English Literature » Notes » “To Be or Not to Be” Analysis

“To Be or Not to Be” Analysis

The “To Be or Not To Be” speech in the play, “Hamlet,” portrays Hamlet as a very confused man. He is very unsure of himself and his thoughts often waver between two extremes due to his relatively strange personality. In the monologue, he contemplates whether or not he should continue or end his own life. He also considers seeking revenge for his father’s death. Evidence of his uncertainty and over thinking is not only shown in this speech, but it also can be referenced in other important parts of the play.

The topic of Hamlet’s soliloquy is his consideration of committing suicide. Throughout the speech, it is obvious that Hamlet is over thinking and wavering between two different extremes: life and death. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them” (3, 1, 56-60). In this quotation, Hamlet wonders whether he should live and suffer the hardships that his life has to offer him or die in order to end the suffering.

He believes that life is synonymous with suffering. The

“whips and scorn of time, Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’unworthy takes”

– Hamlet To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 70-74

are all the suffering he sees in life. Hamlet wonders if living is worth enduring these numerous pains.

“To die, to sleep -no more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks… To sleep, perchance to dream”

– Hamlet To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 60-65

Should Hamlet choose to kill himself, all of his heartaches would be put to rest. He would no longer have to watch his uncle reign over the kingdom that he believes should belong to him and his father. He would no longer have to feel obligated to avenge his father’s death. He would also never again have to watch the actions of Claudius and Gertrude, which he believes to be incestuous. Hamlet realizes that in death, his stresses would be forgotten. The only thing keeping Hamlet from death is the uncertainty of what death could bring to him.

The “dread of something after death, The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns, puzzles the will”

– Hamlet To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 78-80

and keeps people from choosing death due to the fear of the unknown. His entire monologue compares the two extremes: life and death. He analyzes both situations and thinks very much about the consequences of either action. This occurs not only in this speech, but also later in the play, and demonstrates that Hamlet’s indecisive personality is his fatal flaw. Hamlet does not only have a hard time choosing between life and death.

He also can not choose between murdering Claudius or not. Even though Hamlet wanted to kill his uncle, he was terrified of the possible consequences and could not make a concrete decision. Consequently, he ended up procrastinating greatly with the murder. Hamlet knows that he over thinks everything. He plans to kill Claudius because of his desperate desire to avenge his father’s death and right the wrong that was committed, but cannot go through with his plan due to his confusion and uncertainty.

He says,

“Whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’event -A thought which quartered hath but one part wisdom And ever three parts coward -I do not know Why yet I live to say this things to do”

– Hamlet To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy, Act 4, Scene 4, Line 39-44

He sees himself as either being a coward and as over thinking his actions to delay the murder, instead of killing Claudius when he had the chance. Therefore, it is evident that the uncertainty presented in the soliloquy is also present in this scene. Another scene in the play outside of the monologue where Hamlet demonstrates his indecisive personality is when he is talking to Horatio.

By saying

“Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon. He that hath killed my king, and whored my mother, Popped in between the’election and my hopes”

– Hamlet To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy, Act 4, Scene 2, Line 63-65

Hamlet states his reasons for killing Claudius. This shows that he is insecure regarding the decision that he made and wonders whether he has done the right thing. Hamlet tries to convince himself that he has made the right decision by listing his reasons for killing Claudius, as if to justify his behaviour. In his To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy Hamlet shows his character as being confused, fickle, and very uncertain.

He shows this through his attitude towards life and death. How he compares the two and analyzes them both shows that he over analyzes everything that he does. His thinking about death shows his confusion. These traits are not only shown in this monologue, but in other parts of the play too. Through his contemplation over life and death, Hamlet learns that he would rather live and avenge his father’s death than die. He chooses this option partly due to his fear of the unknown that death presents and partly because he truly believes that the kingdom does not belong to his uncle and that he deserves revenge.