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.


Headline : Diplomatic sherpas feel the strain in surfeit of summits

 Newspaper headlines are usually written by a special headlines subeditor who makes them effective choosing catchy words, short sentence structures, metaphoric words and other rhetorical devices. These latter often make headlines obscure and difficult to understand but also intriguing, reflecting at the same time our cultural expectations. That’s the reason why headlines can be considered as a self-genre presenting some typical features.

For example, a TOP DOWN approach to the above mentioned headline will be focused on its non-linguistic features as the general layout, the print size and the type.

As for the layout, the first thing to notice is the space occupied by the headline on the page. As we can see, the whole text is inserted in a sort of framework which limits the boundaries of the written characters, so the clause forming the headline has been divided into three lines, each bearing one of its main constituents ( NP+VP+NP). As for print size, colour and type, black bold characters and capital letters immediately identify this clause as belonging to the genre of headlines.

On the other hand, a BOTTOM UP approach will highlight the syntactical structure and the  rhetorical devices exploited to reach a particular communicative goal : to attract and retain the reader’s attention arousing his/her curiosity and interest.

The presence of rhetorical devices accounts for the pragmatic function of this headline which invites the reader to distinguish between what is said and what is meant, between the denotative and connotative meaning of the words.

In fact, understanding the extra-meaning inside this textual genre implies the reader’s ability to go beyond the limits of what is said to infer what is meant. Of course, the journalist uses these rhetorical devices to produce a certain effect on the reader , but he counts on what Grice calls the Co-operative Principle. This means that the communicative aim is reached only if the addressee shares the addresser’s general knowledge which allows him to recognize his intention. Moreover, if we take into account Halliday’s view of language as a system of meaning involving the relationship between its participants, we will see that meaning results from the interaction between them, in what he calls the TRANSITIVITY SYSTEM. Among the micro-functions of language there is the one which allows language to create images in order to visually represent something through words, so that the reader can “see” what the writer is describing. A clear example of this linguistic function in this headline can be found at a PHONOLOGICAL-LEXICAL  LEVEL through the alliterative phonological  value of  the /s/ sound in the initial syllables in strain, surfeit, summits, which activates a metaphoric connection between the sherpas– Hymalayan mountain guides known for their resistance to physical fatigue-, and the diplomatic sherpas, the diplomatic officials who are exhausted by an excess of summit meetings.

 Lexical Level

As for the word summits, we can say that it is a clipped word since it stands for summit meetings. This lets us understand that it represents the key-word used by the media to activate their metaphorical discourse on sherpas and make the headline interesting and catchy.


This headline, taken from The Times in its broadsheet format, is a simple Clause made up of a Noun Phrase ( diplomatic = pre-modifier;  sherpas = head) which is the Subject, a Verb Phrase     ( feel the strain) which is the Predicate, and another Noun Phrase which is also a prepositional phrase   ( in surfeit of summits). In relation to the predicate, diplomatic sherpas and the strain represent the Argument of the verb. The clause is made up of Countable Nouns (sherpas; summits)which present the inflected form of the  plural s ; and a Clipped Word (summits) coming out of  “summit meetings”.

The headof the noun phrase is in the subject position, but sherpas is modified by the pre-modifier diplomatic. 

SYNTACTIC STRUCTURE SCHEME..( see attachement below)

grafico morfologico analysis of sherpas


The pre-modifier “diplomatic” before the head of the NP in the Subject position implies a metaphorical use of the word sherpas. Of course, the journalist uses these rhetorical devices to produce a certain effect on the reader , but he counts on what Grice calls the Co-operative Principle. This means that the communicative aim is reached only if the addressee shares the addresser’s general knowledge which allows him to recognize his intention.

In this case the addresser gives for granted the reader’s knowledge of sherpas as skilled mountaineers who resist to physical strain; otherwise it would be impossible to establish the semantic link between them and the diplomatic sherpas  exhausted by the surfeit of summits.


The body copy of the article we are analysing is made up of four paragraphs linked together by the key-word summits and sherpas which make up the texture of the article.

In fact, a TOP DOWN analysis will highlight how its COHESION  is given by the semantic relationship between the diplomatic sherpas who feel the strain in surfeit of summits in the headline, and the delegates participating to the G7 summit meetings mentioned in the first paragraph. The relationship is established by elements such as :

DEICTIC FORMS                              Anaphoric Proforms : HE referring to One British official

IT referring to W. E. Union anNATO

THEIR referring to sherpas/men

THESE LATTER referring to security specialists

Cataphoric Proforms : HE referring to Douglas Hurd





REPETITIONS                                 TOTAL                 : summits/Helsinki/Lisbon/


PARTIAL              : diplomacy/diplomatic;

weekend/week; day/days; agree/agreed

CONJUNCTIONS                       Despite/ But/ And

The top down approach is limited to the SURFACE STRUCTURE of the text; so, in order to fully understand the message conveyed by the article we will have to go into an in-depth analysis of the linguistic features. To this aim, a BOTTOM UP approach  will allow us to prove how COHERENCE is given by the deep structure unity of our text. In fact, the linguistic items contributing to give it coherence are the morpho-lexical aspects, syntax and semantics.


