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SRegolin - Hamlet's Monologue
[author: Silvia Regolin - postdate: 2008-06-02]
[attachs vedi file allegato ]

W. Shakespeare



Act III, Scene I


The opening line of Hamlet's soliloquy "To be, or not to be" has become very famous and the balancing of one alternative against another, which is expressed in this line, is continued throughout the monologue. A series of infinite forms ("To be, or not to be" is followed by "to suffer", "to take arms", "to say", "to die", "to sleep", "to dream", "to grunt and sweat") give voice to Hamlet's uncertainty and enable him to distance himself from the action. The sequence of questions give way to further questions instead of finding an answer.

The war images in which the choice of existence is expressed, give an impression of how violent is the struggle within Hamlet's mind. The situation presented in lines 2-5 implies inevitable defeat.

It might be possible to endure and survive a sea of troubles. It is highly impractical to take up arms against it. It might be possible to reply to an assault with slings and arrows. When both passive and active resistance is bound to meet failure, death is seen as a welcome relief (lines 8-9).

But then death is divided into sleep, which is desirable, and dreams. The thoughts advance, but the obstacle is immediately pointed out by the colloquial brusqueness of "ay, there's the rub" (line 10).

The Medieval prospective in which Hamlet sees death as physical liberation from the prison of the body (line 12) and earthly affliction, is countered by the doubt (line 13) of the Renaissance man, concerning the after death (line 11).

In lines 15-19, Hamlet lists the injustices and miseries belonging to human behavior and social standing. They range from the passing of time through unreturned love to social discrimination and political oppression. It would only take a small knife to bring relief, but the fear of something after death, expressed in the image of the unknown country from where no traveler comes back (lines 23-25), stops the will and prevents the self-destruction.

In lines 28-33 Hamlet ends his soliloquy and you can get that the kind of thought which prevents men from committing suicide isn't far from a moral conscience, as a matter of fact "resolution" is turned by the "pale cast of thought".

Reading the whole passage, you start considering what the meaning of cowardice is. If it is brave to kill oneself, and cowardly to remain alive, then "conscience makes cowards of us all".

Hamlet prefers the courage of death at the same time that his actions proclaim him coward of conscience.

Hamlet's tone of personal pain and loss are elevated, in his monologue, to a universal level because his preoccupation is the one that belongs to the modern man.