Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate February 2002

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"To be or not to be"¦" Analization. This soliloquy, in my opinion is his most logical and powerful examination of the theme of the moral legitimacy of suicide in an unbearably painful world. It also includes several of the other important themes of the play. Hamlet poses the problem of whether to commit suicide as a logical question: "To be or not to be," that is, to live or not to live. He then weighs the moral ramifications of living and dying.

Is it nobler to suffer life, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," passively or to actively seek to end one's suffering? He compares death to sleep and thinks of the end to suffering, pain, and uncertainty it might bring, "the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to." Based on this metaphor, he decides that suicide is a desirable course of action, "a consummation / Devoutly to be wished."

But, as the religious word "devoutly" signifies, there is more to the question, namely, what will happen in the afterlife.

Hamlet immediately realizes this, and he reconfigures his metaphor of sleep to include the possibility of dreaming; he says that the dreams that may come in the sleep of death are daunting, that they "must give us pause." He then decides that the uncertainty of the afterlife, which is intimately related to the theme of the difficulty of attaining truth in a spiritually ambiguous world, is essentially what prevents all of humanity from committing suicide to end the pain of life. He outlines a long list of the miseries of experience, ranging from lovesickness to hard work to political oppression, and asks who would choose to bear those miseries if he could bring himself peace with a knife, "when he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?" He answers himself again, saying no one would choose to live, except that "the dread of something after death" makes people submit to the suffering of their lives rather than go to another state of existence which might be even more miserable. The dread of the afterlife, Hamlet concludes, leads to excessive moral sensitivity that makes action impossible: "conscience does make cowards of us all "¦ thus the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." In this way, this speech connects many of the play's main themes, including the idea of suicide and death, the difficulty of knowing the truth in a spiritually ambiguous universe, and the connection between thought and action. In addition to its crucial thematic content, this speech is important for what it reveals about the quality of Hamlet's mind. His deeply passionate nature is complemented by a relentlessly logical intellect, which works furiously to find a solution to his misery. He has turned to religion and found it inadequate to help him either kill himself or resolve to kill Claudius. Here, he turns to a logical philosophical inquiry and finds it equally frustrating.