"To be, or not to be" -- Was it all fake?In act three, scene one, Hamlet recites his famous 'To be, or not to be. In your opinion, was Hamlet truely suicidal, or was he pretending as part of his...

"To be, or not to be" -- Was it all fake?

In act three, scene one, Hamlet recites his famous 'To be, or not to be.

In your opinion, was Hamlet truely suicidal, or was he pretending as part of his antic disposition?

I ask because I am suspicious of his line, "The undercovered country from whose bourne / No traveler returns," (III.i.87-88). Hamlet knows more about the afterlife than anyone else -- he saw his father's ghost! Why would he feel the need to be werely of something he already had knowledge of?

Therefore, I put forth the idea that Hamlet is merely pretending to be suidical, and if the stage directions (yes, I know Shakey didn't write stage directions) stated, "Hamlet unseen sees Polonius and Claudius," this whole matter would make sense.

Asked on by ies

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I'd like to go back to two points in the original discussion.  First, a tradition exists that hasn't really been mentioned yet.  I'd suggest that the main thrust of this speech is whether or not existence itself is worth the trouble.  "To be" is to exist.  Hamlet's mentions of suicide are simply examples of how one would end one's existence once one does exist.  But the speech is a treatment of existence as a whole, not a contemplation of suicide. 

Second, Hamlet's knowledge of the afterlife is tremendously uncertain.  "Uncertain" is even a weak word here.  This speech is before the players perform their play.  Hamlet isn't even sure the ghost is a ghost, yet.  He worries that the ghost is really a devil seeking to mislead and trick him into doing something evil and drastic (as the witches do to Macbeth).  Plus, Shakespeare's audience would have at least been aware of and some members would have believed in temporary stages of the afterlife (i.e. purgatory).  Even if the ghost is a ghost its existence is likely temporary.  And not everyone who dies becomes a ghost. 

Hamlet's fear of the afterlife is certainly not evidence that he is playing a role or acting.  One might be able to make a case that he is playing a role, but his concern about the afterlife is not evidence of it.

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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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We have to remember that one of Hamlet's biggest problems is that he is far more given to thinking than to actually doing something. As the great aviator Amelia Earhart said:

"The most effective way to do something is to actually do it."

Well, our sweet Prince Hamlet can't quite get himslf to do it... at least without a forceful and very belated push. No, his "To be or not to be" soliloquy is nothing more than a philoshophical excercise. In the Sir Laurence Olivier movie of Hamlet, the blond prince is seen on a precipice overlooking a roiling  sea, and he has a dagger in his hand as he plays out his dialectal mental calculations. This is mere Hollywwod dramatizing. He's not really thinking of using that dagger on himself. He's doing what he does best: play acting.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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I agree with mshurn that Hamlet is trapped. His "to be or not to be" soliloquy is a rumination on the very real peril that his situation has placed him in. After receiving the notice from his father's Ghost of the murder, Hamlet must do something. Even if he chooses to do nothing, he places his reputation as a leader at risk, because several of his compatriots have also seen the Ghost. For Hamlet to take no action at all would appear cowardly. Even had Hamlet not heard from the Ghost, he is still at risk of murder by Claudius due to the fact that he is the rightful heir to the throne. If Hamlet takes action and kills Claudius in revenge, he preserves his reputation and manhood, but risks upsetting the political order and inciting civil war. He also would be killing his mother's husband, putting her at further risk due to political instability. If he commits suicide, his immortal soul will be prevented from entering heaven. There is no good solution to his dilemma, and for those reasons, I believe that his soliloquy is a true summary of his feelings at the time.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I don't think Hamlet was pretending. I think he was cornered. Hamlet was torn with indecision in regard to avenging his father's murder. Part of his heritage required that he murder Claudius to avenge his father; this was the social imperative. However, Hamlet was a Christian, a devout student of theology, who believed in Hell as a reality. (Remember that Hamlet did not want Claudius to die while at prayer so that he would go straight to Hell.) If Hamlet kills Claudius, he does so at the sacrifice of his own soul. If he kills himself (also a mortal sin), he also sends himself to Hell. At the time of his soliloquy, Hamlet weighs these moral principles. Suicide seems to offer immediate relief from his present turmoil ("to sleep perchance to dream"), but even suicide is not a choice without consequences. He's trapped.

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

"To be, or not to be" -- Was it all fake?

In act three, scene one, Hamlet recites his famous 'To be, or not to be.

In your opinion, was Hamlet truely suicidal, or was he pretending as part of his antic disposition?

I ask because I am suspicious of his line, "The undercovered country from whose bourne / No traveler returns," (III.i.87-88). Hamlet knows more about the afterlife than anyone else -- he saw his father's ghost! Why would he feel the need to be werely of something he already had knowledge of?

Therefore, I put forth the idea that Hamlet is merely pretending to be suidical, and if the stage directions (yes, I know Shakey didn't write stage directions) stated, "Hamlet unseen sees Polonius and Claudius," this whole matter would make sense.

