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What was [Hamlet] on about? – On the ‘undiscovered country’ of death, ‘from which no traveller returns’

To be or not to be, that is the question…

So what was Shakespeare’s Hamlet on about here?

We know nothing about death (and the proof, as Jerry Seinfeld says, is that we give dead people a pillow. There is no one you can ask about it. It is the one thing, by nature of the mortality of biological organisms, that we can not do and then tell your mates about.

Hamlet considers here whether it is better to kill oneself (or kill someone else, like he aims to do to his uncle, who killed his dad and married his mum) or to live on, through all the hardships and trials, broken hearts, and countless bumps and bruises that life brings. And in the end his conclusion is that although life can suck, we don’t know anything about death, and it could suck even more. The problem is, once you do it (suicide, or end someone else’s life), there’s no coming back, for you or for them, or for you from the status of permanently being a murderer.

Here is it in full, one of the most famous, if not the most famous, monologues in history:

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.