What is the context in which Hamlet contemplates the question, "To be, or not to be?"

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Hamlet's "to be, or not to be" soliloquy is one of the most important insights into the psyche of Hamlet. At that point in the play, Hamlet's mental state is still in question, as readers ponder whether his insanity is real, feigned, or a combination of both. In the preceding scene, Hamlet's apparent madness has been the topic of discussion, with Polonius surmising that it is a result of his unrequited love for Ophelia. His speech, in which he weighs the relative merits of death by suicide and continuing to live in misery occurs as he enters a room in which Ophelia has been instructed to wait, apparently alone, so that Polonius can observe her interactions with Hamlet. His conversation with he, in which he famously advises "Get thee to a nunnery," adds to the impression that he is disturbed, and it convinces Polonius (and as a result the king and Hamlet's mother) that the prince is mad.


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