"Thoughts on Death" An essay about Shakespeare's Hamlet's soliloquy that examines his choice of words.

Essay by berlioz13College, UndergraduateA, November 2006

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Thoughts on Death

The language used in act three, scene one, lines fifty-seven to ninety-one of Shakespeare's Hamlet effectively ties Hamlet's reasoning to his tragic destiny while giving the reader a clear idea of his incredibly complex yet wholly understandable thought process concerning the afterlife.

Hamlet alludes to several actions and circumstances throughout this monologue that all seem to either work towards the plausibility of suicide or cast doubt onto this definitive act. Hamlet begins with the immortal words, "To be, or not to be," (3.1.57) and sets into motion a personal debate over life and death that has the candor one might expect from an individual concerned with his or her next vacation spot. One might wonder why Hamlet is not debating "To live, or not to live," as living seems to be the primary entity at stake here. Instead, he assigns a greater meaning to what can be conceived as life on this earth, giving it a word that is synonymous with "exist."

Later Hamlet says, "To die, to sleep," comparing one's fatal end to eternal slumber. It is interesting that he should do this, as most would only compare death to sleep in earthly terms, as to define the state of one's body, as opposed to one's soul. By only relating death to its earthly classification, Hamlet seems to ignore the existence of an afterlife. However, Hamlet does mention the possibility of such later in the monologue, noting the "dread of something after death" (3.1.79) as suicide's biggest obstacle. He calls this an "undiscovered country," (3.1.80) which raises a question on his meaning of the word "undiscovered" in this context. The afterlife, it would seem, should have been discovered long ago by the countless souls sent there. Yet this directs back to the first point,