Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 41: Hamlet's Soliloquy

I figured that Hamlet would show up eventually somewhere in my reading...It's my favorite Shakespeare play (though I have come to appreciate others as well--Nancy Christiansen's Shakespeare class at BYU changed my entire view of his work and his times). I've done five papers on it and performed it twice--once being the king's ghost and gravedigger, and once playing Hamlet himself (and though I never performed this specific soliloquy, I memorized it as well in my performing as an actor for eight years). This is a great play, and though it has been done over again and again with performances throughout the world, each interpretation brings something different. The questions that Hamlet forces us to ask are still as prevalent today as they were in the 1590's. What is true madness? What is King Hamlet's ghost's real purpose--to warn or to deceive? Why does Hamlet wait so long to act, thereby forging the way to his death? Is Ophelia really crazy, or does she kill herself on purpose? All these questions and more hang in the balance as we search and interpret this tragedy of intrigue, madness and death. If we look deeply, each line, not just whole speeches, tell us something of ourselves, man's nature and fear of the unknown. This soliloquy, known as the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy, is the most famous of Shakespeare's work--but do we really understand it? Are meant to understand it? I will let you decide.

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. To 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.

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