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TOPIC: acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech

acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 4 years 6 months ago #6762

  • Justin Gray
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If Hamlet is really struggling with suicide at this point in the play why isn't this speech done in a despondent,vexed and tormented inner struggling tone of voice as opposed to a stoic semi-monotone recitation that I so often hear. Are they looking at this speech from another perspective or am I just missing something? Any responses are much appreciated.
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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 4 years 6 months ago #6765

  • Ron Severdia
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Is he really talking about suicide at this point? That's a common interpretation, but do you think it's correct?
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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 4 years 6 months ago #6766

  • Bob Matheson
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This speech cannot be about suicide. Hamlet deals with suicide at the beginning of the Play, before he meets the Ghost: Act 1 scene 2 " Or that the everlasting had not fix's his canon 'gainst self slaughter! " At this point Hamlet was closest to suicidal thoughts; " O. that this too too solid flesh would melt..." After Hamlet meets the Ghost he finds meaning and purpose to his life. Near the end of the Play when speaking to Horatio he is still of the same mind about death: Act 5 scene 2 " If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come - the readiness is all." With these and many other lines there is no indication of suicidal thoughts anywhere in the Play. So what could the speech " to be or not to be " be speaking of? In Esoteric Literature there are many indications of a higher life possible for a human being; call it enlightenment, the Kingdom of Heaven, Samadhi, or what you will. Also there are many references to man being asleep. The context must be taken into account. Humans could be considered asleep to a much higher state of consciousness. In comparison with each other people are not asleep. Hamlet could be referring to 'being' in a higher state of consciousness: " to be, or not to be" With the line " to die : to sleep " take out the colon and you have the phrase ' to die to sleep'. Perhaps to die to the lower state of mankind. The speech could refer to our state of consciousness; and the possibilities and difficulties associated with striving towards a higher level. In the accounts of Saints of all traditions there are stories of incredible struggles to attain ' enlightenment'. " to take up arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them " If there is not a higher state possible for mankind then what have all Esoteric teachings been about, which have been connected with mankind since the beginning? Hamlet spoke of this life and eternity: Act 1 scene 4: " I do not set my life in a pin's fee, And for my soul - what can it do to that, Being a thing immortal as itself?"
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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 4 years 6 months ago #6767

  • Annette Schmitter
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In the Play “Hamlet“the meaning of “Death” is a central topic. There are several scenes in which death plays a special part.
Especially in Act 1, Scene 5 when Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, we read – and hear in theatre – that the old King Hamlet was:

”… Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d, No reck’ning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head.”

His sudden death and his existence as a ghost between life and eternity (or an existence after death) caused by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, signifies the most feared form of an existence after death in Shakespeare’s time: to atone in the Purgatory for not repented sins in life.
If we consider this aspect, Claudius committed the most malicious murder, people could imagine, as the ghost of King Hamlet explains (Act 1, Scene 5):

”…Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatch’d, Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, …, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head. O horrible! O horrible! most horrible!”

In this scene the ghost describes his horrible existence:

”Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confin’d to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature, Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison- house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word Would harrow up thy soul, ..”

The ghost’s speech ends:
“ Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.”
This is Hamlet’s central theme. He writes - and tells us in Act 1, Scene 5:
” … Now to my word. It is “Adieu, adieu, remember me”. I have sworn’t.”

The development of the further Play depends on this main topic, I think.
What does it mean for the human being: “Death” and “Sleep” in contrast to “Life” in a material, realistic sense now and here on this world and in a mental, a philosophical, an esoteric or another incorporeal sense in another existence?
Hamlet discusses the topic in his soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1:

“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 – 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 – there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller 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 lose the name of action:”

Hamlet knows that he can not avoid his central theme of his life: to remember his father’s fate and to revenge his father’s death. Not to accept his fate: to live and act until his death, about which he has not to decide, would probably mean to suffer the same existence as his father.
I think, he does not really “decide” to live or to die in the meaning of thinking about committing suicide, but he accepts his mission.
I think this monologue is Hamlet’s self- reflection of his position, his standpoint and it explains Hamlet’s further (re-)action.
I imagine it is a more calm speech, weighing up the possibilities of existence as a basis for Hamlets later actions in the Play.

