“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet
Laurence Olivier as Hamlet
To be, or not to be, it matters not.

To Shakespeare, the world is a stage, and the relationship between the play and the actor is akin to that between Life and man. He introduces a play within a play in Hamlet, so that the theatre audience may recognize the similarity. As a character, Hamlet is almost paralyzed, like a bad actor who is incapable of enacting the art of the playwright; as a playwright, he is capable of producing the desired effect in his audience, indirectly through the enactment of a better actor.

Strange to say, any respect I might have had for Hamlet turned into contempt in one instant, when he challenged Laertes to a duel over the corpse of Ophelia. His egotistic pride was cut to the quick because his “love” was “outfaced” by Laertes’ brotherly devotion. Ironically, the murder of his own father which was supposed to move him to action didn’t, but when he finally acted as “Hamlet the Dane”, it became manifest that he never was and wasn’t to be either.

Like many other Shakespearean characters, Hamlet is a rotten actor, for he plays very badly the part he is given in Life. This commonality he shares with the audience endears him to them.


I have of late — but wherefore I know not — lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
Act II Scene II

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—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;
Act III Scene I


2 thoughts on ““Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

  1. C.S. Lewis in his essay Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem argues that Hamlet is an Everyman. Yet instead of attempting to delineate a character Lewis urges us to “surrender ourselves to the poetry and situation,” as it’s for their sake that the characters exist. I have to give both this essay and the play a re-read …. so much to chew on …..

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