familiar with, and which could have been in his mind as he was writing Hamlet.  Among various passages, two at least stand out particularly, in the light of what Elton has been quoted as saying:

The end, then, being what we wish for, the means what we deliberate about and choose, actions concerning means must be according to choice and voluntary.  Now the exercise of the virtues is concerned with means.  Therefore virtue also is in our own power, and so too vice.  For where it is in our power to act it is also in our power not to act, and vice versa; so that, if to act, where this is noble, is in our power, not to act, which will be base, will also be in our power, and if not to act, where this is noble, is in our power, to act, which will be base, will also be in our power.  Now if it is in our power to do noble or base acts, and likewise in our power not to do them, and this was what being good or bad meant, then it is in our power to be virtuous or vicious. (Book 3.5)

To die to escape from poverty or love or anything painful is not the mark of a brave man, but rather of a coward; for it is softness to fly from what is troublesome, and such a man endures death not because it is noble but to fly from evil. (Book 3.7)

        here are sufficient indications that it is to Aristotle that “Hamlet at the Crossroads” is indebted and in whose thought he finds the key allowing him to formulate his choice: “Is it more noble to endure unhappiness alive without action, or to act although the inevitable result will be my death?”  Hamlet has done his homework; he has some lines from St. Augustine at the back of his mind too: “The reason I am unwilling to die is not because I would rather be unhappy than not be at all, but a fear that after death I may be still more unhappy” (De Libero Arbitrio, III. i. 17 quoted by Jenkins page 489).  There, too, he is being Aristotelian, for so much of the Ethics is concerned with the nature of true happiness.

        Unlike his foolish Mother, or his warmongering Father, Hamlet knows that virtuous being is a serious matter of choice, deserving deep thought.  This is something dealt with in Book 3.iii of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, when he is analyzing the process of choice: “We deliberate about things that are in our power and can be done”.  A few lines later, we find: “The object of choice being one of the things in our own power which is desired after deliberation, choice will be deliberate desire of things in our own power; for when we have decided as a result of deliberation, we desire in accordance with our deliberation”.  This brings us back to the image of Hercules confronted with his choice.  But in that story, the choice is a fundamental one about the fundamental direction his whole life should pursue; for Hamlet, the choice is more directly a response to a situation he finds himself confronting.  But the recognition of the need for thought and personal choice is the same.

        One other echo of the Nicomachean Ethics can be identified before Hamlet acts out the choice he finally discovers he can and must make.  Confronted by the furious Laertes at the start of their final duel, Hamlet offers an ambiguous apology, that is rather an analysis of the ethical status of his action in killing Polonius:

Let my disclaiming from a purpos’d evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts
That I have shot mine arrow o’er the house
And hurt my brother. (5.2.237-40)

Hamlet’s analysis of his action, in the context of the play, is remarkably close to the discussion at the start of the first section of Book 3 of the Nicomachean Ethics, in which Aristotle discusses the difference between voluntary and involuntary actions.

Every wicked man is ignorant of what he ought to do and what he ought to abstain from, and it is by reason of error of this kind that men become unjust and in general bad; but the term ‘involuntary’ tends to be used not if a man is ignorant of what is to his advantage─for it is not mistaken purpose that causes involuntary action (it leads rather to wickedness), nor ignorance of the universal (for that men are blamed), but ignorance of particulars, i.e. of the circumstances of the action and the objects with which it is concerned.  For it is on these that both pity and pardon depend, since the person who is ignorant of any of these acts involuntarily. (. . .) Of what he is doing a man might be ignorant, as for instance (. . .) a man might say he “let it go off when he merely wanted to show its working,” as the man did with the catapult.  Again, one might think one’s son was an enemy, as Merope did, or that a pointed spear had a button on it, or that a stone was pumicestone; or one might give a man a draught to save him, and really kill him; or one might want to touch a man, as people do in sparring, and really wound him.  The ignorance may relate, then, to any of these things, i.e. of the circumstances of the action, and the man who was ignorant of any of these is thought to have acted involuntarily, and especially if he was ignorant on the most important points; and these are thought to be the circumstances of the action and its end.  Further, the doing of an act that is called involuntary in virtue of ignorance of this sort must be painful and involve repentance.

So Hamlet offers his excuse to Laertes in terms of “an involuntary action.”  It can be argued that the image of “Hercules at the Crossroads” is notoriously “Pelagian,” for the choice of virtue is shown being made within any apparent need of Prevenient Grace.  But thanks to Boethius, Hamlet knows that in the end everything is a matter of Providence, under whose guidance the noble choice of virtue has to be made. Then Fortune has no power at all:

There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows aught, what is’t to leave betimes? (5.2.215-20)

Hamlet is a very wise young man.  He realizes that he can never find his own, novel, unique way of being if he simply follows standardized stereotypes, Father’s or Mother’s.  He has to make his own choices. Sapientia must take precedence over eloquentia.  The only person in the play who knows the truth about Hamlet’s choices in his novel way of being is Horatio.  He alone recognizes the Virtue-choosing Hercules in him and at the end of the play announces his nobility and his apotheosis, paralleling that of Hercules, in a single breath:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest! (5.2.364-65)


Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925.
---. Eudemian Ethics. Trans. J. Solomon. Vol. IX of The Works of Aristotle. Ed. W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1925.
Bagley, Ayers. "Hercules in Emblem Books and Schools." Vol. 12 of AMS Studies in the Emblem. New York: AMS Press, 1996.
Bartlett, John. A Complete Concordance or Verbal Index to Words, Phrases and Passages in the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare. London: Macmillan. 1894 etc.
Elton, W. R. “Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.” Journal of the History of Ideas 58.2 (1997): 331-337.
Mann, Nicholas. “Hercules at the Crossroads” in an apparently unpublished paper available online at http://petrarch.petersadlon.com/submissions/Mann.pdf
Schmitt, Charles B., et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1988.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1982.

Keywords: Shakespeare, Hamlet, Aristotle, Seneca, virtue, choice, ethics, Hercules


The ways in which Hamlet resists his Mother and seems to delay his act of revenge are often viewed separately. Yet reference to the Senecan tale of Hercules’ choice of Virtue over Pleasure (Hercules at the Crossroads) and an awareness of clear echoes of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the play suggest a reading by which Hamlet’s responses to persons and events are all viewed as a deliberate choice of Virtue in the Aristotelian sense, made by the Aristotelian method of inward deliberation.