What conclusion does Hamlet reach in "To be or not to be"?

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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.

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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."

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Why does Hamlet say "to be or not to be" and what does it mean in Hamlet?

I think it is entirely possible that Shakespeare wrote the “To be or not to be” soliloquy as a separate piece expressing his own personal feelings about life and death and then put it away in the bottom drawer, as writers will do, until he found a convenient spot for it when he was writing his play Hamlet. What is important in this soliloquy, and what explains its great popularity, is the truths it tells about human existence, not what it reveals about the character of the moody Prince. We have all personally experienced some of the slings and arrows Hamlet complains about, just by being alive and having to deal with people and struggle to keep a niche in the crowded, competitive world. And we have all felt discouraged and wondered whether existence was really worth the trouble.

If we haven’t experienced all the slings and arrows personally, we have seen others suffering and have wondered why some people will continue to cling to life when they get nothing out of it but hard work and suffering. If we live in a city we commonly see people who are totally blind trying to find their way by feeling the pavement with long white canes. We see men sleeping in doorways on the cold concrete. We see men rummaging through dumpsters and trash receptacles trying to gather a few cans and bottles they can sell for enough to live on for one more day. We see all sorts of ugliness and deformity. We see old people hobbling along, hoping to survive just a little bit longer, although they have nobody to care whether they live or die.

Shakespeare itemizes some of the negative aspects of human existence in this soliloquy. They deserve more attention than the worn-out questions of what Hamlet is really thinking about or whether he is really contemplating suicide. We have all personally experienced “the proud man’s contumely,” “the pangs of despised love,” and “the insolence of office” (if only at the Department of Motor Vehicles).

Charles Dickens’s novels offer excellent examples of some of the “outrageous fortune” which Hamlet summarizes in just a few lines. In his novel Bleak House, Dickens describes the effects of “the law’s delay” in the interminable case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, during which the lawyers of his day, like a flock of vultures, picked the estate clean and left nothing but the bare bones. In his novel Little Dorrit, Dickens illustrates “the proud man’s contumely” and “the insolence of office” in his characters’ dealings with the Circumlocution Office. In that great novel, his character Daniel Doyce, who has been trying for years to patent an invention, is an example of “the spurns that patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,” while both Little Dorrit, who loves Arthur Clennam, and Arthur Clennam, who loves "Pet" Meagles, offer good examples of “the pangs of despised love.”

Shakespeare was probably talking for himself when he wrote those famous lines beginning with “To be, or not to be.” He had had a rough life and knew—better than any spoiled prince--what it was like to have to struggle for survival in a brutal city like London of the sixteenth century. How could he have written them otherwise?

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Why does Hamlet say "to be or not to be" and what does it mean in Hamlet?

This famous quote comes from one of the most important lines from Shakespeare. Hamlet delivers this soliloquy in Act III, scene 1, and it centres on his arguments for committing suicide in what is to him a world that only brings him pain and sadness.

The quote you have asked about is interesting, because, as the starting line of the poem, it examines the question of suicide as a logical question, which is why he speaks the soliloquy. "To be or not to be" is basically logically posing the question of whether to live or not to live is to be preferred.

Hamlet develops his argument by asking whether it is more noble to just endure and suffer life passively in the face of this sadness and suffering or to actively look to end that suffering. Suicide, in the face of this logical questioning, is a "consummation / Devoutly to be wished." The argument that makes Hamlet pause is the question of what might happen in the afterlife. Even though he compares death to a "sleep," he reasons that, potentially, the kind of dreams that may come in that "sleep" must "give us pause." This, then is what the soliloquy means in Hamlet.

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In his famous soliloquy "To be or not to be," what does Hamlet contemplate?

In this well-known soliloquy, which is probably the most famous speech in the English language, Hamlet contemplates the question of death in the abstract. The line that everyone remembers—"To be, or not to be, that is the question"—implies very strongly that this question is for humanity as a whole. The possible answers to death, however, can only be provided by individuals themselves, taking into account their own unique circumstances.

Everyone is engaged in a perpetual struggle for existence and must ask themselves whether or not it is worthwhile, whether or not they should continue to "take arms against a sea of troubles." Ultimately, our choice in the matter is determined by what is "nobler in the mind." Once again, Hamlet highlights the wholly subjective nature of suicide, a choice that only we can make for ourselves. In making that decision, we will tend to do what is right by us rather than blindly following the dictates of some universal ethical system. Death may be an abstract question, but the manner of its determination, its answer to the question, if you will, is always concrete and particular.

