The Dictum: “To Be or Not To Be”

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“To be or not to be…” — this dictum is considered to be one of the most famous phrases in the world. It is the opening phrase in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is a play written by William Shakespeare. The soliloquy under consideration is an embodiment of philosophical matters which deal with the problem of existence and non-existence.

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William Shakespeare was an outstanding English playwright and poet. His creativity and versatile talent gave the world the best artworks. He was a genius of his time. Shakespeare developed the language itself and influenced people’s minds. Shakespeare’s masterpieces are well-known in the whole world. His famous works are “Hamlet”, “Othello”, “King Lear”, “Romeo and Juliette”, “Macbeth”, and many others.

“The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” was the most popular play of Shakespeare’s lifetime. The play is often performed up till now. Hamlet is a protagonist of the play, who is aimed at revenge for his father’s death. It is known that Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, is a murderer. He married Gertrude — the wife of the late king. Hamlet is indignant because of this, and he is ready to take vengeance for his father. However, it turns out that revenge is a dangerous thing to deal with. It can make Hamlet go out of his mind.

A famous soliloquy takes place in Act III, Scene I. A lot of attempts have been made to interpret this extract. Hamlet starts not simply with one question, but with several questions and thoughts. The first line is generally understood as thought about suicide; however, the idea of it is much deeper (Domanico 5). “To be or not to be: that is the question” (Shakespeare 86) — these are the first words of Hamlet. They correspond not only to the idea of suicide; they correspond to the idea of existence and non-existence in general. It is a kind of thesis statement. It gives readers the idea of what Hamlet is going to contemplate. The verb “to be” in this context has a deep meaning of “being” or “existing”.

The following passage gives one a hint about the thoughts of Hamlet: “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?” (Shakespeare 86). That is the part when one may conclude that Hamlet suffers from a difficult inner struggle. He gets stuck between action and inertia. Hamlet understands that he wants revenge. On the contrary, how can he be better than his enemies if he will shed their blood? He will no longer be better than them. On the other hand, Hamlet realizes that being passive is not a solution as well.

Then comes the part where Hamlet thinks of death as possible salvation: “…To die: to sleep; / No more, and by a sleep to say we end / The heart-ache…/ To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;” (Shakespeare 86). Death is described by Hamlet as something desirable, something he would like to dive into. It seems so easy to fall into eternal sleep. It is the way to fight down all enemies. Death is not inactivity, it is an action. Killing oneself requires courage and will. It is a perfect activity that can stop everything. Then he continues to think overall suffering people meet during their lives, and how tough fate can be. It seems that Hamlet is going to be more inclined to the idea of suicide (Smith 1). However, Hamlet’s thoughts are turned in the other direction.

The prince of Denmark starts revolving in the mind the nature of death: “The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveler returns, puzzles the will / And 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;” (Shakespeare 86). Hamlet understands that death seems an easy way only from first sight. Nobody knows what one will face after death. There is always a possibility that there will be something worse. The comprehension of this fact makes all people cowards, and Hamlet is not an exception. He apprehends that he must kill Claudius to revenge for the father, but he will become murdered in such a case. That is the main point of Hamlet’s hesitating and inner tortures. Greater prominence is given to the last line of the soliloquy: “Be all my sins remembered” (Shakespeare 87). This line shows that the final decision is made. Hamlet decides to oppose his enemies.


Hamlet’s speech and thoughts correspond not only to the play but also to the idea of murdering someone or killing oneself. It should be comprehended on a deeper level. The general point is connected with the lives of all people. Every day they experience their own “to be or not to be”. Every day thousands of choices are made, and every choice is important for the personal struggle. William Shakespeare used an exciting plot and the best words to describe it and this fact just proves that he was a real genius.

Works Cited

Domanico, Jess. n.d. Sincerity in Soliloquy: The Unraveling of Hamlet’s Murderous Identity. n.d. Web. 2015.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Feedbooks, n.d. Web. 2015.

Smith, Nicole. Analysis of the “To Be or Not to Be” Soliloquy in Hamlet by William Shakespeare 2011. Web. 2015.

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