Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about both the importance and the futility of trying. The idea that there are some things we can’t change, no matter what, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in trying.

I can’t help but think of Oedipus, which I think provides one of the clearest illustrations of this principle. Other examples abound in literature and other art. It seems like old/ancient writers and artists were particularly interested in this question – or at least were more obviously so. Macbeth (and many of other Shakespeare plays), much of Greek mythology. Even Arthurian legend.

It’s a theme that only raises more questions. The primary one, of course, being, “Why bother?” Why should Hamlet/Oedipus/Arthur, etc. bother trying to avoid any of it?

Hamlet, whose fate also seems sealed from very early on in the play, has my favorite answer to this question (as in many things).

We defy augury…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.

Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2

In other words? “Que será, será,” and our only choice is how we accept it. Gracefully…petulantly…hesitantly. That’s all that is left up to us.

There is a captivating beauty in Hamlet’s answer. It’s a stark view–one that leaves no room for free will. But I love it all the same. Because even the starkest answer this question can produce seems to still essentially tell us that our choices still matter. They may be futile in some cases, but we get credit for trying.

That’s something.


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