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What does Hamlet refer to as “the undiscovered country”?

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carachambers | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:21 PM via web

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What does Hamlet refer to as “the undiscovered country”?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM (Answer #1)

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In this famous soliloquy (Act III Scene I), Hamlet is contemplating suicide (or rather, wishing he could remove himself from his situation—“To die, to sleep”) but is thwarted by his doubts about the afterlife, “The undiscover’d [not disclosed to knowledge] country, from whose bourn [boundary] /No traveler returns” referring to the state of death.  His hesitation comes from not knowing what is on the other side of death, because no “explorer” has ever returned to report on it.  This is a popular metaphor for a century when global exploration was at its peak, and when explorers were returning to Europe with wondrous tales of what they had found.  The metaphor is also germane because the ghost of Hamlet’s father has (putatively) returned from the dead but will not speak and “report” from the undiscover’d country; he may be a trick of the devil to win Hamlet’s soul.  Hamlet’s plight cannot, then, be solved by simply traveling to “the undiscovered country.”  [Footnotes from The Riverside Shakespeare]

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