What does Hamlet conclude in "To be or not to be"?

At the end of his "To be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet concludes that fear of the unknown is what prevents people from committing suicide.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hamlet struggles all through the first half of the play with suicidal thoughts, which emerge even before Hamlet hears from the ghost that Claudius has murdered his father.

Hamlet has come home to a Denmark that seems sadly and eerily altered by his father's death. Hamlet is grieved that his...

Check Out
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Hamlet struggles all through the first half of the play with suicidal thoughts, which emerge even before Hamlet hears from the ghost that Claudius has murdered his father.

Hamlet has come home to a Denmark that seems sadly and eerily altered by his father's death. Hamlet is grieved that his beloved father is gone, and he is upset by his mother's hasty remarriage to his uncle. Disillusioned and depressed, Hamlet begins to perceive corruption and superficiality everywhere in the Danish court.

Adding to his preexisting grief, Hamlet is tasked by the ghost with avenging his father's death by killing his uncle. Hamlet proves indecisive, taking pains to reassure himself of Claudius's guilt and, even then, finding excuses not to go through with it. His hesitation suggests that in his heart of hearts, perhaps Hamlet doesn't want to kill Claudius at all. At the same time, however, Hamlet feels obligated to avenge his father and agonizes over his inability to take action.

In his "to be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet's speech is broadly philosophical and not obviously related to his own situation—he never, for example, speaks directly about his own death. From his previous mentions of suicide, however, it can be assumed that he is contemplating this question in relation to his own life, wondering whether he should live or die. Hamlet begins by asking whether is it "nobler" to die or to live and accept all the pain that life brings. Thinking of the afterlife, Hamlet decides that this is what stops humans from committing suicide—that is, we hesitate because we fear the unknown, and we cannot know what is in the "undiscovere'd country" after death. Thus, Hamlet concludes, "conscience does make cowards of us all."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on