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Hamlet: To Be or Not to Be

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 Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”soliloquy is a notable piece from the play, and it also serves as an important reminder of Hamlet’s central themes. Hamlet’s soliloquy uses imagery to address the themes of life and death and speculate what occurs after death as Hamlet is debating whether he wants to kill himself or continue to struggle through his depression. Ultimately, Hamlet’s soliloquy shows his inner conflict between his fear of the afterlife and his duty to avenge his father’s death.

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As Hamlet proclaims his thoughts on existence and considers the pros and cons of committing suicide, the depressing subject matter reveals the heavy burden of sadness Hamlet carries from the very beginning of the play. Shakespeare’s use of imagery during this soliloquy is exhibited in the phrase “To die, to sleep – No more” here Hamlet is attempting to find the closest thing to death that we experience in life, sleep. While we sleep, we do not feel or think, we are merely nothing.

Hamlet continues to draw connections to life and death as he insinuates those themes a couple of lines later when Hamlet says, “To sleep, perchance to dream.” he then states that this is what prevents him from committing suicide, that perhaps after we die we do not dream, for we “shuffle this mortal coil” and then there is nothing and we cease to exist. There is also a secondary conflict, the idea that some form of existence or sentience after death exists, an afterlife if you will. This prevents Hamlet from killing Claudius later in the play, as he wasted a good opportunity to kill Claudius to bide his time and catch him in the act of sinning so his punishment will extend past death and to hell. After spending more time acting these parts out, and putting myself in Hamlet’s shoes, I was able to portray Hamlet in such a way that, as a result, I had a much stronger grasp of this passage.

The extent of Hamlet’s ongoing internal conflict is further exaggerated by his depicting death as “an undiscovered country, from which no traveler returns.” It gives an almost poetic layer to death, Hamlet here seems to be attempting to dilute the true dark nature of death by addressing the inevitability of everyone dying at one point or another. It is almost as if Hamlet is trying to convince himself that suicide is an honorable act to commit which counters his prior point “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer.”

Hamlet draws a comparison between life’s troubles and “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” , Hamlet alludes that life parallels war in many ways, but in war, there is always an enemy.

Perhaps Hamlet’s opponent is death, which has been manifested in Hamlet’s mind as an inevitability. He is battling the temptation to betray his life and join his unstoppable enemy, death. Hamlet often contradicts himself, initially he seems to be almost longing death as he describes it as “devoutly to be wished” , he expresses that his depression has grown stronger, consuming him so much so that he welcomes death, for he cannot feel any emotion but pain and would do anything to end it. He says that death is also something that should be feared because there is no definitive way to determine what happens after you die. 

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