The fame of one particular soliloquy by the hero in Shakespeare’s Hamlet logically requires that special consideration be given to said speech. And such is the intent of this essay.
In “Superposed Plays” Richard A. Lanham discusses this most famous of all the soliloquies:
The King and Polonius dangle Ophelia as bait and watch. Hamlet sees this. He may even be, as W. A. Bebbington suggested, reading the “To be or not to be” speech from a book, using it, literally, as a stage prop to bemuse the spyers-on, convince them of his now-become-suicidal-madness. No one in his right mind would fault the poetry. But it is irrelevant to anything that precedes. It fools Ophelia – no difficult matter – but it should not fool us. The question is whether Hamlet will act directly or through drama? Not at all. Instead, is he going to end it in the river? I put it thus familiarly to penetrate the serious numinosity surrounding this passage. Hamlet anatomizes grievance for all time. But does he suffer these grievances? He has a complaint indeed against the King and one against Ophelia. Why not do something about them instead of meditating on suicide? (93)
Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes just how close the hero is to suicide while reciting his most famous soliloquy:
Hamlet enters, desperate enough by this time to be thinking of suicide. It seems to him that it would be such a sure way of escape from torment, just to cease existing, and he gives the famous speech on suicide that has never been worn thin by repetition. “To be, or not to be . . .” It would be easy to stop living.
To die, to sleep;
No more. And by a sl...
... middle of paper ...
...in, Harry. “An Explication of the Player’s Speech.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from The Question of Hamlet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Nevo, Ruth. “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Form in Shakespeare. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
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: University of Delaware Press, 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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