“To Be, Or Not To Be…” – Dissecting Shakespeare’s Masterpiece

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

If you ask the majority of students at any school in general what they think of Shakespeare, it’ll be no surprise if they answer with “Boring.”. Because Shakespeare uses archaic vocabulary in his plays, it’s very hard to comprehend what he’s trying to get across to his modern audience amidst the array of poetic figures of speech. As a result, students say it’s hard to relate to Shakespeare’s plays. Well, unless you break each quote down sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase — like I did in English class yesterday, of course you won’t understand how it’s supposed to relate to you. So get ready, because you and I are going to have some fun with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

Before we begin dissecting the soliloquy, however, I should give you some background information on the events leading up to this famous quote, regardless whether or not you read the play. So, basically, young Hamlet wants to seek revenge for his father’s death. Earlier, in the play, he had met whom he presumed to be his father’s ghost, as it pinpointed Hamlet’s uncle, the incestuous King Claudius, the King of Denmark. Meanwhile, his relationship with Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter, had just been officially dissolved by Polonius.

Two other characters come into play as they try to get answers from Hamlet himself as to why he’d been acting seemingly insane lately. Queen Gertrude admits her guilt saying that it may be because she’d married Claudius too hastily. Hamlet asks the actors to act out the Battle of Troy, and a particular story from that battle. In this story, it is said that Queen Hecuba watched her husband, King Priam, get slaughtered and cried incessantly.

After they finish, he further requests one of the actors to add in ten lines to the act. Hamlet, talking to himself, reveals that he wants those ten lines to be of his uncle murdering his father to see his uncle’s reaction. Also, another important thing to note, Queen Gertrude only mourned the death of Old Hamlet briefly before quickly marrying King Claudius, whereas Queen Hecuba mourned her husband constantly. Sound interesting? You should read it. Again, yes, it uses the Old archaic English vocabulary, but it’s still a fun read once you actually understand the plot. Anyway, because this is where Hamlet starts his famous soliloquy, here comes the dissection.

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

The first sentence of Hamlet’s quote, translated from the footnotes of my book, simply implies that Hamlet is contemplating suicide. “To be, or not to be” is really “To live or not to live”.

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.

Again, Hamlet is trying to decide whether or not living life is worth it or not. The “slings and arrows” he refers to is are the pains he’s had to endure in his life, whether it be knowing that his uncle married Queen Gertrude or that his uncle killed his father or that young Hamlet himself is trying to cope with the fact that the relationship between he and Ophelia, the girl he has a crush on, is over. Does that last part sound familiar? You see, obviously we all have had bad days in our lives. We all have arrows shot into our hearts, literally speaking to represent emotional and mental pain. Anyway, Hamlet then says “Or to take arms against a sea of troubles”. So basically he’s trying to decide whether or not to continue to whine and suffer his pains in life or to actually do something about it, or take revenge against King Claudius. Of course, “opposing end” would refer to… you guessed it… his uncle, King Claudius.

To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.

If Hamlet kills himself, he’ll end all the pains in his life.

To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—

As he continues to contemplate suicide, he reasons that dreams come to us during sleep. Because “rub” in this context means “obstacle”, we can probably guess his dreams are quite uncomfortable. He goes on to compare sleep with death. He infers that if death is sleep exacerbated, then it’s possible that dreams in death are also likely to be intensified. If he commits suicide, he’ll have gotten rid of the turmoils he faces.

there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

Just thinking about his situation makes him miserable.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Here, he starts a poetic five-line list of what makes his life such a burden.

Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

Both the “oppressor” and “proud man” refer to King Claudius’ wrongful acts, but “oppressor” also refers to Queen Gertrude’s decision to marry Claudius, young Hamlet’s uncle. This ties into one of “Hamlet”‘s themes, Decay & Corruption.

The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,

Young Hamlet infers that Queen Gertrude did not and still does not care about his father and former King, Old Hamlet. He believes that his uncle is corrupting the laws of the political system in Denmark.

The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,

As Prince of Denmark, he has to endure the insults of his uncle’s, King Claudius’, disturbing acts.

When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

Hamlet feels he’s been mistreated.

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,

Again, he mentions having to deal with such dreadful events in his life that he does not want to deal with, but he’s afraid killing himself because he doesn’t know where he will end up if he commits suicide.
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Going off from the previous three lines, he once again contemplates suicide, but is faced yet again with what will happen after death. He then expresses mixed emotions while mentioning the descent towards Hell and ascending to Heaven.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

Here, Young Hamlet tells himself that just sitting there whining about his problems isn’t going to solve anything. He’s thinking too much.

