Posted: February 16th, 2023
The famous line “To be or not to be” is spoken by Hamlet in Act III of the play. This monologue is arguably one of literature’s most recognizable soliloquies and speaks as a philosophical rumination on life, death, and mortality. In order to understand what Hamlet means by these words, we need to look at his context within the play.
At this point in the story, Hamlet has been grief-stricken over his father’s death and suspicious of Claudius’ murder for some time. He has made plans to observe his mother’s reaction during a performance of The Mousetrap as proof that she had knowledge of her husband’s murder but he begins doubting himself and questioning whether it would be worth all the effort only for him to discover something that he does not want to know. With this internal conflict, Hamlet reaches a crossroads between action and inaction; life versus death; truth versus ignorance—to be (action) or not to be (inaction).
He says that “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” are a part of life—he acknowledges there will always be pain and suffering in whatever decision he makes—but he struggles with choosing which way forward because both options include undesirable outcomes. On one hand, if he decides against taking action then it may lead him down an even more painful path later on as guilt builds up inside him for not seeking out justice for his father’s death. On the other hand, if he chooses action then it could bring judgement upon himself or worse consequences such as those suffered by Ophelia due to Polonius’ demise at Hamlets hands.
Ultimately through this dilemma comes great philosophical insight from Shakespeare into how sometimes our choices can cause us distress while also providing hope that no matter what route we choose there remains potential benefit from our actions should we bravely strive towards them despite obstacles in our path:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th’oppressor’s wrongs, th’ proud man’s contumely…But that the dread of something after death -The undiscovered country from whose bournNo traveller returns – puzzles th’ willAnd makes us rather bear those ills we haveThan fly t’ others that we know not off? (III .1)
Hamlet recognizes that although people may face difficult times in life they should push forward anyway because there might still be joy ahead despite any sacrifice needed along the way—which could provide greater reward than remaining stagnant forevermore while being cursed by fear regarding an unknown future beyond death’s door. By embracing uncertainty instead one can gain strength through adversity by turning obstacles into motivations so long as they keep their eyes focused on their ultimate goals amidst chaos around them:
Thus conscience doth make cowards off us allAnd thus th’ native hue off resolutionIs sicklied o’re with th’m pale castof thoughtAnd enterprises off great pithand momentWith this regard turn awryAnd lose th’m nameoff action.(III . 1) This is why “To Be Or Not To Be” is so important to Hamlet – because it serves as a reminder that regardless what situation you find yourself in you still must make your own decisions about how best move forward knowing full well potential good outcome awaits you no matter what direction you pursue provided you stay courageous enough embrace uncertain future head-on without faltering nor giving up hope until reach destination desire achieve end goal pursuit – no matter how rocky road gets remain determined plod through reach arrive riches await perseverance successful endeavors having faith belief courage conviction own capabilities reach heights far beyond dreams ever imagined once summit reached coming back alive tell story undertaken heartily passionately triumphantly accomplishing goals set out begin journey itself truly greatest reward received entire process start finish!
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