6 easy steps from Hamlet’s question to Shakespeare’s answer

In case you have ever considered reading Shakespeare to be more of a struggle than entertainment, you are not alone. Just look at what Charles Darwin had to say about it:


I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.




Of course, this guy was a scientist, so who cares about his tastes in literature, right? Some would say that the number one feature of a good piece of writing should be to entertain rather than annoy. Nowadays, Shakespearean writings aren’t as engaging as they used to be. Understandable, right? I mean we live in a modern age, with instant messaging and the Internet. Where does this ancient writer fit in?


When and where


Shakespeare is such a renown author that it can be extremely difficult to place him as existing in the human realm. Nevertheless, these days, everyone shrugs him off as boring and out of date. Let’s talk about that, shall we?


First of all, The Golden Age was a wonderland of festivals, jousts, political conflicts, and power-hungry conspiracies, not to mention a widespread belief in witchcraft. This era was also the time when the English Renaissance theater flourished. Shakespeare gained fame during this time and his plays perfectly reflect everything that was going on, as well as the way people from all social classes thought and acted.


Reading a Shakespearean play is like stepping into a time machine. You get the full treatment and then some… as long as you can understand what they’re saying…


Where have I heard that before?


Today’s Shakespearean elucidation is about the most acclaimed monologue ever. It has been quoted time and time again, thanks to its immortal nature. As long as humans exist on Earth, they will probably ponder the questions brought up by Hamlet in his ridiculously famous discourse.


Let’s break down the most famous monologue in the world into smaller, more digestible parts.



1. They say the question is unknown. It’s not.


“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.”


  • Hamlet starts to wonder if it is better to live or to die. Life is hard, man!


2. Get your 8 hours, but don’t overdo it, especially when sleep means death.


“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.”


  • After all, death is just like sleep, right? And sleeping is awesome! Especially when it can end all humanly suffering.


3. Fear is really the problem.


“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, 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.”


  • Also, when we sleep, we dream. Dreaming is fun… Or is it? What if the dreams that come after death are not fun? Great! Now life is even harder!


4. What to look forward to in life. Spoiler: I’m being ironic.


“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?”


Fun word of the day: ‘bodkin‘. This is a small knife, which, in Hamlet’s opinion, anyone can use to bring about their ‘quietus‘, a.k.a. ‘death‘. So the question is: ‘who, in their right mind, would bear the various hardships of life when they can simply… not?’


  • In other words, why should we stand the various grievances of life, when we can simply stab ourselves to death? (A wonderful choice of execution, by the way. Kudos to Shakespeare for being light years ahead of modern-day action movies and bloody special effects.)


5. The mystery of life… oh wait… I meant misery.


“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 traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?”


  • Why should we put up with all the burdens of life? Because nobody came back after death to tell us what happens, that’s why. So not really knowing what comes next is enough to make us stay alive, even if it’s hard.


6. In conclusion… we all suck, but at least we’re in it together.


“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 pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”


  • We moslty tend to give up on suicide because, when it all comes down to acting, we’re all chicken.


And finally…


Oh well… I guess we can all get back to reality now. Even though the message seems somewhat bleak, a closer look will show a more hopeful nature of the character. Besides, he did conclude it’s better to live, in the end.


Fortunately, life in 2017 is much less of a hassle than it used to be when poor Hamlet was supposed to be alive… even if he was a prince.


So, according to Hamlet, stay alive! It’s better than risking it.



Image sources: 1, 2.