Does the hero in Shakespeare’s Hamlet deliver a soliloquy that does not fit the dramatic context? Does the soliloquy suggest that suicide is imminent? This essay proposes to answer these and other questions relevant to the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.
Lawrence Danson in the essay “Tragic Alphabet” discusses the most famous of soliloquies as involving an “eternal dilemma”:
The problem of time’s discrediting effects upon human actions and intentions is what makes Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy eternal dilemma rather than fulfilled dialectic. Faced with the uncertainty of any action, an uncertainty that extends even to the afterlife, Hamlet, too, finds the “wick or snuff” of which Claudius speaks: “Thus conscience” – by which Hamlet means, I take it, not only scruples but all thoughts concerning the future –
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 pitch and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. – (III.i.83). (75)
Considering the context of this most notable soliloquy, the speech appears to be a reaction from the determination which ended the “rogue and peasant slave” soliloquy. In fact, in the Quarto of 1603 the “To be” speech comes BEFORE the players’ scene and the nunnery scene – and is thus more logically positioned to show its emotional connection to the previous soliloquy (Nevo 46).
Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes just how close the hero is to suicide while reciting his famous soliloquy:
Hamlet enters, desperate enough b…
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Levin, Harry. “An Explication of the Player’s Speech.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from The Question of Hamlet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Nevo, Ruth. “Acts III and IV: Problems of Text and Staging.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Hamlet. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Rpt. from Tragic Form in Shakespeare. N.p.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware P., 1992.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html
My Definition of Success
As a first-time parent, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of messages first-time fathers hear about what they stand to lose once they become parents.
Date nights, pub crawls, frequent restaurant visiting, Man Time and Man Hugs, spare cash for expensive things that nourish our quest for accomplishment. These are the things – among others – that we understand to be our concessions for signing the dotted line and entering into the world of fatherhood.
But as a first-time father, I completely underestimated the amount of joy being a dad would bring to me. Fatherhood has helped me loosen my grip of my expedition for accomplishment. I don’t care nearly as much about what happens to me, as long as my daughter is good. I care more about spending time with her and providing for her, and less about myself.
And it’s such a liberating feeling.
I still want things for myself – rightfully so, on occasion – and I still look for ways to nourish my own soul (movie dates included), but to a much lesser extent. I used to be so preoccupied with what my friends were doing in their lives and how my life stacked up next to their own. I was so concerned about the career milestones I was supposed to be hitting like clockwork.
Things have changed. I still have a thirst for career accomplishment, but it’s lessened now. I still have a thirst for success, but my definition of success has shifted. I’ve been freed of (some of) my own gluttony, all thanks to my daughter. Maybe it’s because I don’t have time anymore to fret about the things I used to be so concerned about. Working full-time and devoting your time and energy to your partner and child doesn’t leave time for many self-interests, much less time for worrying about how I stack up next to my peers in terms of accomplishments.
I suspect, however, that part of my liberation is because my soul – publicly or maybe secretly – craves the kindness we develop as parents, learning how to continually put our kids first.