Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Powerful Essays
Hamlet’s soliloquy is surely one of the great dramatic monologues in world literature. It is as well known as any in the Shakespearean canon and a favorite selection for memorization. The Prince’s meditation transcends the personal. Much of what he says is applicable to all mankind. The speech, coming as it does at the midpoint of the entire action, poses many critical problems. In view of the widely contrasting interpretations of this speech, it would be naïve to ignore the difficulties of interpretation.

The soliloquy comes as something of a surprise after the conclusion of Act II, which displayed Hamlet as rational and determined, intent upon carrying out a positive action that, he was sure, would resolve all doubts relating to Claudius. Now he seems to have reverted back to the mood of the first soliloquy--the mood of the Prince who would welcome death, crushed as he initially was by his mother’s marriage to her brother-in-law. Our tragic hero is suffering from grief and this soliloquy is one of those violent mood swings typical of the depressed individual. With this in mind, his intellectual skepticism and honesty with himself, is commendable. Let us examine the beginning of his philosophical inquiries.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question,” so Hamlet begins his contemplations. The line uses one of the most basic verbs in the language, one without which English itself would surely be impossible to speak. The verb is then phrased in the infinitive and lacks the attachment of any specific noun or pronoun. Balancing it on the other side of “or” is the simplest possible opposition: “not”. Shakespeare places the issue in its simplest and most abstract form, until it almost does not make sense. Shakespeare avo...

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Essentially, it all comes back to consequences. If Hamlet takes his life to escape his troubles, he could end up with worse predicaments in the afterlife. However, killing Claudius could very easily end his own life as well. The true irony lies in the multiple deaths Hamlet will unintentionally cause, which includes his beloved Ophelia. This speech connects to many of the play’s themes: including suicide, love, truth, teen angst, the debate between thought and action, natural order, inevitability, and so forth. The soliloquy is crucial. Here it reveals the quality of Hamlet’s mind, his passionate nature struggling relentlessly to escape his misery. And although, there is much up for debate, the reader is reassured that Hamlet has not departed from Christianity. There can be no doubt of his conviction in heaven and hell.
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