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In his famous soliloquy "To be or not to be," what does Hamlet contemplate?

Hamlet is contemplating suicide and death itself. To exist or not to exist is the question he debates aloud to himself.

This is not the only time Hamlet considers death, and this theme permeates the play. He is depressed over Claudius's murder of his father, an act he learns of from the ghost of his father. He talks to Yorick, the skull of a court jester he was fond of. In the speech, he compares death to a permanent sleep, which he thinks would be fine. However, he fears the possibility of it being a terrible never-ending dream.

Hamlet mulls over whether enduring the bad parts of life is better than risking the unknown territory of death. Hamlet chooses not kill himself, and the soliloquy is an example of his tendency to be indecisive.

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What theme of the play does Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy relate to?

There's a strong, unceasing undercurrent of uncertainly that begins with the very first line of Shakespeare's Hamlet and flows through the entire play.

By the time Hamlet gets to his "To be or not to be" soliloquy in act 3, scene 1, he's desperately searching for some clarity and some direction in the midst of all of this uncertainty. He takes a moment to ask himself some very serious questions, even though he knows that Polonius and Claudius are eavesdropping on him.

At this point in the play, Hamlet simply wants to know what to believe, and what to do. He wants to know how he can best be true to himself, since he realized that he's entirely on his own and he absolutely can't trust anybody else.

"To be or not to be" isn't the question; the real question that Hamlet asks himself is "To do or not to do?" Should he actively take the situation in hand and avenge his father's murder, or should he just "go along to get along" and not cause any trouble for himself or anyone else?

It appears that Hamlet decides to do nothing:

HAMLET. Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. (3.1.90–95).

But in fact, Hamlet is talking about other people here, not about himself. Hamlet is invigorated, not demoralized. He's already put his "catch the conscience of the king" plan in motion in act 2, scene 2, and he intends to see it through and follow where it leads.

In the meantime, Hamlet takes charge of his relationship with Ophelia. He tells her some harsh lies and some harsh truths—partly for real and party for show for the eavesdropping Polonius and Claudius—and he leaves her in a puddle on the floor.

As it turns out, Polonius and Claudius totally misunderstand and misinterpret what Hamlet says to himself and to Ophelia. Polonius is convinced that Hamlet is desperately mad for Ophelia's love, and Claudius is simply confused by the whole business.

Hamlet then takes charge of the actors. He doesn't want them to mess up his "catch the conscience of the king" plan. That done, Hamlet takes Horatio in hand and explains how things are, and then he stage-manages the play-within-a-play, and provides a running commentary for the play to make sure that his "catch the conscience of the king" plan stays exactly on track.

For now, Hamlet leaves the uncertainty to everybody else while he does what he's decided needs to be done.

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What is the meaning or purpose behind the "to be or not to be" soliloquy by Hamlet?

In this famous speech/soliloquy, Hamlet weighs the pros and cons of living versus the pros and cons of dying (implying a consideration of suicide). Hamlet wonders whether it is worth living with all of his grief and disappointments. He then considers death as an alternative but is uncertain because he is uncertain about what death and/or the afterlife might bring: 

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep-

No more, and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to- 'tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep.

To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

(III.i.59-68)

Hamlet wonders if the noble thing to do is to "take up arms" and face his problems (his father's murder, his revenge, his angst with his mother, etc.) or to choose death. This philosophizing and rationalizing is part of Hamlet's way of dealing with trouble. He thinks, even over-thinks, everything; this is one of the main reasons for his delay, why he continually puts off killing Claudius. Hamlet tries to consider the pros and cons of every detail. Hamlet considers death ("not to be") but he supposes it may be worse than the troubles he is facing in his life. "But that dread of something after death, / The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveller returns, puzzles the will, / And makes us rather bear those ills we have" (III.i.80-83). Here Hamlet considers that the uncertainty and fear of what might lie beyond death is too uncertain. This is why, he reasons, that death makes us choose to live and face our problems: "makes us rather bear those ills we have." 

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In Hamlet, what does "To be or not to be" mean?

Hamlet's meditation in this soliloquy consists of a philosophical argument:  why do men endure suffering when they have the means to take action and relieve their suffering by dying.  In some ways this soliloquy is about suicide, but Hamlet it not contemplating his own suicide but that of people in general.  He carefully weighs the pros and cons of living, with the cons vastly outweighing the pros:

Who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,

The pangs of disprized love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office . . . .

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin?

The fact that Hamlet does not use first person pronouns here is important.  He is not suicidal here.  He is only thinking.  Of course, he comes up with an answer:  Man is afraid of the afterlife ("What dreams may come"); therefore he clings to the "calamity of so long life."