Annette Schmitter
Last Edit: 4 years 6 months ago by Annette Schmitter.
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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 4 years 6 months ago #6769

  • Bob Matheson
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In Shakespeare there is much to think about. It requires our participation; thinking on our own. As with the Bible for example there is far more in it than is necessary for story-telling. More questions arise the more you study. This challenge to, and growth of our thinking seems to be one of the central aims of Esoteric writings. The situations used in the Plays relate directly to our own lives, to the questions which we all have, and do not quite know how to think about. Our times appear to be heading in the direction of seeing this life as the principle object; rather than eternity.
To me the Play Hamlet centres around the line " I do not set my life at a pin's fee, and for my soul, what can it do to that, Being a thing immortal as itself? " 1:4:65 Hamlet speaks of this all throughout the Play; that he does not care for this life. For example: " Denmark's a prison... then is the world one...A goodly one; in which there are many confines " 2:2:240 In other esoteric writings this world is referred to as a prison, the prison being the limits of our mind, rather than physical walls. There is a wonderful speech referring to this in Shakespeare's Play, Richard II 5:5 " I have been studying how I may compare this prison where I live unto the world..." Well worth reading.
Hamlet was concerned with his soul, with the implication that we have an immortal part as well as a temporary condition, as humans. To quote: " All the world's a stage, and the men and women merely players " ( As You Like It 2:7 ) or (" I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano, A stage where every man must play his part... " The Merchant of Venice 1:1. ) In all of the Plays there is a reference to our inner life or soul, that which we brought unto this world, this " Stage of fools " and which we will leave with.
Hamlet could give up all in his quest for truth and the overcoming of the false. He gives up the beauteous Ophelia and all that this life represented, yet he says " I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers, if you added all their love together, couldn't match mine. " 5:1 Hamlet suggested that Ophelia should enter a nunnery. As you said Hamlet wanted to avoid the fate of his father, which was a kind of limbo, but perhaps he meant this life in general; Hamlet says " What should such fellows as I do, crawling between heaven and earth " 3:1:127 Or we may ask with the Duke in Measure for Measure " what's yet in this That bears the name of life?" 3:1

This is not to suggest that we should be depressed about our life. Shakespeare certainly did not give this impression, quite the contrary. The point is that we can see this life as a means in itself or a possibility to learn, to grow, and to care for our soul, which is a thing " immortal as itself " .

How could we understand what Hamlet meant when he said to Leartes; " by the image of my cause I see The portraiture of his " Act 5 scene 2 Hamlet killed Leartes' father, as Claudius killed Hamlet's father. I never understood this line about image and portraiture.

Bob Matheson
Last Edit: 4 years 6 months ago by Bob Matheson.
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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 2 years 10 months ago #7024

  • Gary
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I have often thought myself, that apart from a monologue that simply "helps the play to move along" (where Hamlet is summarising that he started off by thinking of suicide, but now has decided against it...yet in the back of his mind he still has those thoughts but wouldn't go ahead with it), this could be taken in an entirely different perspective which I am hoping to trial myself.

I know that with the line "Soft you now, the fair Ophelia.." this is the point when Ophelia enters, but what if the start of this speech is treated as a new section, with her on stage the entire time? She has taken a turn through this play, gradually becoming more insane before committing suicide. Perhaps, speaking from experience, and a love for her, he is actually talking directly to her - "I know what you're going through, I've been there myself" as his inner monologue, and tries to dis-sway her "LOSE the name of action". Not wanting to come to terms with what he has said, she simply changes the subject.

A different take, I know...but it makes sense to me! This can also be played with a variety of tones, like being soft, warm and welcoming on all points to life, whilst hard and firm on the points of death. Really driving in the "lose the name of action", as an implicit instruction. She can start to react strongly to this, where he calms her back down with "soft you now..."

