To Be Or Not To Be

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Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy questions the morality of life over death. With much of the speech relying on the death extreme, Hamlet ends us up choosing life over death but also seeks revenge for his father’s death. Hamlet delivers seven soliloquies in they play which enlightens the audiences on his thoughts, inner feelings, and plans. The most known soliloquy, the “to be or not to be,” is found in act three scene one.  Earlier in the play, Hamlet expresses his desire to end his life by committing suicide. He curses God for making suicide wicked, which pushes him to waver between life or death. “This too solid flesh would melt, Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d, His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” (1, 1, 129-132).  These early speeches show that Hamlet is weighing between the benefits of committing suicide over the consequences he might face in the afterlife as he’s aware that God is against it. In these early scenes, Hamlet has already informed the audience of his thoughts towards death which already prepares the audience for the “to be or not to be” soliloquy.

In this soliloquy, Hamlet is questioning of his existence in the unbearable sufferings that he’s going through. “To be or not to be” was the question which was a thought on whether he should exist or not. The ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy displays Hamlet as a very cluttered character, unsure of his own thoughts that push him to balance between life and death. “Whether ‘tis noble in mind to suffer ..”  Hamlet’s considers committing suicide, and he overthinks on whether to choose life or death. Hamlet analysis both situations and compares these two extremes. “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer, The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3, 1, 59-61). At this point, Hamlet’s thoughts revolve around his death, of its nature. The uncertainty of life after death had him thinking of whether the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Hamlet thinks that death saves one from the misfortune of love to him love is like being hit with thousands of arrows. He was hurt and felt betrayed by his mother for getting married so soon and to worsen the situation she’s married to his uncle, his father’s murderer.  Once he thought of his death is like a deep sleep, but then he speculates on what will come of the deep sleep. He is afraid that one might have dreams when dead, bad dreams. Hamlet’s soliloquy displays sudden turns that keep the audience engaged in a dramatic form.

The “dread of something after death, The undiscovered country from whose bourn No traveler returns, puzzles the will” (3, 1, 78-80). At this point, Hamlet is questioning on the death, that takes one to an unknown country that no one has ever returned to the living. Hamlet is afraid of the unknown, that death may turn him into a creepy, lonely ghost like his father. He also expresses his urge to seek revenge for the death of his father, the king. The soliloquy displays Hamlet’s debating thoughts about whether to murder Claudius or not. He questions himself on whether to act according to the wishes of his father’s ghost, which claims it is his brother that murdered him or to avoid the possible consequences associated with such actions. Hamlet is aware of his unusual condition of overthinking on everything which is making him a skeptic. He has a great desire to avenge his father’s death that keeps him alive despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Hamlet’s soliloquy on “to be or not to be” addresses the general issue about life itself. He is talking about humans in general, on whether people should exist or not. Hamlet is trying to appreciate life by fighting the evils, deception, and greediness that led to depression and death.  Throughout the soliloquy, Hamlet is trying to teach the audience and reader always to choose life and the truth that comes with living. He prepares people to grow wiser and spiritual, to be able to overcome obstacles that keep them from achieving their goals. Hamlet portrays life as a lack of power, a passive state while death is empowering and active. The living beings are vulnerable to blows of outrageous fortune while the dead have the power over the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, they are armed against fortune. He speaks of, “conscience does make cowards of us all.” Hamlet reminds people that it is a sin to take one’s life as it is against God’s will as well as the uncertainty of the life after death intensifies the fear of death.

If Ophelia had a soliloquy:

Take me to a rose garden.

Where my answers lay

All sorts of love exist within the roses

Even the dead get at least a banquet

He loves me; he loves me not.

Now should I wonder this question,

Petal by petal; rose by rose

Trying to prove my father and brother wrong

Bed of roses is where he takes us

Oh! Heavens knows how much I love him

How his affections make me…

My heart versus my mind,

What I hear from what I feel

Should I respond? Should I choose him?

Father would open the gates of hell just to seize hamlet

My heart, oh its torment!

He loves me: he loves me not

I have his affections that make me…

But what will father and brother think of me

Whether the problem is me being seen or the man;

Whose affection are so…

No lie, I love Hamlet

The man that had offered his sincere affection

Oh poor pretty flower, where is he now?

My hamlet, whose taste of kiss...

Lord give me a sign

Not that of my father and brother

Exchange of tongues perhaps

He loves me

He’s a frequent visitor; to my chambers?

But this might be lust, will it be blown away

Or washed by the rains

No! he loves me

The roses know better

He must love me

I love him too;

So much that….

The above soliloquy would best feature in act 4, scene 5, whereby Ophelia starts acting insane onstage, singing dirty songs and yelling uncontrollably drawing comments at Gertrude and Claudius. Gertrude is concerned by Ophelia’s insanity, but he refused to see the girl until a court gentleman enlightened him that her mental state may attract unwanted attention to herself and the crown. Ophelia’s songs feature death, chaos and unrequited love. One of these songs was about a lover who leaves his love’s bed, indicating that a man had left his woman after getting intimate. “Before you tumbled me, you promised me to wed.” Ophelia may have been intimate with Hamlet, but it was against her father’s will, which may have activated her insanity. To worsen the situation, based on the song, Hamlet may have been intimate with her, then rejected her. At this point, Ophelia should question whether Hamlet loved her or not. Ophelia is not sure of what this act of intimacy may yield as if she had a child she would be consumed by endless depression and disgrace.

Ophelia is handing out flowers in this scene, which holds symbolic meaning for each character that is given. If the above soliloquy were to be used, these flowers would represent her love for Hamlet. How in love she is with him, but there are certain individuals that have ensured that their love will never prosper. “He loves me; he loves me not” would be her questioning of whether Hamlet was cruel to her to save her from her father’s wrath or it was merely because he was using her.

Ophelia’s insanity was all as a result of loving Hamlet. She was unmarried which made her totally submissive to her father and brother and was not supposed to do anything against their will. Hamlet had a mission of avenging his father’s death, and Ophelia may have been a right vessel to get to Claudius. On the other hand, Ophelia had been used by her father and brother to spy on Hamlet which gave her the opportunity to get closer to Hamlet. She was an innocent girl placed in the hands of a man that planned to kill his father. She was never supposed to fall in love with Hamlet. The uncertainty of her love for Hamlet must have caused her insanity. She realizes that she will never live her life as she desired torments her being. Her insane songs would surely blend with the above soliloquy.

The soliloquy below is based on a situation whereby I have a gambling addiction that I cannot control. Then this one time the company I work for, unaware of my gambling problem, entrusts me with this large amount of money meant to fund a specific project. I try to control myself not to gamble, but I failed. It’s a day after the initiation of the project and the money is gone.

 Ticket from Mars please,

Or maybe hell is nearer?

How all occasions do inform against me,

Thought happiness was the ultimate goal for living

How does the atmosphere work?

Could it carry the memories or drag me along?

And so the rain can wash away the sins

Sins of happiness

With living that’s the hardest part

And now I’ll confess, and so go to heaven

Is heaven a place for losers?

Gambling, a disease for the rich; or at least

Gamblers are ambitious.

I thought it was a sign,

A good luck charm handed over to me,

With graceful hands, I took my chances

Now the only chances I have is hell or mars

How did I get here?


Shakespeare, W., Olivier, L., & Simmons, J. (1948). Hamlet. University Press.

November 24, 2023




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