Hamlet * To be or not to be?

Fear of the unknown is possibly the only thing keeping a man from killing himself to end his troubles. And the sleep might still take over!

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
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?

To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d.

https_%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2F736x%2Fff%2F5f%2F96%2Fff5f96e56188074d620480edc8d2c177--what-dreams-may-come-gothic-art.jpgTo die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller 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;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d!”

I love this lovely introduction to Hamlet. Written between 1599 and 1602, it still has the power to move people as it talks about death, descent into oblivion and madness. Hamlet fights a “sea of troubles”, sufferings of both an external nature (Claudius) and of internal source – the madness. Sleeping is a theme, it’s a form of resting as well as a descent into nothingness and idleness and Hamlet does not seek out sleep as others do as he sees it as a “perchance to dream” – and his dreams are not pleasant.

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Now the rhetorical comparison of sleep and death is driven home, and Hamlet infers that if death is sleep intensified, then the possible dreams in death are likely to be intensified as well.

With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,

Bodkin at the time meant a sharp instrument, much like an awl, used for punching holes in leather. In this context, it suggests a dagger or stiletto (think of the phrase as resembling “bare blade”). The word derives from the Middle English “boidekin.” Hamlet is basically asking who wants to suffer life when you could end your troubles with a dagger. After the initial question, Hamlet continues by asking who would bear fardels (pack, burden; from Middle English via Middle French, likely originally from the Arabic fardah).

What Hamlet says in effect is that fear of the unknown binds us all (in this case, fear of that unknown beyond death’s door). As bad as earthly suffering is, there could be far worse in store for us in death. This is especially true for those who would commit suicide, which was viewed as an abomination by the Church (who saw it as one of the gravest affronts to God) and a guaranteed path to Hell—both by virtue of the sin itself and the Church’s refusal to give the offender proper burial rites. Though the speech doesn’t directly invoke God, this has to be an undercurrent, no matter how rationally and philosophically Hamlet couches it.

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