by William Shakespeare
Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare's best play. As a character, Hamlet is one of English literature's most intriguing and enigmatic figures. Critics have analyzed his motivations for centuries, and much remains to be discussed.
To Be or not To Be Soliloquoy Analysis
|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 heartache, 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 despis’d 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 these 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.
—Hamlet, Act III, Scene i
Before the play opens, Hamlet is miserable. His father has recently died and his mother has remarried his uncle, Hamlet believes, in inconsiderate haste. Extremely depressed, Hamlet first expresses his eagerness to die in Act I, scene ii, by wishing his "flesh would melt," and he is upset that the "Everlasting [has] fix'd / His cannon 'gainst self-slaughter" (I, ii). In his most famous soliloquy, Hamlet revisits the same themes of suicide and its religious–and uncertain–consequences. He ponders, "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... To die,—to sleep,— / No more; and by a sleep to say we end / The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to" (III, i). Which is better, he asks, to remain alive and suffer through life, or to commit suicide and end all of your worldly troubles? Hamlet's first plight sprouts from his misery caused by his father's sudden death, and now his second is the decision between life and suicide. Often caught between thought and action, he even here says, "the native hue of resolution [suicide] / Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought" (III, i).
Hamlet strikes the reader as overtly philosophical, especially during this soliloquy. Begun by contemplating his own suicide, his monologue diverges to the topic of life in general for all men. He wonders why anyone continues to live, if their situations are as bad as his, and he imagines that others are caught in the same dilemma as he. "For who would bear the whips and scorns of time," he wonders, "...When he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?" He can't imagine that any man would suffer the same "slings and arrows" as he, but that all have followed a similar train of thought, choosing to put up with life rather than enter that "The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns"–thus the fear of the unknown conquers their manifest dislike of life. "Thus," says Hamlet, "conscience does make cowards of us all" (III, i).
Hamlet's soliloquy in Act III, scene i, exemplifies both his worldly and philosophical plight. He is upset with the world around him, enough to contemplate suicide, but the uncertainty of the afterlife and suicide's religious ramifications "give [him] pause," causing him instead to continue to tolerate life.
Of all the issues that are touched upon in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the topic of father-son relationships exposes us the most to who Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras are and what makes up their character. As different as they seem, they all share a common bond – their love for their fathers. They all desire to avenge their fathers’ deaths, but the way they individually go about it allows us to discern more about each person.
At times philosophical and at times insane, Hamlet holds the most complex character and the biggest role in the play. His education and character make him enigmatic and unpredictable, and yet at the root of him is an elementary love for his father. We never see Hamlets Jr. and Sr. when they are both alive, but in the father’s speech as a ghost and in the son’s life mission to avenge him, we can tell that they hold a very tight bond between them. Hamlet speaks of his father here, “Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat/ In this distracted globe. Remember thee!/ Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,/ All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, /That youth and observation copied there;/ And thy commandment all alone shall live/ Within the book and volume of my brain,” (I,v).What makes Hamlet unique in his relationship with his father is his rationale and desire for evidence on who his father’s murderer is. Hamlet is suspicious of Claudius since the beginning, but he sets up an entire play just to make sure his suspicions are correct. This logic and pragmatism makes him one of the most rational characters in the play, even though he speaks to ghosts and acts like a lunatic.
Next to Hamlet, Laertes seems like an opposite, and in most respects, he is, but Laertes also loves his father and craves revenge when he is murdered. However, when Laertes learns of Polonius, his father’s, death, he seeks no evidence of who did it, but instead gathers a mob and charges Claudius’ throne, “To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!/ Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!/ I dare damnation. To this point I stand,/ That both the worlds I give to negligence,/ Let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged/ Most throughly for my father.” (IV, v). This is quite contrary to Hamlet’s scrutiny and observation. We do get a chance to see Laertes and Polonius speak before Polonius dies, and we see that his advice is listened to completely by Laertes. In fact, Laertes dispenses his own advice to his sister Ophelia in a way that almost mirrors Polonius. Laertes’ heated reaction highlights the calmness and calculation in Hamlet.
Fortinbras plays a small, but vital, character in Hamlet, and his situation is much the same as Hamlet’s and Laertes’. His father Fortinbras Sr. is killed by Hamlet Sr. and Fortinbras Jr., like Hamlet and Laertes, yearns for revenge. However, the discerning point for Fortinbras is that Fortinbras’ revenge is stopped before it can even start. The passion is there, “Now sir, young Fortinbras, / Of unimproved mettle, hot and full" (I,ii), much like Laertes’ hotheaded temperament, but his irregular army is stopped before it can march off and fight Denmark. Hamlet, before told by Osric of the duel, confesses to understanding Laertes’ plight, but I think that Hamlet would have gotten along better with Fortinbras. Fortinbras was not as caught up in the passion of violence as Laertes was with his mob, much like Hamlet, and Fortinbras resembles a strong leader in the play who is not afraid to attack when he wants. Hamlet acts similarly when he crafts the play and when he confesses no remorse over the accidental killing of Polonius.
Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras all love their fathers and would murder to avenge them, but whether they delayed, acted immediately, or even got off the ground in their revenge attempts tells us about their character and their father-son relationships. Although they are each at odds with each other, they are actually not all that different.