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 wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, 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:
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? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
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 pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action.
This is probably the most famous soliloquy of any Shakespearean play. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has learned that his uncle conspired with the Queen to have his father killed, and replaced on the throne. Throughout the play, Hamlet struggles with his own sanity, though scholars argue over just how much of that is façade, and how much is not. Here, he contemplates a potential course of action to his ongoing troubles – that of suicide.
What is the point of life, after all? Why should we suffer the indignities, the bare cruelties, the blind injustices foisted upon us? Why, indeed, should we even fight against them, when death will regardless claim us in the end? Perhaps unusual for the time, Hamlet questions the existence of the afterlife, contemplating that traditional threat of eternal immolation and pitchforkery in the Catholic Hell, while noting with bitter irony that, as one ages, a person’s sins must naturally accumulate against their favor.
It is conscience, or thought, that Hamlet decides is the ultimate barrier to bold action. Freed from those chains, it can be possible to accomplish so much more. So much more. To wit, the solution he proposes to whatever one’s demons or fleeting doubts one might struggle with, those which would perceived rejoice at committing that final act of self-betrayal, might very well be to state with absolute conviction: “Fuck you all, I’m doing this anyway!” And then proceed on the much more difficult path toward deliverance.
It is not always easy to do what one believes to be the right course of action, and at times there might be very little encouragement from any corner of your world. Sometimes, no matter how undesirable, the course is set and must be followed through to the end. That said, a little help can go a long way.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
[ For Toastmasters Speech #6: Vocal Variety ]