Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 28. Saturday, 16 January 1993.
Date: Saturday, 16 Jan 1993 15:21 CST
Subject: to be or not to be
It seems to me that the "to be or not to be" speech is an attempt
to apply a rigorous logic to a big question--why DO people put up
with life when it's so rotton? He calmly and rationally works through
it, deciding that on the whole we don't see mass suicide because people
are afraid of the unknown. I don't think the significance of the speech
lies in the reasoning expressed so much as in the fact that Hamlet is
using that particular approach at that particular time. He has recently
taken a theatrical mode to unpack his mixed feelings ("O what a rogue
and peasant slave am I!") dialogically arguing about what he should
do, and right after his logical interlude debating suicide he falls apart
with Ophelia--wondering again just what should we do, "crawling between
heaven and earth?" I think the speech is an interesting attempt of
Hamlet, the scholar, student, and rational man, to settle a question
which we quickly see is not at all settled by logical means.
As for diagnosing Hamlet's condition, some of my best friends are
manic depressive; I don't believe for a moment he is. (Claudius would
agree--"his speech, tho' it lacked form a little, was not like madness")
On the other hand, Ophelia exhibits some symptoms that would interest
any clinical psychologist.