This soliloquy seems somewhat out of place.  At the end of Act 2, Hamlet had just come up with a plan to determine Claudius' guilt.  But at the beginning of Act 3, we see him contemplating life's sufferings and the temptations that we all have to end them.  Perhaps Hamlet is afraid of what he will find out about Claudius, that he will learn that Claudius is indeed guilty, and that he will be forced to take revenge--an action that Hamlet would rather not take.  At this point, Hamlet may very well appreciate the temptation that we all have to avoid suffering through death.  It is part of the human condition to ponder such ideas even though most of us do not act on them.

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In Hamlet, what does "To be or not to be" mean?

In Hamlet, the "to be or not to be" is not about suicide.  Hamlet would not be debating suicide here.  He had debated it earlier, but the Ghost has presented him with purpose now: kill the king and send him to hell, thereby freeing the Ghost from Purgatory to heaven.  If Hamlet suicides, both he and the Ghost will go to hell, and, worse, Claudius might go to heaven.

Rather, the monologue is a meditation on existence (the interrelated nature and meaning of life, suffering, and death).  According to existential critic Rheinhardt Grossman in Phenomenology and Existentialism:

Two things keep Hamlet from committing a suicide: fear of death and uncertainty that waits for him after it and the wish to revenge for his father’s death. Vainness and confusion are two words which can characterize all his life. Even when he decides to revenge for his father’s death and kill Claudius he does not use his chance. He got lost in his eternal thoughts about useless life, sufferings and pain. He is not able to see the world in a new perspective and cannot get out from the web of fear, darkness and pain which he himself created.

The monologue is about activity vs. passivity in response to suffering and a society gone to pieces: "to be (active) or not to be (active)" or, conversely, "to be (passive) or not to be (passive)."  Hamlet wonders if he can withstand all of misery that seems inherent in the human condition.  Is there a point to suffering?  Should he fight against it or just accept it as inevitable.  Denmark is a prison: is there a point in fighting to escape it when the world outside its walls might be a prison as well?  To him, the world is so corrupt, that life seems pointless.  Should he give up hope?

The soliloquy might also be interpreted in terms of the after-life.  It's about being damned to hell by committing revenge or not being damned.  So, "to be (damned) or not to be (damned)."  The problem of sending the Ghost to heaven and Claudius to hell will cause him to go to hell as well (murderers go there).

In the end, though, Hamlet resolves his spiritual crisis by giving this answer in response to his earlier monologue:

If it be now, 'tis not to
come, if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now,
yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be."

Hamlet has readied himself for activity and for the afterlife in Act V.  He has thus answered his own earlier questions.

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In Hamlet, what does "To be or not to be" mean?

Basically, Hamlet is trying to decide whether he wants to live or die.

He thinks that living is pretty pointless.  He is very unhappy because of the horrible things that fortune seems to throw at him.  Because of that, he would rather be dead.

But then he thinks about death and he thinks about how death is the "undiscovered country."  He thinks about how nobody knows what happens next.  What if it is worse than life?  So he decides to stay alive.  He says that the decision is based on the fear of the unknown.

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Discuss "To be or not to be" in Hamlet's soliloquy.

Part of what makes Hamlet's soliloquy so powerful is that it cannot offer a definitive answer to consciousness and being in the world.  Hamlet's nature of doubting, questioning, acting so that his "function is smothered by surmise," had already been evident throughout the play, but this particular moment highlights it to a very strong degree.  The notion of wondering how to exist without pain, or to prefer a state of "non- existence" in comparison to the one offered are both powerful elements in Hamlet's speech.  Through Hamlet, Shakespeare reveals quite a modernist element to consciousness.  Individual consciousness is steeped in pain and confusion, and the alternative might be preferred, only to understand that this is illusory, for there is no real escape to pain in consciousness and in the modern setting.  In the final analysis, the power of questioning "to be or not to be" is so vivid because it strikes at the pain which exists at the heart of being in the world.

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Discuss "To be or not to be" in Hamlet's soliloquy.

Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be", occurs in the beginning of Act III when it becomes clear to him that he has no allies and everyone suspects he has become mentally ill.  Hamlet contemplates what happens in death, the pros and cons of being dead, and recognizes why people generally keep trudging along the path of life.  At first the idea of death is very inviting, as if it is the most luxurious of sleeps, but becomes problematic if dreams become a nightmarish calliope,  "To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub", forcing us to re-live the tortures of our lives.  Whether is it Hamlet's own fear of the afterlife that he contemplates, "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all," or just an observation of human nature, we do not know.  We can only speculate that he feels so trapped in his situation that he wishes for death.

