To Be Or.. As A Characterization Of Hamlet Hamlet’s classsic To be or not to be..(Hamlet, prince of Denmark, 3.1.57) speech really shows who he is. Obviously Hamlet is horribly depressed. We have already seen several examples of this, but this speech gives us a clear picture of his sadness. More importantly however, his speech shows his weakness and indecisiveness.
Hamlet is consistently melancholy, but he never really acts on it; he just kind of wallows around, full of self-pity and loathing. Finally, it gives us Hamlet’s reason for not committing suicide. Throughout the play he seems to wish for death and here we find out why he doesn’t bring it on himself. This also gives us a window into his personality. This speech provides us with a clear understanding of Hamlet and his motivations. Hamlet is seriously in need of some Prozac. He says in this speech, flat out: To die, to sleep-.’Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.(3.1.69-72).
He feels that his troubles and his heartache are to to much to deal with. While this speech is not the first time he has mentioned suicide, it does give the clearest picture of just how far gone he is. He seems to be weary of life, as he consistently says to sleep while refering to death. As though he only wishes to rest and forget his troubled soul. We see here for the first time why he wants to die.
It is not that he feels there is too much pain or strife in life, but that he is tired with dealing with it and exausted by his efforts. Hamlet says in this speech, in as plain of language as he can, that he is depressed and wants to die. But, he has said that before. This speech gives us our first clear indication as to his reason for craving death. More interestingly, Hamlet shows here his fundamental cowardice and fear.
He has been going on for the whole play about how terrible his life is and how much pain and suffering he has had to endure, and he starts out the speech on this note. This is the first indication of his weakness. Hamlet it seems would rather bemoan his troubles than solve them. He goes on and on about his crappy life but rarely, if ever, even tries to do anything about it. Even in his desire for death he will speak but not act. He has wished for ceath at least ten times during the play, but when it comes right down to it Hamlet is to scared to act on his desire.
He doesn’t decide against suicide because of some noble realization (that life is far to precious to be wasted for example), he is just too scared of the afterlife. Hamlet, in the play up to this point, claims to be in dire straits but his paralyzing fear keeps him from action. He would rather suffer with his situation for fear that his actions to make it better would make it worse: And makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of(3.1.82-83). Hamlet’s motivation for wanting to die and also for remaining alive gives some of the best insight into his personality. In this speech Hamlet elects not to kill himself and discovers why he has not yet done it.
Hamlet is a very seriously disturbed, depressed guy. He says clearly that he is in great pain but more than that he is weary of his life and that is why he wants to die. He has grown tired of the day to day struggle to survive and that, not his problems themselves is why he desires death. His reason for choosing life over death is also shown here. He is too afraid of the unknown, of the undiscovered country (3.1.80) to act on his desire.
Perhaps this second reason is a result of the first? It is not so much that he is afraid to act, just that he has become so despondant that he doesn’t really care enough to do anything. This speech, especially the reasons it defines for his desires and actions, shows us what goes on inside Hamlet’s head. It shows us why he wants to die and also why he chooses to remain alive. The process behind these desires defines Hamlet and allows us to make generalizations about his motivations. All of his actions thoughout the play, up through the end of the story, can be viewed as a consequence of his despondence and cowardice.
Hamlet lays out in this speech exactly what kind of person he is. Shakespeare.