What does Hamlet mean when he says, "When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause"? According to Mr. Arthur Schopenhauers, in this sentence the word "shuffle" was misread from...

What does Hamlet mean when he says, "When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause"?

According to Mr. Arthur Schopenhauers, in this sentence the word "shuffle" was misread from "shuttle," so you can understand my question.

Asked on by mahdi

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renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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This is one of the most famous Shakespeare soliloquies. Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is an exploration of the human condition. He discusses the pain, sickness, misery and frustration that accompany living. Hamlet weighs the pros and cons of living versus death and of facing the fear of death. He also ruminates on the limits of what mere mortals can accomplish, which highlights Hamlet's own hesitancy to act on his plan of revenge, "lose the name of action" (III, i).

In this particular quote:

... To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: (III, i)

Hamlet uses an extended metaphor to compare death to sleep, a comparison wherein the afterlife is equivalent to bad dreams; this is most likely a reference to hell. In this extended metaphor, the mortal coil is our human life and to give pause is to reflect.

One meaning of "shuttle" is to  move rapidly out, to shoot out of something. The meaning comes from the "shuttle" that is used to draw cross-threads through the long-threads of a loom (weft and warp threads ). It shoots from one side through the alternately raised warp threads and out at the other side of the loom. So "to shuttle off this mortal coil" means to quickly leave life behind. In this sense, "coil" also relates to looms and weaving because thread (or life) is coiled around the shuttle: When we shoot away from the mortal threads of life.

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