For CSUF English 102 Students and Casual Passerbys

From perhaps the most famous passage in all of Shakespeare, here is a clip that combines multiple interpretations of Hamlet’s third soliloquy, the “To be or not to be” speech. Note the similarities and the differences between the scenes. You may find a transcript of the Hamlet’s Third Soliloquy at the end of this post.

A point of interest in this soliloquy tends to be the debate over if this passage truly reflects Hamlet’s struggle of whether or not he should commit suicide. For my part, I really do think that is but one of Hamlet’s considerations, but I think there’s much more going on here than that. This is one of the things that makes this particular clip compelling: I think one can get a sense of which actors and directors want to emphasize the suicidal aspect of the soliloquy while others have opted to “read” Hamlet with a different emphasis, and here’s the fun part (or the hard part…): each one of these interpretations has merit, even the parody! So here are some questions for your own consideration and reflection:

  • Which scene(s) do you think emphasize(s) Hamlet’s inner-struggle with suicide?
  • Which scene(s) seem(s) to be emphasizing something else?
  • What is it about the setting, the acting, the lighting, etc., lends each segment to various interpretations?

The same questions can be asked between the multitudes of any Shakespeare productions including the “inspired by…” interpretations i.e. Twelfth Night the text itself, Trevor Nunn’s Film (1999), and She’s the Man (Fickman 2006). What from Twelfth Night do you think Trevor Nunn is trying to emphasize? What from Twelfth Night do you think Fickman is trying to emphasize with She’s the Man?

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. (III.i.58-90)