Hamlet : To be or not to be

TO  Hamlet (Act III, scene I).

To be or not to be

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
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? 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. 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: there’s the respect
that makes calamity of so long life;
for who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
the insolence of office and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his quietus make
with a bare bodkin?  Who would fardels bear,
to grunt and sweat under a weary life,
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscover’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?
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,
and enterprises of great pith and moment
with this regard their currents turn awry,
and lose the name of action.







Essere o non essere: questo è il problema:
se sia più giusto nell’animo patire
i colpi e i dardi della sorte oltraggiosa
o armarsi contro questo mare di affanni
e contrastandoli por loro fine. Morire. Dormire,
nulla più: e con il sonno dire che poniamo fine
alle fitte del cuore e a ogni infermità naturale della carne: questo è l’epilogo da desiderare devotamente. Morire, dormire;
Dormire? Forse sognare. Si, questo è il punto;
perché, quali sogni possano giungere in questo sonno di morte,
una volta eliminato questo guscio mortale,
deve farci riflettere: ecco il timore
che dà alla sventura una vita così lunga;
altrimenti, chi sopporterebbe il sferzate e i dileggi del tempo,
i torti degli oppressori, le offese dei superbi,
le fitte di un amore rifiutato, il ritardo delle leggi,
la sfrontatezza del potere e il disprezzo
che il merito paziente riceve dal volgo,
quando egli stesso potrebbe star sereno
con un nudo pugnale? Chi porterebbe fardelli,
agognando e sudando sotto il peso di una gravosa vita
se il timore di quel che c’è dopo la morte,
questa landa sconosciuta dalla cui frontiera
nessun pellegrino è mai tornato, non turbasse la volontà
e ci facesse preferire il peso dei nostri mali piuttosto
che volare verso altri ignoti?
Sì, è la coscienza ci fa vili
così la tinta nativa della risoluzione si
stempera sulla fiacca paletta del pensiero,
e imprese e azioni di grande importanza
per questo insabbiano il loro corso
e perdono il nome di azione.


Hamlet enters, speaking thoughtfully and agonizingly to himself about the question of whether to commit suicide to end the pain of experience. He says that the miseries of life are such that no one would willingly bear them; life is one of suffering and humiliation which has too often to be endured. So he wonders whether  the right attitude towards life  is to struggle against the “slings and arrows”, thus showing an active attitude  or  considering death as a most welcome escape from the evils. He associates death with sleep, rest and peace. But he says that the after-death is a mysterious reality that might be good or bad since dreams might be nightmares, and no one has ever come to life again to tell what really happens in the “ undiscovered country”. He finally comes to the conclusion that conscience is what makes cowards of us all and causes our incapacity to act.





Hamlet is perhaps the closet of Shakespeare’s tragedies to modern sensibilities; its hero’s doubts and indecisions are familiar to modern man equally tormented by a lack of certainties and the inability to communicate.

Hamlet’s indecisions must be placed against the background of the “ revenge tragedy”: according to its conventions, Hamlet should have sought revenge with all his forces and as soon as possible. But he does not so; he is full of hesitations, about his mother and King Claudius, whom he supposes has killed his father, and about himself.

The only certainty he has is of the corruption of the surrounding world and is repelled; the world changes its colour, life its meaning, love is deprived of its spirituality, the woman of her prestige, the earth and the air of their appeal. Hamlet sees a contagious disease which spreads from man to the kingdom, from the kingdom to the universe. The apparition of the ghost forces him in the role of the avenger but here, the theme of revenge, which is clear in contemporary drama, is called into question: all the evidence hamlet has of Claudius’ guilt is an apparition ( that of his father’s ghost) and Claudius’ confusion at watching a play that reproduces his supposed crime. This idea is linked to another theme which is honour and honourable actions: any action to correct a wrong should be reasoned, not emotional but this leads to another aspect of the play, suggested by the Romantic critic von Schlegel according to whom “ Hamlet” is the tragedy of will because in it thought kills action.


In his soliloquy Hamlet is concerned with a doubt : whether life is better than death. He is alone but he speaks in the first person plural because he is giving voice to the biggest of man’s dilemmas. He wonders which is the right attitude towards life: whether it is better to live and suffer stoic noble forbearance of adverse fortune or have an active opposition to it. So while the verb “ suffer” means a passive attitude, “ take arms” conveys the idea of an active attitude towards life. In lines 5-10 he introduces an alternative: death. Death as the only way to escape the sorrow and pain of the injustices and miseries inflicted on mankind. Then, in lines 10-13 Hamlet points out that man fears what may happen after death and  in line 28 he says “ conscience” makes us cowards since it is linked to consciousness which produces cowardice preventing us from committing suicide. Hamlet seems to resent his own incapacity to act and to put an end to his life because of his “ conscience”. In fact, Death would be preferable to Life’s suffering if man was not scared by the thought of what there may be beyond it. It is this that makes cowards of men and take s away the will to act.



As for structure and style in lines 1-10 Hamlet uses a lot of infinitive forms which give his speech a reflective mood. In lines 1-5 he draws upon some images such as “ the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune” and “ arms” taken to fight against a “ sea of troubles”.

In lines 8-9 Hamlet views death I as something to be welcomed because of its freeing power and considers it in a medieval perspective, that is, as a liberation of the soul from the “ mortal coil”. In line 24 we can find a metaphor which stands for the after death or the “ undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns”. In fact, no one has ever come to life again to tell what really happens after death.

At the end of his soliloquy Hamlet deprecates his lack of action and his cowardice. Actually, the effect of the whole passage taken from Hamlet, involving Hamlet’s soliloquy, is to make the audience consider what the meaning of “ cowardice” is. The question arousing from his words is whether it is brave to kill oneself or to stay alive. The text revolves around the idea of death by suicide which is here considered in an unconventional manner. Hamlet reverses the traditional idea about suicide seen as an act of weakness, of cowardice, a form of defeat. A person who commits suicide is unable to face problems, difficulties, losses, and decides to escape from troubles through death. To Hamlet, instead, suicide requires courage because it means facing the unknown reality of the after-death. Only few people are bold enough to go towards the unknown, because mystery generates fear; the majority of people prefer to continue to live without conviction or participation, rather than face “ the undicover’d country”. But the discussion on suicide also poses religious implications:  man has no right to take his own life. God has given man life, and God alone can take it.


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