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Soliloquies Essay - The Meaning of Hamlet’s Soliloquy

The Meaning of Hamlet's Soliloquy

"To be or not to be that is the question" (III.i l 56) This is one of the most often recited lines in all the works of Shakespeare. However, very few people have any idea of its the true meaning. While the phrase sounds simply intelligent, and philosophical, it is important to explore the meaning it holds in the play. The speech in its entirety reveals that Hamlet is considering his suicide. It is a pondering which is reflective of all the troubles Hamlet has encountered thus far in the play, and what he should do about it. He ponders ending his life, and the nobility of that decision.

"Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"

(Shakespeare, III.i l 56)

The slings and arrows Hamlet has encountered have driven him to contemplate suicide. He feels that what is happening is simply too much to endure, so suicide may be a better way of overcoming his troubles than to end them by taking action.

"Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

and by opposing end them."

(III.i l 58)

One of these forces which is driving Hamlet to the edge is the activity of his mother. Just a few days after the funeral of her former husband of supposed one true love, She marries his brother and successor to the throne.

"Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables."

(I.ii l 180)

This is considered by Hamlet to be a dishonor to his father, and by Hamlet and the audience of the time to be contemptible, incestuous behavior. He loves his mother a great deal, and wants to protect her from the King. She may be "quick to ...

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...Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Mack, Maynard. "The World of Hamlet." Yale Review. vol. 41 (1952) p. 502-23. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Maher, Mary Z.. "An Actor Works at Connecting with His Audience." Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from Modern Hamlets and Their Soliloquies. Iowa City: University of Iowa P., 1992. p.71-72.

Rosenberg, Marvin. "Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat." Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware P., 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html

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