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The rest is silence... what does this mean?Hamlet's final words are, "The rest is...

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beefheart | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted August 5, 2010 at 1:50 PM via web

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The rest is silence... what does this mean?

Hamlet's final words are,

"The rest is silence."

What does he mean by this? Is there more than one meaning? How does it relate to his thoughts in the 'to be or not to be' monologue?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 9, 2010 at 6:34 PM (Answer #2)

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This is a good question.  I must confess, I've never tried to make the connection between this line and anything elsewhere in the play.  Upon reflection, the line--in context--might be read more than one way.  Hamlet's last words are:

So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited. The rest is silence.

Hamlet wants Horatio to tell Fortinbras everything which has transpired, and then there is nothing more to be said.  His word is the final word or declaration on the subject, and Fortinbras will become the next King of Denmark.

Or, Hamlet wants Horatio to tell Fortinbras everything which has transpired, and then there is nothing more.  Death, or nothingness, is all that's left. 

In reference to the "To be" soliloquy, Hamlet is reflecting on the choice to live or die, of course.  His consistent, primary objection to taking his own life seems to be the fact that we don't know what lies beyond; until we do, there is too much risk, given the eternal nature of death.  That finality is the only connection I see between the two, as seen in these words from the soliloquy:

To die: to sleep;
No more....

I'll be interested to see what other insights my colleagues have to share. 

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shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted August 10, 2010 at 2:49 AM (Answer #3)

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I think you could take the connection between "The rest is silence" and the "To Be" soliloquy a bit further, expanding on the idea that we don't know what lies beyond death being the key connect.

From the line quoted above (line 60) to pretty much the end of the speech, Hamlet first goes through all the reasons that death is preferable to life, all the ways in which life is a drag, and then he says that it is this unknown of death that keeps us from taking our own lives:

But that the dread of something after death

The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn

No traveler returns.

So Hamlet is telling Horatio (who will tell not only Fortinbras, but the world -- "And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain/To tell my story".) that there is nothing more that can be said.  That all the questions that he has asked about life and death and meaning in the play cannot, and will not be answered.  The story just stops at death.

It is also interesting to note that Hamlet is telling this to the audience as well.  Audiences (and readers) often like to consider "what might happen next" when they get to the end of a book, play or movie.  Shakespeare could be making a small nod to this curiosity and reminding everyone that this is it.  The End.  There is no more for Hamlet to say because, I, the playwright, chose for him to shut up here.  Or maybe even making fun of himself for writing such a long-winded character who is finally done talking?  Just an amusing possibility to consider.

 

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frizzyperm | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted August 11, 2010 at 4:17 AM (Answer #4)

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The rest is silence. I have always taken this to have two meanings. The 1st is the obvious one, now Hamlet dies; he will speak no more. Hamlet's only contribution from now on will be silence.

But 'rest' can mean 'sleep'. As Hamlet slips into death, can he see that there is nothing there? Can he feel himself dissolving into nothing? There is nothing after death, it is empty.

I think it relates to the 'to be or not to be' speech very closely and all that discussion of sleep. I think it is supposed to be the answer to Hamlet's many musings on death.

"For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?"

None. The rest is silence. 

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