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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: January ::
"To be or not to be" (con't)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 30.  Tuesday, 19 January 1993.
(1)     From:   Anthony Teague <anthony@krsogang.BitNet>
        Date:   Monday, 18 Jan 93 10:34:26 00900
        Subj:   To be or not to be
(2)     From:   Luc Borot <ELI16@FRMOP22.BitNet>
        Date:   Monday, 18 Jan 93 10:58
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0029  "To be or not to be" (con't)
From:           Anthony Teague <anthony@krsogang.BitNet>
Date:           Monday, 18 Jan 93 10:34:26 00900
Subject:        To be or not to be
I have always found the long note starting on page 484 of Harold Jenkins's
Arden edition of "Hamlet" to be very helpful in getting students (and self)
away from a too suicidal reading of the speech. Recalling that "the question"
has a technical sense as the topic for discussion in an academic 'disputacio'
helps, because in such debates there could be no right and wrong answers, only
the quotation of authorities to support various responses. Jenkins also helps
by reminding me that "To be or not to be" is a recognized abreviation of the
full topic "Whether it be better to be alive though unhappy, or to be dead."
I feel that the necessarily inconclusive nature of the debate is the main
dramatic point (conscience making cowards of us all) because the speech is a
dramatic representation of one of the play's main themes, the one about the
way thinking makes life more complicated, while action devoid of thought makes
beasts of us. "To think, or not to think?" There is no particular reason why
the speech should represent a suicidal crisis, given the point in the play at
which it comes. That it also reminds us and Hamlet that death is down the road
waiting, whatever we do, is sure. I tend to tell my students that the speech
is basically directed towards the question of "What to do, since suicide is
not an option" and I suspect that it could equally well be paraphrased as "To
act or not to act"!
Anthony Teague, Sogang University, Seoul Korea
From:           Luc Borot <ELI16@FRMOP22.BitNet>
Date:           Monday, 18 Jan 93 10:58
Subject: 4.0029  "To be or not to be" (con't)
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0029  "To be or not to be" (con't)
From Luc Borot <eli16@frmop22>
On: T Bowden's view on Renaissance melancholy
     Dear all,
In the debate on "to be or not to be", I wonder if I got T. Bowden's opinion
right. The point made seems to be that Melancholy was a pastime for the
genteel. This is what we may think with hindsight, but the belief was that it
was indeed a genuine disease, for which there were cures. As for Burton, he
seems to look upon melancholy as a social threat (sometimes an ontological
threat) for which social and medical cures must be found (there is a utopia in
Democritus Junior's prologue).
We are not 'better' because 'more advanced' than Elizabethans, high ly
civilized creatures themselves, and we do not 'better' know what they saw than
they did.
The text we deal with is so full of things from those times that the debate so
far has been a trifle lightish, I'm afraid.
    Cheers to all, and please BE...

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