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ESavorgnan - Analysis of "To be, or not to be" - Lines 1 to 10 - 03.12.2020 -
by ESavorgnan - (2020-12-02)
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Analysis of “To be, or not to be”


In the text I will analyse the first 10 lines of the famous Hamlet’s soliloquy, written in 1600 by William Shakespeare for the tragedy named “Hamlet”. 


The soliloquy is written in free verse, which suggests that Shakespeare nobilited what Hamlet tells. Indeed you have to remember that in Hamlet’s tragedy the playwright mixed prose and poetry.


The soliloquy is about an inner conflict: Hamlet wonders himself whether “ to be” or “not to be”, so whether to live or not, whether to act or not, whether to exist or not.

By using infinite verb tense Shakespeare wants to stretch out the Hamlet’s question, as if it were a universal trouble; he also highlights the pain of life (“to suffer” and “to take arms”) but also the peace of death (“to die”, “to sleep”, to “dream”). The punctuation is very used by Shakespeare because it stops the read in the key points of the soliloquy and contributes to convey the ideas of Hamlet, his doubt: you can look for example at line 5, “To die: to sleep”. Simple colon suggests a comparison, trouble, peace and calmness.


The lines following the first one can be arranged into two different parts: in the first one Hamlet considers cons of “to be”, while in the second the prince considers cons of “not to be”.


In lines 2 to 4 Hamlet characterises life as a battle, so that the question in the beginning changes in “to fight” or “not to fight” against life. The conflict makes Hamlet suffer, because of the fortune, which changes and is “outrageous”: Hamlet is worried to die for life. The anaphora of “t” (l. 3 and 4, “outrageous fortune,to take, against, troubles) which is a strong sound, hint at the clash with life; in the same lines you can notice also the anaphora of “s” (slings, arrows,outrageous, arms, against, sea, troubles), which resends to the whistle of arrows and stones thrown, but also to the whistle of the Snake, metaphor for temptation and doubt. 


The second part starts with a comparison between death and sleep. Death is the solution of heart-aches and shocks, is a “consummation to be wished”, so it seems to be positive; however, once dead, Hamlet is worried to cannot dream. The epanalypses of “to die” and “to sleep” reinforces the parallelism between death and sleep but also the trouble; the anaphora of “t/th”, which continues from the previous lines, contributes to the pain of life, characterised by “the heart-ache” and by “the thousand shocks that flesh is heir to”.

The informal “ay”, at the end of line 10, highlights once more the doubt: Hamlet arrives at the true problem of death and, confused, loses the formal tone.


An intelligent reader asks why the only problem the speaking voice tells about is dreaming: probably because, quoting Shakespeare, “we are such stuff as dreams are made on”, so that a man who dreams is a man who lives. 

Hamlet is not worried about the action of live or die, but about its consequence: he is worried about dying while he is living, and to be dead once dead.