WORD CLASS                               : prevalence of NOUNS


SYNONIMS                                    :  summits/peaks

OPPOSITE WORDS                                 : today/yesterday


CLIPPED WORDS                         : summits for summit meetings


COMPOUNDS                              : weekend ( week= free radical morpheme; end = free radical


DERIVATIONAL WORDS                        : Surfeit = from French surfeit, rom sourfaire, from

SUR+faire=To overdo

:Verbiage = from French verbier = to chat

It means “ the excessive and often meaningless use

of  words”.

ADJECTIVES                              : invigorating/weary/gruelling

PARALLEL STRUCTURES       : the main burden falls/ but no burden falls

OBSOLETE WORDS                   : to toil up to

PHRASAL VERBS                       : to toil up to/to hack one’s way through

CONVERSIONS                          : Round ( usually used as an adjective, is used  here as a

noun meaning “sessions” (of meetings).

Meeting ( it can be a noun (as in our case) or

a present participle.

AFFIXATION                              : high-ly/heavi-ly =adding the suffix –ly to the noun we obtainthe

( derivational morphemes)               corresponding adverb

INFLECTIONS                            : finished/managed/extended = inflected morpheme –ED

to form the Past Simple Tense;

falls = inflected morpheme s to form the Present Simple

tense third person singular;


communiqués/ directors = inflected morpheme to form the



inflected morpheme to form the present participle;

gruelling = inflected morpheme to form an adjective

But a language lexis is not enough to construct a Discourse and create consensus ; words need to establish relationships between them and to be contained in a framework structure.

The relationship between the elements of our text is given by its SYNTACTIC STRUCTURE



1st paragraph : ClAUSE/SENTENCE TYPE : left-branching structure: the weight of grammatical structures is to the left of the predicate so the typical English language structure SVO has not been respected.

VERB TYPES : Active form ; Past tense (said); Present tense( have)

SUBORDINATE RELATIVE CLAUSE : ( …said one British official, arriving direct from the G7,…);

DIRECT SPEECH : “ This is my third summit in six days”.

2nd paragraph : CLAUSE/SENTENCE TYPE : 1st sentence : hypotactical left-branching structure in which the subject is preceded by several pre-modifiers;

2nd sentence : Subordinate Clause/Relative Clause ( …, which decided,…);

VERB TYPES : active form/past perfect tense/past simple tense/present simple tense/past continuous

VERB CONSTRUCTION : HAD BETTER+ Infinitive base form

3rd paragraph : CLAUSE/SENTENCE TYPE : Paratactical right branching structure

Peripheral dependents in APPOSITION : ( … the sherpas, the men who toil uo to the peaks of diplomacy,…);

RELATIVE CLAUSE : hacking their way…( elliptic form for “who hack their way”)

COORDINATE CLAUSES : (… hacking their way…and removing political boulders…)

VERB TYPES : active form prevalence of present tense; present participle; present perfect( have had).

4th paragraph : CLAUSE/SENTENCE TYPE : paratactical sentence structure : the head of th NP is preceded by an adversative conjunction(BUT) and an indefinite Adjective(NO).

Peripheral dependent in APPOSITION : ( … the political directors, the men who have to agree the communiqués line by line)

DIRECT SPEECH : “ I had a pretty good night yesterday”/ “ we were finished by 1 am”

VERB TYPES : present tense( falls); past simple(had; said); ACTIVE FORM/ PASSIVE FORM

( we were finished).

An analysis of the SEMANTIC LEVEL together with the many metaphoric words will highlight that we are in front of both THEMATIC COHERENCE and LOGIC COHERENCE.

In fact, in the text we are examining we can detect words belonging to the SEMANTIC AREAS of

  1. NATURE                          Peaks/Summits/boulders/jungle.
  2. DIPLOMACY                   delegates/diplomatic officials/political

Directors/communiqués/teams/speechifying/extended talks/summits/round/parliament/treasury men/G7 meeting/western European community/NATO/Foreign Office/European specialists/CSCE.

3.  WEARINESS                strain/weary/gruelling/burden/(to)hack one’s way/(to) toil up to

the words belonging to these three semantic areas continually intermingle in the text to form its conceptual texture and establish an analogy between the Hymalayan mountain guides and the diplomatic sherpas who have to cope with the tiring extended talks of the summer summitry meetings . The alliterative s  sound recalls the alliteration in the headline, thus conveying the idea of physical strain; words like gruelling, burden, boulders, to squeeze in, to toil up, to hack through further reinforce this idea making the two worlds of sherpas and diplomatic sherpas overlap.

Evidence of this can be found  in the first paragraph, where the lexical choice of the adjective weary in the body copy is aimed at establishing a direct link with the word strain in the lead. The journalist’s aim is to convey the idea of physical stress experienced both by sherpas and official diplomats when coping with difficult situations ( burden/jungles of verbiage). Moreover in the first paragraph the positive adjectives invigorating and bright provide a strong contrast with the delegate’s weary look . The 2nd paragraph helps us find a CAUSE/EFFECT relationship, which gives the text logical coherence since we are explained that the delegates are so tired because of  an excess of gruelling talks and lack of time.

But it is in the 3rd paragraph that we can find words supporting the metaphoric structure of the title. In fact, the obsolete verb form toil up to , and the metaphorical hacking their way through jungles of verbiage ( where the verb hacking recalls  the idea of an axe), convey the sense of difficulty in overcoming something dangerous.