Discuss "To be or not to be" in Hamlet's soliloquy.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of what makes Hamlet's soliloquy so powerful is that it cannot offer a definitive answer to consciousness and being in the world.  Hamlet's nature of doubting, questioning, acting so that his "function is smothered by surmise," had already been evident throughout the play, but this particular moment highlights it to a very strong degree.  The notion of wondering how to exist without pain, or to prefer a state of "non- existence" in comparison to the one offered are both powerful elements in Hamlet's speech.  Through Hamlet, Shakespeare reveals quite a modernist element to consciousness.  Individual consciousness is steeped in pain and confusion, and the alternative might be preferred, only to understand that this is illusory, for there is no real escape to pain in consciousness and in the modern setting.  In the final analysis, the power of questioning "to be or not to be" is so vivid because it strikes at the pain which exists at the heart of being in the world.

kittydrama68 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be", occurs in the beginning of Act III when it becomes clear to him that he has no allies and everyone suspects he has become mentally ill.  Hamlet contemplates what happens in death, the pros and cons of being dead, and recognizes why people generally keep trudging along the path of life.  At first the idea of death is very inviting, as if it is the most luxurious of sleeps, but becomes problematic if dreams become a nightmarish calliope,  "To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub", forcing us to re-live the tortures of our lives.  Whether is it Hamlet's own fear of the afterlife that he contemplates, "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all," or just an observation of human nature, we do not know.  We can only speculate that he feels so trapped in his situation that he wishes for death.

mkcapen1 | Student

In "Hamlet's" soliloquy Hamlet is contemplating on life.  He wonders and questions if life is worth living or if it would be better to die. He is a man torn by the misconceptions in life and the dilemma if it is better to escape from one's troubles than to stay and cope through them.

"For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil / Must give us pause."

Hamlet is also wrestling with the decision of taking his uncle's life.  He is uncertain if she should do it or not.  His moral self is demonstrating ambiguity with his immoral self for murder is wrong and final.

Hamlet is a man torn by his father's death, his uncle's crime, and the overwhelming knowledge that the outcome of his life and those around him rests in his won hands.  He knows he should avenge his father's death, but the decision is so momentous that he is torn mentally as he struggles to make the decision.