From the Archives- The Application of Shakespeare’s “To Be or Not to Be”

In Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy from the play “Hamlet”, the main character, Hamlet, is racked with despair, and is questioning whether or not the unknown world beyond death will be easier to bear than the current life. Hamlet is in such despair that he is contemplating whether or not he should continue to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, or if he should “take arms against a sea of troubles”, by possibly committing suicide. However, Hamlet is unsure of whether or not he should act on his wish to end the pain he is suffering, because he is unsure what will await him in the afterlife in that “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns”.

While every sentient being suffers in one form or another, it appears to be a uniquely human characteristic to wish, or at least look forward to death. Many people turn to the concept of the afterlife presented in their religion to such an extent that they cease to truly live in this current stage of life. For example, some Christians look so forward to the day when Jesus Christ will appear in his prophesized second coming, that they are constantly trying to interpret every disaster as some sign of the upcoming Rapture and Armageddon. Other people are so disheartened with the world around them that they buy into the newest doomsday prophesy that the world is soon to be destroyed.

For thousands of years people have been awaiting the end of the world, yet this planet has continued spin its way through space in its orbit around the sun. Whether you are simply depressed, or looking forward to the end of this life, or this world, you are not truly living.

I liken depression and unhappiness with this life to an allegory of a person who has lived their entire life in a locked room. The person in this room wishes to leave the room (be happy), yet they have been conditioned to believe that escape is hopeless and that the only real happiness will come when they die, or the room is destroyed. Therefore, they live their life by going through the motions and wishing for the day that they will finally find release in death, or at least the destruction of the room. One day the person becomes adamant that they will leave this room and be happy. When they approach the door that they have been conditioned to believe was permanently locked, they discover that the key to the door is hanging right by the door, they must merely insert the key into the lock and they will be freed. In the same way each of us already possess the keys to happiness, we must merely choose to use the keys that we already possess.

The key is to make the decision to truly “be” instead of focusing on “not to be”. This mystery of life, which is a divine gift from the creator, is full of love and happiness. The key is to tap into this love and happiness, live in the now, and choose to truly experience the joy of living, instead of focusing on the negative aspects. While there are truly tragic events in our lives, such as the loss of a loved one, many of the negative aspects in our lives are manifestations of our own psyche. For example, disliking a person is a manifestation of your psyche, because that person is not a “bad” person to everyone, they are loved by someone. disliking your job is a manifestation of your psyche, because you have the choice to not do that job, and work somewhere else, and many people would be grateful to simply have a job. Disliking your current situation in life is a manifestation of your psyche, because you have the ability to change your situation if you choose to do so, although making the necessary change may not be easy.

Practical Tip: Focus on love instead of focusing on negative aspects such as anger, jealousy, or envy. The teaching to focus simply on love is universal and has been taught by the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and many other religious founders and leaders. Just as Jesus taught to “turn the other cheek” rather than the old testament “eye for an eye”, if an unfavorable situation or feeling presents itself, attempt to show love and not let that situation or feeling control you. You cannot always control what happens to you, but you can always control how you react to the situation.

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: 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 fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary 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 enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.

- Shakespeare, “Hamlet” 1601

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2 Responses

  1. Dwayne says:

    Reblogged this on SkiDaddy and commented:
    Thought provoking, Thank you.

  2. Rainee says:

    Thanks for this post. I shared it on my Facebook page. I have always connected to Hamlet and the words in this speech.

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