Soliloquies Essay - The Meaning of Hamlet’s Soliloquy

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The Meaning of Hamlet's Soliloquy

"To be or not to be that is the question" (III.i l 56) This is one of the most often recited lines in all the works of Shakespeare. However, very few people have any idea of its the true meaning. While the phrase sounds simply intelligent, and philosophical, it is important to explore the meaning it holds in the play. The speech in its entirety reveals that Hamlet is considering his suicide. It is a pondering which is reflective of all the troubles Hamlet has encountered thus far in the play, and what he should do about it. He ponders ending his life, and the nobility of that decision.

"Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous
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Hamlet feared and doubted it, yet he gave it a respect only his father would have deserved: he promised to exact revenge against his father's killer. But he made that vow before learning the killer was King Claudius. Hamlet is not sure whether the ghost is truthful, or even real.

"The spirit I have seen

May be a devil, and the devil hath power

T' assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits,

Abuses me to damn me."

(II.ii l 584)

Hamlet must verify the words of the suspicious visitor, and the way he thinks he can do this is to let the King reveal his secrets while watching a play, hoping it will strip him to the truth. He would have the touring players perform "The Murder of Gonzago" in order to tell the truth of his father's murder.

"I'll observe his looks.

I'll tent him to the quick. If'a do blench

I know my course."

(II.ii l 582)

All of the mounting pressures of the ghost, his mother, and his plan to kill Claudius have driven Hamlet to consider the act of suicide. Hamlet wants to escape these pressures, and he thinks that the best way to do this may be to kill himself.

"and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

that flesh is heir to."

(III.i l 61)

To take

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