Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Act III, Scene I
A room in the castle
(The textbook: PP.76-77)
I. The Aim of This Class:
To enable the students to appreciate the figurative expressions, which
may enrich their cultural & linguistic knowledge, in this soliloquy so that
they may get a better understanding of it;
To enable the students to have a fairly good idea of Hamlet’s mental
conflict and character.
II. Some Background Information
1. The Nature of Tragedy
Tragedies were concerned with the harshness and apparent injustice
of life. They involved the trials and eventual death of a hero who was an
important person and whose death led to the downfall of others. Often,
the hero’s fall from happiness was due to a weakness in his character (a
weakness such as the overweening ambition of Macbeth, the uncontrolled
jealousy of Othello or the excessive pride of Coriolanus.). Hamlet is
among the most complex of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes and it is thus not easy to pinpoint one specific flaw which brought about his untimely death.
But it would be true to say that he was a thinker involved in a dilemma
which could only be resolved by a man of action. His inability to act
swiftly & decisively in connection with his father’s murder brought havoc to the Danish court.
Hamlet belongs to a genre of plays often called “revenge tragedies”.
These were popular in Elizabethan England and in them a hero was called
upon to punish an evildoer for a crime he had committed. Often in such
plays there was a ghost who could not rest until the person who had
caused his death was killed. The ghost in Hamlet is thus a traditional
figure whose role was to urge the hero to avenge an evil deed.
A soliloquy is a dramatic device which allows a character to reveal
his thoughts to the audience but not to the other characters in the play. In
Shakespeare’s time soliloquies were widely used. When an actor was
alone on the stage he could speak aloud his thoughts, thus giving the
audience clear insights into his character and his intentions.
The soliloquy is used quite frequently in Hamlet. The Prince
addresses the audience directly on six occasions (lst: in Act I, Scene2,
129-59 when he is oppressed by the problems surrounding him, his
father’s death and his mother’s fickleness; 2nd: in Act II, Scene2, 522-80
when he contrasts his failure to respond to his father’s murder with the
actor’s expression of grief for imaginary characters; 3rd: in Act III, Scene
l, 56-88 he expresses his disillusionment with life: “To be, or not to be-
that is the question”; 4th: in Act III, Scene 2, 362-72 he uses language to work himself into a frame of mind in which he can visit his mother and
show her the evils of her incestuous marriage; 5th: in Act III, Scene 3,
73-96 he decides not to kill Claudius while he is at prayer but to surprise
him; 6th: in Act IV, Scene 4, 32-66 he reveals his firm intention to take
his vengeance at the earliest possible opportunity while at the same time
he condemns his earlier inactivity.) (cf. Monologue: more often than not,
a poetical device, e.g. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning1812--1889).
3. Some of the Problems Troubling Hamlet:
(1) His father was murdered by his uncle who has become the king of
(2) His mother was married to his uncle right after his father’s death;
(3) The Ghost of his father urged him to seek revenge for his murder,
but Hamlet was not quite sure that the ghost was his father’s spirit,
for he feared it might have been a devil sent to torment him;
(4) His former friends Rosencrantz & Gildenstern were dispatched by
the king to spy on him (A betrayal of friendship! As a humanist he
attached great importance to friendship);
(5) His girl friend Ophelia was sent as a tool to find out whether or
not he was really mad(A betrayal of love!).
One incident after another seems to reveal to him that the time is “out of
joint”, and man is not good as he had imagined.
III. The Text:
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
ACT III SCENE I
A room in the castle
Hamlet. 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: aye, 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 traveler 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 pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in your orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.
IV. The Fragment of the film Relevant to the Text.
V. Questions on the Soliloquy
(Here are some questions which aim to direct your attention to some of
the important points in Hamlet`s troubled thoughts. You should try to
answer all the questions in English)
1. How does Hamlet explain what is “to be” and what is “not to be”?
Quote his own words, and then try to explain what was meant by the
Your quote: (to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.)
Your understanding: (to live by enduring the injustices and miseries of
“Not to be”
Your quote: (to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing
Your understanding: (to fight against and end “ a sea of troubles ” by
taking his own life.)
2. “ `Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish`d.”---What is this ideal
state, according to Hamlet?
Your answer: (Hamlet longed to end all his sufferings, and death
seemed a perfect solution . )
3. What is death compared to ? What makes one hesitate to end the
troubles of life by death ?
Your answer: (Death is compared to sleep. The thought of what
dreams may come in that sleep of death makes one
hesitate to end the troubles of life by death. )
4. “ There`s the respect that makes calamity of so long life ”---What does the word “ respect ” mean here ?
Your answer: (consideration.)
5. What “ puzzles the will ” of death ?
Your answer: (The dread of something after death.)
6. What influence, according to Hamlet, do thoughts have upon
resolution and action ?
Your answer: (Too much thinking has weakened the resolution and
delayed the action.)
7.(an essay question)What do you learn about Hamlet’s mental conflict and character through this soliloquy?
(In this soliloquy, Hamlet is detached, reflective, analytic and
moral. His thoughts were philosophical rather than practical; his
concerns were on the nature of things rather than any specific plans for actions; his feelings were of a deep sorrow over the injustice and
vanity, “a sea of troubles” which brought pains into human life. His
melancholy and procrastination are also revealed. Here he is
pondering on the question of life and death. He is thinking of
committing suicide. But he hesitates for he doubts whether death can
give him rest and peace. Besides, he is not sure whether the world of
death would be better than this one. He gives the reasons why he
wants to commit suicide. Apart from his personal revenge(He hasn`t
mentioned it in this soliloquy), he cannot bear the social injustices
and grievances. He is conscious of his own weakness of thinking too much which makes him dilatory, allowing many opportunities to slip
VI. Written Work:
Write a prose paraphrase of this soliloquy.