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In Hamlet, what is the function and significance of Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be"?

The most important part of this soliloquy is near the end.  As the other posts have mentioned, Hamlet is very rational in this speech.  He has been a very contemplative character through the whole play, but here he specifically talks about that. 

Through the speech he is taking about action and inaction, and in the end he concludes that the reason people don't act is because they fear the consequences of their actions once they start to to think about them.  He asks what "makes us rather bear those ills we have" (not act against them) rather than "fly to others we know not of."  The next several lines are his rather profound, and very true, conclusion.  He suggests:  "Thus conscience makes cowards of us all, /  and thus the native hue of resolution /  is sicklied o're with the pale cast of thought."  He is saying that thinking, or over-thinking, makes us fearful and cautious, and once we feel that way, then our drive to act is taken over by our thoughts and intellect. 

This speech is clearly Hamlet showing us an understanding of himself and his lack of action up to this point in the play.  He does take action eventually, but this is not the last time that Hamlet's drive to act to overcome by his overthinking things -- consider his decision to not kill Claudius a little later in Act 3!

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In Hamlet, what is the function and significance of Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be"?

This soliloquy placed just after Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 2 when he devises a plan to "catch the conscience of a king."  It is interesting that it is placed at the beginning of Act 3 just before we see Hamlet and Ophelia on stage together for the first time, a scene in which Ophelia is acting as bait while her father and Claudius spy on Hamlet.  It is a beautifully meditative speech debating the pros and cons of living in this world when suicide would take one out of this "sea of troubles" into a world of sleep.

It is clear from this soliloquy that Hamlet is not mad.  He is melancholy about life, but not necessarily suicidal.  The soliloquy is not in first person.  At the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet reasons that because we fear the unknown in the afterlife, we will continue to live in a world that causes pain and suffering.

It is important that we see Hamlet here as thoughtful, logical, and perceptive.  In contrast, we can see his actions toward Ophelia as more of an act put on for the benefit of the two spies Claudius and Polonius, whose presence Hamlet most surely has detected.

But the "To be or not to be" soliloquy also shows Hamlet's dread of killing.  He is most reluctant to take revenge and he most likely fears the confirmation of the ghost's words that is sure to occur when the play that Hamlet has requested is performed.  Life to Hamlet seems overwhelming just now, and suicide is an appealing idea.  Death seems more appealing than seeking revenge.

But Hamlet is not suicidal.  He sees the path ahead that he must go down, however reluctantly, and after the play-within-a-play, he seeks the revenge his father's spirit requested.  Of course, his attempt at revenge fails when he kills Polonius instead of Claudius, and the play takes another turn.

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In Hamlet, what is the function and significance of Hamlet's soliloquy "To be or not to be"?

We have heard Halmet on stage several times by this point in the play. Instead of being overtaken by extreme emotion, this moment positions Halmet as a rational thinker. In considering the consequences of the different answers to the question he is actually asking, his thoughts are genuine and well-thought out. In considering death and the unknown Hamlet compares it to what he can understand in the concept of sleep. In considering still living, he weighs all of the problems and struggles he endures right now. He is measuring the difference in the values of the two. This may be demonstrating a growth and maturity in Hamlet that we have yet to see until this point. In my opinion, this is what makes this soliloquy significant.

Also, when complete, Hamlet asks Ophelia for her prayers for him. This demonstrates the acknowledgement that he understands he cannot humanly cope with his circumstances on his own.

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What does Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy mean?

