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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: "To be or not to be" Speech
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0586.  Thursday, 27 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jul 95 09:36:40 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 6.0585  Hamlet possibilities
 
(2)     From:   Clark Bowlen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 12:11:05 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   "To be or not"
 
(3)     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 18:21:15 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0585  Re: "To be or not" Speech
 
(4)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 22:26:24 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0585  Re: "To be or not" Speech
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jul 95 09:36:40 -0500
Subject: Hamlet possibilities
Comment:        SHK 6.0585  Hamlet possibilities
 
Michael Yogev mentions seeing Steven Berkoff's *Hamlet* in Israel in 1979. For
those not familiar with the production, Berkoff has written a book about it
called *I Am Hamlet* (NY: Grove Weidenfield, 1989). I found it intriguing
reading and wish I had had the opportunity to see the production.
 
Chris Gordon
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clark Bowlen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 12:11:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        "To be or not"
 
Whatever else "To be...." is, it is a speech written for an actor.
Interpretation starts with basic actor questions, including "Why am I here,
What do I know?"  For an actor playing Hamlet, answers as of III i 56 include:
 
        -The King (and Queen?) are using my friends to spy on me. (II ii
         226-302)
        -The King (and Queen?) just sent for me. (III i 29-31)
        -I arrive at the appointed place to see Ophelia wandering about reading
         a book (III i 42-45), a strategy I just used to dupe her father. (II i
         170-221)
 
I don't know about you, but if I were playing Hamlet (or even Forrest Gump) I'd
have to play suspicious.  "To be...." would be a performance. With the given
circumstances, a solitary contemplation of suicide is an awefully big stretch.
 
Note the implications for the Hamlet/Ophelia confrontation if he thinks she is
a spy, or at least an accomplice, and she thinks his performance is real. And
for Claudius, who doesn't think it is real (III i 170-177). And for the
audience who learns Claudius is guilty just before "To be...." (III i 50-54).
 
David Ball [_Backwards/Forwards_]  got it right. Hamlet performs "To be...." It
is not a soliloquy.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 18:21:15 GMT
Subject: 6.0585  Re: "To be or not" Speech
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0585  Re: "To be or not" Speech
 
Hamlet may or may not be the most 'inner-directed' of Shakespearean characters
- but what marks out the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy from all the others he
delivers, and what therefore accounts for the discussion that we've all been
reading with interest about whom he speaks it to, is the simple fact that
first-person pronouns are noticeably absent from it. Where other soliloquies
use 'I' and 'my' with varying degrees of obsessiveness, this one speaks of 'us'
and 'we'.  Who is to be included in these plural pronouns is the dramatic
question - and I've always thought myself that it is the theatre audience which
is being directly addressed (a much easier thing to do in the conditions of the
Elizabethan playhouse where actor and audience share the same light and the
worlds of stage and audience are so much less clearly delineated than they are
even in playhouses like the Swan at Stratford). It's the dispassionateness of
this speech which seems so remarkable at this point in the play, and which,
perhaps deserves more comment?
 
David Lindley
University of Leeds
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Jul 1995 22:26:24 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0585  Re: "To be or not" Speech
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0585  Re: "To be or not" Speech
 
It seems to me that there's nothing particularly wrong with far out
interpretations of Hamlet, or any play, or ideosyncratic methods of delivering
the well-known sililoquies, nor is there anything particularly right about it.
Some of us believe that the plays as we have them are the result of a number of
rewrites, particularly the festival plays such as MWW, MSND, 12th Night, etc..
If this is true then from the beginning they were subject to interpretation.
Nor is there anything particularly right or wrong with interpretations that
cleve to a traditional model. The ability to bring one's own passion to the
work is what makes a good or bad production. I might say that I would prefer to
see a man explore his own feelings about existence and suicide in the "to be or
not to be" speech than juggle a handful of imitations, but who knows, maybe I'd
like it. What's important is that we continue to be offered Shakespeare at full
force from time to time. The 1812 Overture is entertaining played with a fork
on glassfuls of water, but it would be meaningless if one never heard it played
as written.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 

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