What is meant by: Who would there fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death.

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susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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This quote from Hamlet occurs in Act 3, scene 1, and is part of the most famous soliloquy ever written:  "To be, or not to be."  In this soliloquy, Hamlet is questioning why we continue to live when dying would put an end to our misery.  Your particular quote expresses this sentiment quite well.  In the quote, "fardels" is another word for burdens.  Hamlet is asking why anyone would bear the burdens of a long and weary life full of suffering and toil.  He continues to answer his own question:  we do not commit suicide because we are afraid of the afterlife, the unknown, the

undiscover'd country from whose bourn

No taveller returns . . .

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Throughout the soliloquy Hamlet describes living as something to bear.  Hhe calls long life a "calamity" while death is referred to much more positively as a "quietus" or a "consummation devoutly to be wished."  The choice of "fardels" with its negative sounds supports the idea that life is torturous and painful and poses a sharp contrast to the words he chooses to describe death.  This diction lends credence to his argument that we bear the burdens of life because we don't know what will happen after death. 

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