Revisiting Hamlet

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"Writing, on the other hand, stays there- "down in black and white."  Once we get it on paper it takes on a life of its own, separate from the writer. It "commits us to paper." It can be brought back to haunt us: read in a different context from the one we had in mind.' 136 WM Elbow

Elbow, I believe, is speaking about one of the downsides and beauties of writing. We can never know what the author truly meant to say in his story; we may try and deliberate, settling on one conclusion, but someone can always come along and blow your theory out of the water. Even though this quote is at the beginning of the essay, it has sparked in me a debate I'd like to revisit:  that of Hamlet.

Last semester, I was taking both Form and Analysis 1 and Writing about Literature. At the same time, we were reading Hamlet. A discovery I made about the dear prince in F & A lead me to a great argument in my research paper in W.A.L. (a short summary is the following):

Most of us have read Hamlet, so I don't think there is a need to recap the story. During Act 3, scene 1, Hamlet delivers the famous "To be or Not to be" speech. If I were to ask you what the speech was about, you'd probably say suicide. However, I didn't think that so.

For instance, what exactly are the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?' 

"Hamlet's father is dead. The lust and greediness that drove Claudius to his actions, the sexual passion that led Gertrude to the wedding...and the answering demands for revenge" are the unpredicted events that have befallen our hero (Fisher 5).

Hamlet has a chance to correct a great injustice. But, he knows that he also might die; if not during the process, then afterward (you don't get away with killing such a high profile individual).

Hamlet is also scared of what will happen after death: no one knows what is to come, since none have been able to come back and tell us. Human suffering is awful, but it is familiar. So is it better to stay suffering, yet always knowing what is to come?

"Taking arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them" means that Hamlet has to fight against all those previously mentioned issues. Fighting would mark him for death, though. The question is not "to be or not to be”, but is whether Hamlet is willing to die to correct and injustice. Is it better for him to sacrifice himself for the common good or to live amongst tragedy? So, although it is true that Hamlet was speaking about killing himself, it was not suicide. Suicide is a much more cowardly term. Self-sacrifice is far nobler. Going into the swordfight with Laertes, not only does he know that he is himself a bad fighter (as Laertes also), but that Claudius is up to something ("I shall win at the odds. But though wouldst not think how ill’s all here about my heart.V.ii.195-196). Hamlet decides to fight anyway. He knows he is past the point of no return.


Some may say that Hamlet went mad with grief over his father’s death and mother’s hasty marriage to his usurping uncle. It could also be said that Hamlet, not mad to begin with, finally cracked under the pressure of the daunting task before him. And it is also possible that Hamlet sacrificed himself. All of these interpretations of Hamlet’s character are possible. The evidence is there in the text. It all depends on how the reader interprets it.


Now, I bet your interpretation of Hamlet was completely different than mine. That is the beauty of the written word. Of course, different interpretations might anger the author because he may have been trying to make a specific point and there is no guarantee we got it. I suppose that is why people go to readings of books by authors: to see how the author intended that story to be interpreted.

Quote from:

Fisher, P. “Thinking About Killing: Hamlet and the Paths Among the Passions”. Raritan. Vol. 11 Issue 1 (summer 91): 43-78. EBSCOhost. Seton Hill University Greensburg, Penn. 22 Sept 2007. http://reeveslib.setonhill.edu:

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