To Be or Not to BeIs that the Question

“To be, or not to be…” Is that the Question?
By Adam W. Ozmer

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, the title character, Hamlet, performs his most famous soliloquy, started “To be, or not to be….” This speech comes in the midpoint of the main action of the play. In the conclusion of Act II, Hamlet purveyed a more rational attitude and outlook, and this soliloquy contradicts such a persona. He seems to have reverted to his dark, contemplative state.
The opening, and most famous line of this soliloquy, “To be, or not to be…,” suggests death or possible suicide; however, the subsequent lines pose the two courses of action which he, or one, may take in life. He poses two ways to proceed with his life. He asks if it is a “nobler” course to follow to accept “outrageous fortune”. The second course of action requires Hamlet taking “arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.” This passage indicates Hamlet’s personal vendetta to rid the state of Denmark of what plagues it. Next Hamlet considers suicide. This notion contradicts his earlier solutions for a seemingly rational approach to his inner and external conflicts. Hamlet also expresses his fear of death in the line “But that the dread of something after death…,” but suggests that “conscience”, or introspection, leads to cowardice. This line could also suggest that Hamlet has difficulty with such an action as suicide because it goes against his moral standings. Hamlet could also refer to his incapability to take revenge on Claudius because of his morality.
In the course of the play, Hamlet is faced with multiple internal and external battles. In this soliloquy all of Hamlet’s conflicts are culminated and his possible solutions and theories are exposed. This may be the central point of the play as it signifies a progression in Hamlet’s thought concerning his stance with Claudius and with Ophelia as well, as in the last line he says to her “Be all my sins remembered.” He says this as she prays and reads a book of prayers. This pivotal speech sets the tone for the rest of the play both in Hamlet’s inner feelings and externalized actions.