To be or not to be is one of the famous phrases from the opening of Hamlet’s soliloquy in the nunnery scene in Williams Shakespeare’s popular play, Hamlet. In the context of this tragic play, act III scene I, To be means to live and not to be means to die. It means whether to exist in a world to deal with pain and heartache and ponder in a state of being versus in state of not being or to release yourself from the troubles that life serves. Hamlet then considers death. He believes that all his aching pain and heartache will come to an end but then where there’s death comes dreams. Hamlet is afraid of the dreams he will experience, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come. (Shakespeare, 63).
The thought of to dream in your afterlife makes life disastrous according to Hamlet but he still considers suicide as the way to go. He questions why people would rather bear the whips and scorns of life, bear the oppression, the disrespect of proud men, the rejected love, the dominating authority and when the unworthy takes advantage. His solution is for people to just take their own life and not have to worry. Hamlet believes life is a burden and should not be lived when you have To grunt and sweat under a weary life but the dread of living in the afterlife consumes him. (Shakespeare, 63). The undiscovered and non journeyed place, where no one returns, is what truly scares him. His fear is arriving in an unknown and frightening place where it could be a blank space where nothing exists but you and your thoughts or even worse, hell. The thought of suicide and reflecting on it makes people cowards and then nothing is done at all.
Hamlet is referring to himself this whole time in his soliloquy. At this moment he is thinking of how his cruel and evil uncle, King Claudius, deserves to die for the death of his father. But he is afraid of committing a sin and being doomed just like the ghost of his own father. Hamlet is mostly afraid of making the wrong move like committing suicide because of the chances of going to hell and his conscience. Because of his family’s religious background, he is afraid of the consequences if he does commit these acts. He continues to be frustrated, confused and angry on what action, murder or suicide, to take because either way he will be committing a sin and going against God.
- Analysis of Hamlet’s Soliloquies in Acts I, II, III. Owlcation, Tricia Mason, 10 November 2018. https://owlcation.com/humanities/Shakespeares-Hamlet-What-do-the-soliloquies-reveal-about-Hamlets-true-feelings-and-thoughts
- Hamlet. Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics, William Shakespeare, February 2015.
- NoSweatShakespeare. No Sweat Shakespeare, Warren King, 4 May 2017. https://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/quotes/hamlet-to-be-or-not-to-be/