Why should you live if it isn’t worth it? Why should you live in a world of struggle and misery when you could easily die and forget your worries? Hamlet poses these questions in Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy “To be or not to be.” Perhaps Shakespeare’s most mature literary work, he develops Hamlet as a mature young man that goes beyond common thought to explain his reality.
“To be or not to be” means to die or not to die. Hamlet has gone through a lot up until this moment. This speech contains a universal message that has transcended time. The meaning of this question is much more than a translation, the meaning is about whether or not one should gamble on the uncertainty of life. Hamlet is contemplating the risk of suicide versus the risk of continuing to live an unstable life in hopes that one day it will be better. This young man has gone through a series of unfortunate events that have led him to deliver such a powerful speech. In lines 62-62 Act 3 Scene 1, Hamlet asks, “and by a sleep to say we end. The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.” This line says that death ends all the suffering he has gone through, so far. Each event has affected him in different ways and have each served as the backdrop for the famous question.
The first event was the death of Hamlet’s father. Anyone who has ever looked up on his or her father and has loved him, knows how painful it would be to lose such a guiding figure. Hamlet lost his father and to be more specific, his uncle murdered his father. His father was his idol and role model. There was such a strong bond between them and we know this because when everyone was celebrating the wedding of his widowed mother, Hamlet still mourned and honored him.
Incest in itself is unmoral and can make your head spin, but when your loved ones commit this sin it can tear your world apart and make you ponder about how just is life. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, married his uncle on his father’s side, Claudius, shortly after the passing of his father. He couldn’t believe how his own mother could engage in such an incestuous relationship especially so shortly after her beloved husband’s death. This situation confused Hamlet and made him think if life was worth living if it could be this painful. Even his mother noticed his sadness in the midst of her wedding. We can see this in line 66 Act 1 Scene 2, “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?”
Shortly after the wedding, two guards rushed to hamlet to tell him that they saw his father’s spirit. Hamlet got the chance to speak with his father that night and was told that Claudius had murdered him and to take revenge. Hamlet was perplexed, horrified, and shook but promised to avenge him. This drove Hamlet mad. Imagine finding out that your precious father didn’t die from a natural but from being murdered. This angered Hamlet and led him to question if life was worth it if your loved ones could easily be murdered for no reason at all.
The last event that led Hamlet to ask the famous question was when Ophelia rejected his love. She was his girlfriend, but one day she gave into her father and brother’s request to deny his love for her. They thought Hamlet was just a young man who focused on desire and lust and not pure love. Hamlet was crushed and heartbroken when she rejected him. A broken heart can leave someone wondering if life is really worth living for if you are all alone and humiliated. He states this in lines 71- 73 in Act 3 Scene 1 “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time…The pangs of despised love”
All in all, Hamlet is very uncertain about where his life is headed. It is a universal speech even thought his problems might not relate to everyone else’s. Today we may have days that we question what is the point of living if dying is easier. You don’t have to worry about taxes, getting good grades, your social life and even your parents’ approval in your life decisions. To sum it all up, living is harder than giving up and Hamlet realizes this, but what he never learned was that life will always turn bright and have an upside at some point, but you’ll never see it and appreciate it if you only dwell on the negative and shut the light of positivity off.