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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet (Once More)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0304  Monday, 4 February 2002

[1]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 3 Feb 2002 22:58:27 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0283 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

[2]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Jan 2002 09:09:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0254 Re: Hamlet (Once More)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Jan 2002 09:09:41 -0500
Subject: 13.0254 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0254 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

> I don't think we can tell precisely. But all the major aspects of the
> piece - ironic wit, disgust, death - are bound up together through the
> vehicle of contemplated suicide, the answer to one problem but the poser
> of a still more difficult one.
>
> Cheers,
> don

Don Bloom very carefully and thoroughly demonstrates why the "To be or
not
to be" soliloquy is about suicide.  However, Don, you treat the speech
in
isolation from the rest of the play, with the exception of one first-act
reference to suicide.  The first lines of the speech also focus our
attention very strongly on the dichotomy of acting or not acting, a
question that preoccupied Hamlet's attention in the soliloquy ending Act
II, a question that has also been one of the central dramatic questions
of the play from the time that Hamlet vowed his revenge at the end of
Act I.  After he swears by heaven and hell to "sweep to [his] revenge,"
an audience is set up to wonder, throughout Act II (with its word play,
reading of books, listening to set speeches by the players, and, of
course, its two-month passage of time), what has happened to the urgency
for decisive action.  Then, lo and behold, at the end of the act, the
audience finds out that Hamlet has been wondering exactly the same
thing:  "Why haven't I done it." In that soliloquy he proposes, first,
that he is a coward and, second, that he doesn't trust the ghost.
Having decided that, he has now set up "The Mousetrap" to test the
ghost.  But at the beginning of Act III, he's back with a third
question:  "To be or not to be."  He hasn't done it because, to do it --
to act -- means to die, and that something after death, the undiscovered
country, etc. causes deeds of great pitch and moment to lose the name of
action.

Place the speech in the dramatic progression of the play and the speech
becomes the mirror image of Measure for Measure's Duke's commonplace on
death.

Cheers,
Ed Pixley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Sunday, 3 Feb 2002 22:58:27 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0283 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0283 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

Somehow I have been misrepresented on this subject. I am not advocating
that "to be" is purely about suicide. I don't understand how anyone
could have mistaken my view AT ALL unless by accident. Simply, in one
sentence, this is my viewpoint: "To be or not to be" is not a speech
that can be located as purely about one subject, i.e. suicide; the
speech concerns itself with any great undertaking and the consequences
that result from choosing that course.

The greatness of Shakespeare is that he can present a feeling or
philosophy about life that takes on many dimensions. It is too simple to
say the speech is only about suicide, although it clearly deals with
that. It is about the major decisions we all make in life and the
sometimes unpleasant results of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Brian Willis

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