And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

He decides to continue on with his plan of vengeance for his father, Old Hamlet.

I hope all that information was not only helpful to you to better understand what he’s trying to say, but also enjoyable. As you can probably imagine, if we translated the whole soliloquy into Modern English with modern daily comparisons, we wouldn’t get the same poetic rhythm and dynamic, archaic English vocabulary that Shakespeare delivers in his plays. Every day, we deal with problems in our lives, whether it be our parents lashing out at our decisions and actions or a bad break-up. Our emotions can obviously get the best of us, but if we think our decisions through before we act, obviously we probably wouldn’t do what we originally intended.

EDIT: On the last day of school before Winter Break, I was getting close to memorizing the entire soliloquy, when something hit me when I read starting from “Who would fardels bear…” to “no traveler returns”. I realized I had analyzed that part incorrectly, and I had intended to fix it “later” (usually meaning later that day because wordpress.com is blocked on the school computers). But I had forgotten over the course of three or so days during the early days of the holiday break. So, because I do not like to mislead people, I apologize for not editing it soon enough. I hope it makes even more sense to you.

Credits:

http://www.bardweb.net/content/readings/hamlet/lines.html

http://nfs.sparknotes.com/hamlet/page_140.html

10 thoughts on ““To Be, Or Not To Be…” – Dissecting Shakespeare’s Masterpiece

  1. bench jacken guenstig
    Arrived at your web blog through Digg. You already know I am signing up to your rss feed.

  2. Tomasa Bucek says:

    Some genuinely prime articles on this internet site , bookmarked .

  3. Choosing amongst a myriad of large things was not in the least my strong point, so when I had to choice my culmination ten computer games, I was finally faced with a challenge. After some reasonable (and I norm surely judgement sometimes non-standard due to), this is the tabulate of games that I know are meritorious to be mentioned in my top ten computer games article.

    Lately, innumerable people from playing video games on consoles such as Ps3 and Xbox 360 because of exciting games and the ease of use. Sundry consoles up with a outstrip graphics card that allows on account of deeper gaming experience. So does this wealth the completion of PC gaming era? Undeniable not. Computers gave creation to the video match industry. Unlike the consoles, computers be experiencing been almost instead of more than 25 years. All the years of experiences combine up to less ill games and it conveys the report that pc gaming on be on all sides in the interest of a wish time. Stable today, computer gaming leads the gaming activity because most gamers are PC gamers.

    3) Discharge’s start with some http://www.five.com angry birds and some green pigs.
    I cannot envisage my better ten computer games shopping list without this game. Ireful Birds is a unassuming irregular bold, but who am I kidding? You all things considered recognize what Fuming Birds is. And if you aren’t wiped out bored with of having played it on your android phone, iPhone, tablets, iPad, roku etc, you can also around the darn goods on your computer!

    2) StarCraft
    Is it wrong that more than half of my surmount fill up ten computer games consist of scheme games? The same cannot be said for consoles. PC games take issue because you as a matter of fact secure to ‘characterize as’ and be inventive, notably in this design; Star Craft. A number of aspects of the meeting such as motivation, technology, biology, and a effulgent mystery make this stratagem song of the most popular physical set procedure game. This species of exciting and addicting gamble cannot be develop in consoles platform. The on the other hand way to have knowledge of what I am talking upon is to vie with this stratagem, you are undeviating to gather then!

    Computer games are the largest games in the in style gaming era. Console games are capable too, but wholly not as entertaining as ones I play on computer in my opinion. My index of supreme ten computer games may change in the future as PC gaming persistence is great and with a view guaranteed, it force form for the sake of decades to come.

    • bone33 says:

      I honestly don’t understand how this relates or how you’re trying to relate computer games into Shakespeare or Hamlet’s soliloquy. If you would please elaborate on your point, I would appreciate it. Thanks. 🙂

  4. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your site and in depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information. Fantastic read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  5. Some really howling work on behalf of the owner of this website , utterly outstanding content .

  6. Real great info can be found on web blog.

  7. Hello there, just was aware of your weblog through Google,my site is http://www.chilggoooto.com

  8. Hi there, just became aware of your weblog through Google,my site is http://www.chilggoooto.com

  9. canon t2i says:

    What¡¯s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It positively useful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & aid different customers like its aided me. Good job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s