To be or not to be
Hamlet is the most philosophical of all Shakespeare’s great tragedies and the soliloquy which begins “to be or not to be” is a particularly good example of this attitude. The soliloquy is so appealing, since it gives words to questions anyone, sooner or later, has asked oneself, particularly when in trouble, that is, the basic questions about life and death and the meaning we attach to them.
Hamlet is the first fictional character to voice this sort of questions and he does so in a wonderful way.
The Dark Prince stands on the threshold of modernity embodying in his gloomy restless demeanour the loss of certainties which will haunt men for centuries to come. The traditional sources of authority on basic life and death matters – religion and power, the Church and the Monarchy – are no longer reliable and everyone has to find out the right answers on his own. That’s why Hamlet’s arguing whether it is better to put an end to one’s life or endure it for fear of what one would find in the unexplored land from where nobody has ever come back, is so fascinating.
There’s no easy way out of conflict and nobody can decide on our behalf, whether the problem is to avenge our father or just to come to terms with lesser evils. Sooner or later we have to make up our mind. Hamlet himself decides in the end and, once his decision made, he acts quickly and effectively, but first he has to undergo a long and painful process in which he has to revise all his previous values and convictions and become a completely different person.
Everything has to undergo a cosmological revolution, like the one Copernicus had just brought about. And if Copernicus challenged the age long views of the way the external universe worked, in his soliloquy Hamlet challenged the age long views of the way the inner universe worked.
After both of them have trod on the stage – each in his own way - nothing can stand unchanged on Earth.