One would be remiss to conclude the analysis of Act III, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet without including a short discussion of Hamlet's long soliloquy, beginning with the famous line, "To be, or not to be." A soliloquy is a long speech a character gives in a drama that is spoken alone (and only for the benefit of the audience to hear the character's thoughts). Soliloquies are very common within the works of Shakespeare. In this important existential and metaphysical soliloquy, most scholars agree that Hamlet is thinking about the pros and cons of simply "existing." To talk about the verb "to be" is to talk about the ability of someone "to exist." If the reader takes the second part of the line ("or not to be"), then this leads that reader (and most scholars) to agree that if Hamlet is contemplating his right not to exist, he is actually contemplating suicide. The rest of the soliloquy is Hamlet's reasoning for contemplating said act of suicide. This world only provides Hamlet (and people in general) with pain and sorrow. Hamlet concludes that even though ending this sorrowful life is "devoutly to be wished," what makes Hamlet stop considering suicide is what might happen to him in the afterlife. In other words, if death is "sleep," then what happens in the afterlife to the soul is the "dream." This, of course, stems from the Roman Catholic belief that a person who commits the sin of suicide cannot go to heaven because he or she has thwarted God's greatest gift of all: the gift of life. Note these lines: "The undiscovered country. . . makes us rather bear those ills we have. / Than fly to others that we know not of? / Thus conscience does make cowards of us all." In other words, that "undiscovered country" of the afterlife makes us stay here in our mortal bodies and not kill ourselves because it is fear of the unknown (especially the horrors of hell) that is so scary. In this way, our consciences make us cowards in that we can't take our own lives out of fear. In short, this soliloquy nicely corresponds with Hamlet's possible tragic flaws of both inaction and melancholy. Both ideas are truly present here in light of this most common interpretation (of Hamlet contemplating suicide). Why melancholy? In the realm of existential thought, Hamlet spends forty lines or so contemplating so grim of an idea as ending his own life. Not many things can be more melancholy than that. Why inaction? Although he contemplates suicide, Hamlet never attempts suicide. In other words, Hamlet never "acts" by committing suicide. This nicely leads into a more rare interpretation of this soliloquy (however, one that does indeed merit mentioning). Some scholars believe this soliloquy has been erroneously misplaced by later editors of Shakespeare's play. As a result, these scholars believe this soliloquy of Hamlet's belongs closer to his scheme of using The Murder of Gonzago as a "mousetrap." In this regard, scholars think this is not a contemplation of suicide at all, but rather a speech about the troubles of turning thought into action. (As evidence, these scholars point out that Hamlet never directly refers to himself and that Hamlet suspects an audience so he specifically keeps his wording mysterious, with Hamlet mostly thinking about which is more "noble," thought or action. Although not widely accepted, this interpretation is interesting in and of itself. It is also important to note the usual interpretation of the end of this soliloquy, which "works" in light of both of the above interpretations. Around line 84 in this soliloquy, there is a shift in Hamlet's thought. Before that point, Hamlet is expressing that he is unable to act on suicide due to the fear of the unknown of the afterlife. After that point, Hamlet is expressing that he is unable to act in avenging his father due to his fear of the unknown compiled from his own melancholic thoughts.

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From Hamlet, what does the line "to be, or not to be" mean?

This line is the opener for Hamlet's most famous and quoted soliloquy.  In this speech, he ponders whether life is worth living or not.  He personally feels that it isn't, but says that the reason that many of us don't end our lives sooner is because our fear of the unknown--death--is stronger than our misery while alive.  We are so afraid of not knowing what--if anything--happens after death that we stick with what we know here in life even if it is awful.  So, "to be or not to be" means, "Is life worth living?  I am pondering, right now, whether I should stay alive (be) or die (not to be)."

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From Hamlet, what does the line "to be, or not to be" mean?

Hamlet's line is the most famous existential line ever uttered.  The question can be paraphrased as to exist or not to exist.  In his spiritual malaise and oppressive melancholy brought about by the death of his father and the lack of loyalty exhibited by his mother who quickly marries her husband's brother, Hamlet ponders ending his life. However, as he debates this metaphysical question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? (III, i, 56-60)

Hamlet reasons that people do not end their woes and tribulations because they do not know if they may have to face worse burdens in the next life after death.  And, thus, Hamlet concludes,

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. (III, i, 83-88).

With such cowardice wrought by conscience, Hamlet perceives that man is yet dead when he has lost his courage and strength of action.  This despair in man's existence is later reflected in another metaphysical remark of Hamlet's in the next scene: "...for there is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so (II, ii, 241).  Truly, Hamlet understands the "absurdity of existence" as such Existentialists as Jean-Paul Sartre much later described it.

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

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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What does "To be, or not to be" mean in William Shakespeare's Hamlet?

"To be, or not to be" is arguably William Shakespeare's most famous line. Found in Hamlet (3.1.56), Hamlet is considering life. He finds that life may not be worth living if it continues to be so challenging. Hamlet is questioning whether he should move forward with his plan to murder Claudius (the one responsible for his father's death) or end his own life. 

"To be" refers to the verb "being" in regards to existence. Hamlet is essentially questioning if he should continue his own insufferable existence or end his pain. Unfortunately, Hamlet also questions what the afterlife holds. His fears of the unknown force him to consider which is the "lesser of two evils" (when given two bad choices, one tends to be "less bad" than the other), ending the life of Claudius or his own. 

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