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What does "To be, or not to be: that is the question" mean?
Please explain the meaning of Shakespeare's quote "To be, or not to be: that is the question."
I believe the quote means literally what it states, that Hamlet is contemplating suicide.
You didn't study this in high school? Hamlet is contemplating whether to simply commit suicide and rid himself of the turmoil he feels in his life at that moment, or to continue living and face those trials because death represents something more terrifying and unknown. Some interpretations say Hamlet knows Polonius is eavesdropping, and so he puts on an elaborate woe-is-me act to keep Polonius and Claudius off-guard, implying the whole soliloquy has no real meaning and that Hamlet doesn't truly intend to commit suicide at all.
In the grand scheme of the play, it's not a significant line. It's merely the first line of a new scene, and it sounds real omgsodeep and omgsomysterious, so of course people latched on to it. If anything, "For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come" is a much more interesting line in terms of philosophy. "To be or not to be?" is just a pretentious way of saying "Do I wanna live or not?"
When Hamlet comes to know about the murderer of his father through the words of the ghost, he is so much confused that he does not know how to avenge the death of his father. His religious thoughts hinders his struggle to kill Claudius. That's why, he is in a state of confusion and he ponders over suicide. He asks himself as to whether he should commit suicide or not.
Good question. It always puzzled me when I was at school. But it's simple really. It just means "to live, or not to live, that is the question." Shakespeare could have said it like that if he'd wanted to but he didn't...cos he's a poet and "to be or not to be" is more pithy (but also confusing).
Shakespeare plays upon words in his plays, which makes his plays somewhat confusing.
I think the real problem is that he speaks an english that isn't spoken anymore. That's why we struggle. People who watched his pays back then wouldn't have any difficulty in understanding it.
So don't be afraid to trust your own instincts.
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