What does William Shakespeare mean when he says "to be or not to be" in Hamlet?

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In Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the main character utters what would become one of the most common allusions in all of literature:  "to be or not to be."  This line is written by Shakespeare, but spoken by the character of Hamlet .  "To be or not to...

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In Act 3, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the main character utters what would become one of the most common allusions in all of literature:  "to be or not to be."  This line is written by Shakespeare, but spoken by the character of Hamlet.  "To be or not to be" hinges around the verb "to be," in other words "to exist."  Once you put the line into that context, a reader can easily see what Hamlet is pondering:  to exist or not to exist.  Most scholars agree that Hamlet is considering whether or not to commit suicide.  At this point in the play, Hamlet is completely distressed that his uncle killed Hamlet's father and then married Hamlet's mother. This entire soliloquy involves Hamlet pondering the question of suicide and then giving reasons as to why he should kill himself.  Of course, Hamlet does not go through with suicide.  He later reasons that "conscience does make cowards of us all."  Here Hamlet admits that, due to the fear of hell, Hamlet becomes a coward and cannot act.  (Many consider inaction to be Hamlet's tragic flaw.)  There is a great irony in that, while Hamlet contemplates suicide but fails to do so, Ophelia contemplates suicide and succeeds in doing so.  According to Hamlet's theory, then, Ophelia is the character with more courage.

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