  First, the line you mention is not "The undercovered country...."; it is "The undiscovered country...".  Second, look at the line four lines after that line, "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,".  Here he seems to be saying that, while he has considered death as a desireable state, actually going through with it is something that he will not do.  I don't think he is ever truly suicidal.  I think he wishes he could die at times, but he would not go through with it because it is the wrong thing to do for many reasons.  The purpose of this soliloquy seems to be to let us know that he will not kill himself.  What is interesting to consider about the speech is whether Claudius and Polonius who are hiding nearby, hear the speech, and if they did, do they understand it?

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halket4 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Why would hamlet put on an antic disposition if its a sililoque. He didn't know polinios and claudious were there so he wouldn't be acting. 'to be or not to be' doesn't just mean to live or die, it could mean the action or in-action of murdering claudious and avenging his father. The point is that he is indecicive, almost as if he is running through the pros and cons of his actions (after all his weakest characteristic is that he is a procastinator). If its in the context of to die or not to die, then it would be because it is a sin to comit suicide, and he feared what the after life would bring him. If it was to kill or not to kill, its also a sin to kill someone. Its all about Hamlet considering if avenging his fathers death was really worth hell in the after life, and considering if suicide would end his problems and turmoil or simply add to them.

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avsar | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Hi,

In general, every one equates 'To be' with 'to live' and 'not to be' with 'to die (or commit suicide)'. Why then Hamlet did not say 'To live or To die, that is the question?'.

TO BE: I feel there could be another interpretation too. 'To be' standing for proving one's existence by doing what one should be doing by his nature. Hamlet being a Prince and knowing his father has been wronged has to go against those that caused his father's death and in this process he himself may be 'killed' as he will be fighting none other than the most powerful in his country, the King.

On the other hand, he is not prepared to fight for this justice and live a luxury life forgetting his duties, he could be a silent spectator to other evils too that may follow, then he will be physically existing but morally, as a Prince or even as an honest man, he is existing for nothing - NOT TO BE.

Apart from this, the main reason why this self-talk cannot be a fake is that, all the events that led to his talk are real - that his father was killed wickedly and that his mother cheated on him - that the ghost of his father wanted him to take revenge of his father's death and so on.

 

But there is a big flaw not consistent when as soon as the Ghost finishes its talk, Hamlet decides to don the role of a deranged person. As he did not react as a normal Prince would have. This flaw leads to more flaws.

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ies | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

So, you are stating that the fork in the road is his choice of whether to live or commit suicide. Does that mean you don't believe he was acting? If Shakespeare's original intention was for the soliloquy to be acted, than there would be no fork in the road.

I do agree that act three is a cruicial scene, and that there is an apex along its path; however, I believe that the apex may be a little further down the road.

Act three scene three is the fulcrum point of the play. It is where we see the peak of Claudius' guilt, and Hamlet's desire for revenge and struggle with vengance. It is where Hamlet's tragic flaw of hubris (imho) causes his downfall. He has the perfect chance to kill Claudius; however his arrogance gets in his way.

He believes that if he killed Claudius as he prayed, Clauius would go to heaven. Hamlet thinks God is going to make the wrong decision of where to send Claudius after death and that only he can make the right one. He thinks he's greater than God -- and I'm pretty sure thats the worse flaw to have.

If he had killed him right then, the play would have been over. But I digress...

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The fact that the speech is in Act 3 highlights the importance of it not just merely being a soliloquy but being a dramatic device of an apex nature. The fact that it is almost in the middle of the play makes the play almost come to a fork in the road in which way to go. 

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ies | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I believe you are right in your statement that he was never truely suicidal. However, I believe that the correct interpretation of this soliloquy is one of a Hamlet putting on an antic disposition.

If the interpretation of this soliloquy would be one of purely self-reflection, then, I would have to say it is apparent that Hamlet is still contemplating on whether he wants to commit suicide or not. We only truly see the answer to this question in act 5, when he states to "Let be" (V.ii.238).

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ies | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

My apologies on the misquote, that was a typo on my part.

I must add that your interpretation of those two lines ("The undiscovered country..." and "Thus conscience...") are skewed due to the mere fact that you skipped the four lines after the former. He states that the "undiscovered country" "puzzles the will" because it contains things that he "know[s] not of." Considering this soliloquy is meant to be spoken to oneself, regardless of whatever the underlying aims of Hamlet may be, he contradicts himself. The undiscovered country is something he does knows of. He has seen its contents (in the form of Claudius) with his own eyes.

Moreover, the fact that he says that it is a place "No traveler returns" is another contradiction -- his father returned from the other world. He has seen travelers return. These are incongruencies of the soliloquy make no sense if Hamlet's only aim was for self reflection -- purely due to the fact that, well, he does not know his own facts. He knows about the ghost, he knows about the other world, so why state that he doesn't?

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epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

I agree that he was merely acting because he was truly aware that ghosts existed which would give him some kind of knowledge about life after death; that he too would become a ghost and be able to interact with people.

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