failing like never before


To Be or Not to Be

Unlike many of my article titles, this one actually pertains directly to my article. Once again, this is from a high school English class (seems like I wrote a lot when I was in high school).

Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from the play Hamlet by Shakespeare, describes Hamlet’s morbid and tempestuous feelings. Prior to the soliloquy, Hamlet’s emotions have been in turmoil due to the appearance of his father’s ghost and his mother’s marriage to his uncle. Shakespeare’s use of literary techniques such as diction, imagery and syntax give the reader insight into Hamlet’s thoughts and feelings as he contemplates death and the afterlife, and the problems of life.

Throughout the soliloquy, Shakespeare’s use of punctuation reveals where Hamlet begins to grow particularly emotional. The phrase “... and by a sleep to we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to...” is much longer then the short, terse phrases surrounding it, drawing the reader’s attention. This long phrase shows the swelling of Hamlet’s emotions, and allows the reader to deduce that Hamlet greatly dislikes his earthly pains and finds the bliss of death to be a “consummation devoutly to be wish’d.” This quick terse phrase helps to emphasize Hamlet’s opinion of death. At line 66, Hamlet says, “for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.” Hamlet’s fears of the afterlife, are emphasized by his outpouring of emotion, which he then pulls quickly to a stop.

Shakespeare’s use of imagery also helps to convey Hamlet’s belief that he is alone and battling against all odds. In line 58, Hamlet talks of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and of “taking arms against a sea of troubles.” By stating that fortune bears weapons of war, Hamlet conveys the idea that he does not find fortune to be some kindhearted goddess, but cruel and unjust. The second phrase evokes an image of a lonely soul standing proudly alone as wave after waves of terrifying adversaries attempts to bring him down, which is how Hamlet feels at this moment. During the time of the soliloquy, Hamlet has no one to consult about the death of his father, and therefore feels that he is adrift with nobody to help. At line 70, Hamlet mentions “the whips and scorns of time,” comparing time to a cruel taskmaster that drives men and women forward unwillingly. Hamlet does not appreciate the manner in which time has torn away the things he loves, including his father, and finds the passage of time to be painful.

Shakespeare’s use of rather unusual syntax, especially colons and semicolons, draws the readers attention to specific areas. Colons and semicolons tend to be a rather sparsely used form of punctuation, and its overuse indicates that something particularly significant is about to be told. “To die: to sleep; no more” and “To die: to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream.” are all amazingly short phrases of two or three words, separated by a semicolon or colon. The reader gains a feeling that Hamlet’s thoughts grow ponderous here, and become so heavy that he is only able to express himself in simple phrases. Unlike the aforementioned long phrases, these are filled more with thought then emotion. In the selections, Hamlet equates dying to sleeping which leads the reader to believe that perhaps he does not find death quite so intimidating. Of course, further along in the soliloquy, Hamlet begins to have his doubts.

Some of Hamlet’s doubts can be found by studying the diction of the play. The land that men travel to after death is referred to as the “undiscovered country,” a term sufficiently “scary” enough to give the reader pause, (after all, who doesn’t show some fear of the unknown) doesn’t completely nullify the possibility of suicide. Hamlet also uses words such as “fardels,” “ills” and “calamity” in describing life, showing how much he dislikes the painfulness of living. He also describes men as being “cowards” when they contemplate death and fear what is to come. Because Hamlet has been indecisive in taking action against his uncle, this may be a possible reference to what he thinks of himself, a coward.

Having considered himself a coward, Hamlet ends his soliloquy by deciding that death is not preferable to life, due to the fact that death it “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.” Although, throughout the monologue, he gets very close to choosing death over life because of the agonies of living.

Comments (7) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Very interesting. Wanna read more about it. How much time did you write a post?

  2. Er, this was actually an essay I wrote for school a while back. Can’t remember exactly how much time I spent on it.

  3. Yah I have an essay due tomorrow on this in AP Lang. What grade did you get on this?

  4. This essay is very good it was helpful for me, writing my essay , its very good and helpful , your very good at writing

  5. Is this mr. Medhi

  6. Wow, this is really good. I might use it to give me ideas for my essay, thanks :)

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