Some critics have decided that the speech is not about suicide at all. To take one example, the eighteenth-century critic Samuel Johnson suggested that the soliloquy is more generally about death, and about the risk of death in a moment of decisive action, than about suicide. He writes, "Hamlet, knowing himself injured in the most enormous and atrocious degree, and seeing no means of redress, but such as must expose him to the extremity of hazard, meditates on his situation in this manner: Before I can form any rational scheme of action under this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide, whether, after our present state, we are to be or not to be." In other words, Johnson thinks that the speech is really very consistent with the mounting action in the play. Hamlet, in his view, has come to a point where he must decide whether he is willing to put his life on the line, as he surely must, in order to attack the king. The linchpin of this question is -- after we die, do we continue to exist, or do we stop existing? To be, or not to be. If we simply stop existing, certainly the risk is worth the comfort of oblivion. But if, in the hereafter, we retain our minds, our sensibilities, we must pause before leaping into so uncertain, so potentially horrific a fate.
(Foolish busybodies do not usually become chief advisors to warrior-kings.)Polonius launches into a verbose speech about finding thecause of madness, prompting the queen to tell him to getto the point ("More matter with less art"; the queen actuallycares about Hamlet.) He reads a love letter from Hamlet.
Hamlet: Major Themes | Critical Essays | CliffsNotes
Polonius notes in an aside (a movie directorwould use a voice-over), "Though this be madness, yet there ismethod in it" -- another famous line often misquoted.
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When reading Hamlet, most people jump to basic conclusions about Hamlets madness without delving into what the actual cause is, but using the psychoanalytic lens can give readers a better understanding of Hamlet’s insanity.
Notable Quotes in Hamlet - Shakespeare Navigators
Claudius even instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort Hamlet to England because "it [is not] safe with us/To let his madness range" (III, iii, 1-2). Essentially, each supporting character questions Hamlet's sanity, and most conclude he is indeed mad.
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Harold Bloom has suggested that despite his protestations of his dead father's greatness, Hamlet did not really have a very happy household growing up. His father was, indeed, a great military ruler, off conquering and governing conquered lands. Bloom suggests that the closest thing Hamlet had to an affectionate father was likely Yorick, the court jester, from whom he likely learned his excellent wit, his macabre sense of humor, and many more of his most Hamlet-esque characteristics. We need not go so far to see the strange mixture of affection and disgust that Yorick's skull give rise to in Hamlet. This is a moment of pure and deep contemplation of death. The fact of mortality is, so to speak, staring Hamlet in the face. Yorick's skull is a very powerful memento mori, a reminder of death -- no matter how much you try to stave off aging, Hamlet says, you're inevitably doomed to be like Yorick, a dirty and lipless skull buried in the ground, forgotten by all but the gravediggers. This sort of reminder was quite common in the Renaissance, with its plagues and its widespread starvation. Death was much more familiar to them than it is to us. Nevertheless, despite our modern dreams of scientific immortality, the universal truth of this final destination still holds.
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You might decide that Hamlet, knowing that his behavior is going to beabnormal because he is under stress, wants to mislead the court into thinkinghe is simply nuts rather than bent on revenge.