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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 2 years 9 months ago #7089

  • Gary
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Reading the original "To be or not to be, I, there's the point" speech from the 1603 First Quarto - it appears to me even more that this can be spoken to Ophelia - considering her and Hamlet are both on stage throughout...coupled with the end of the page when she finds out that Hamlet never loved her in the first place...

It is an interesting read, and for a short monologue it's a great take on a famous speech!
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acting choices for the "To be or not to be" speech 2 years 9 months ago #7092

  • Bob Matheson
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The Play Hamlet, like all of Shakespeare's Plays may be taken from the esoteric point of view. All true religions could be taken as esoteric ; with the idea that humans have a possibility of development. What this may mean could only be understood by entering a real " Way " . We may agree or disagree with this, however the fact remains that spiritual paths have existed on earth in one form or another as long as humans have. Science recognizes that we only use a small percentage of our brain capacity. We may take this to mean that we are lazy in terms of our potential, or it could mean that we were designed with far more possibilities. A woman is designed to exist with or without bearing children. The analogy with our intellectual and emotional possibilities may hold. Some esoteric schools are open and accessible , while others have been secret and difficult to find for one reason or another. I feel strongly that Shakespeare was a spokesperson for a school which existed up until his time, and the ideas of this school were put in the form of the Plays. There is far too much in the Plays that is inexplicable from the point of view of story telling , as there is with the Bible. I have studied esoteric traditions for many years and the similarity of ideas is unmistakeable. All of this to preface my comments on Hamlet.
Following the line that the Plays are connected with different aspects of human nature and possible inner growth we could logically place Hamlet on a very advanced step. He has had contact with the supernatural and has a definite task to perform. Hamlet wants to verify the source of the ideas from the ghost; which is an esoteric principle. From Act 2 scene 2 : " The ghost I saw may be the devil " The turmoil that Hamlet feels throughout the Play is entirely justified from the point of view of the risk and the weakness of our capacities as humans. Macbeth follows a similar theme with the dangers of the " riddles and affairs of death " spoken of by Hecate in Act 3 scene 5. We may take the idea of murdering King Claudius in a literal or allegorical sense ; the choice is ours, as it is with the Bible and all esoteric writings. It may be connected with a part of ourselves which cannot continue to exist if we want to ascend inwardly.
I do not think that there is a single scene in Shakespeare's Plays which ' helps the Play move along '.
I am often struck by the concise nature of each scene in the Plays.
Hamlet certainly loved Ophelia. From Act 5 scene 1 : " Forty thousand brothers Could not with all their quantity of love Make up my sum " However , keeping with the idea of inner development, Hamlet may have had to sacrifice a life of domestic bliss for something higher, as a Monk would. A quote from the Play Measure for Measure may be connected Act 1 scene 3 : " Believe not that the dribbling dart of love Can pierce a complete bosom " Hamlet was very advanced in his inner development from the beginning of the Play : consider his speech to the soldiers on the platform in Act 1 scene 3 beginning with " Ay, marry , is't " he is not idle in his mind at all , and has profound things to say in the few moments of waiting on the platform. We see Hamlet's depth of character in many of his speeches.
Hamlet is not satisfied with this life : from Act 1 scene 2 : " How weary , stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world ! " Would not a ' votarist ' such as a Monk feel this before entering upon a real spiritual path ? Again from Measure for Measure Act 5 scene 1 : " Sirrah, thou art said to have a stubborn soul, That apprehends no further than this world, And squar'st thy life according. "
So we may say that Hamlet is already quite far advanced on the Spiritual path and needs to overcome a particular obstacle. He cannot live a 'normal' life with Ophelia; he urges her to go into a nunnery. Ophelia is very ' normal ' , all too human. One of her lines which I find defines her is in Act 3 scene 2 : " I think nothing my lord " She did not take Hamlet's advice and retire to a nunnery and the intensity of the situation drove her mad.
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