Hamlet's Soliloquy - to Be, or Not to Be

2355 Words Nov 25th, 2005 10 Pages
Hamlet 's Soliloquy - To be, or not to be

Hamlet 's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy is arguably the most famous soliloquy in the history of the theatre. Even today, 400 years after it was written, most people are vaguely familiar with the soliloquy even though they may not know the play. What gives these 34 lines such universal appeal and recognition? What about Hamlet 's introspection has prompted scholars and theatregoers alike to ask questions about their own existence over the centuries?

In this soliloquy, Shakespeare strikes a chord with a fundamental human concern: the validity and worthiness of life. Would it not be easier for us to simply enter a never-ending sleep when we find ourselves facing the daunting problems of life
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Indeed, many think the soliloquy is out of place, and some assert that he is not contemplating suicide at all. In 1765, Samuel Johnson explains the thought, or inner monologue, of Hamlet as he delivers the soliloquy in a manner that eliminates any struggle with thoughts of suicide:

Before I can form any rational scheme of action under this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide whether, after our present state, we are to be or not to be. That is the question which, as it shall be answered, will determine whether 'tis nobler and more suitable to the dignity of reason to suffer the outrages of fortune patiently, or to take arms against them, and by opposing end them, though perhaps with the loss of life. If to die were to sleep, no more, and by a sleep to end the miseries of our nature, such a sleep were devoutly to be wished; but if to sleep in death be to dream, to retain our powers of sensibility, we must pause to consider in that sleep of death what dreams may come. (Harris 83)

A Change in Place over Time

Whether or not you agree that the soliloquy is out of place within the play or that Hamlet speaks out of character, it is interesting to note that the placement of the soliloquy within the play has changed over time. At one point in history, Hamlet 's famous
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