intent of "to be or not to be" : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

Do the other characters, (Claudius, Polonius, and Ophelia) hear Hamlet's "to be or not to be..."? If so, was Hamlet saying this to make the others think he was mad?

-- katja (, February 06, 2002


What a very good question. I always wondered about the first part of it.

The most common view is that Hamlet knows by the end of the scene that Polonius at least is listening to him. People think this is why he suddenly asks Ophelia where her father is, indicating he has just worked out that Polonius is listening. There is no sure indication that he ever knows Claudius is listening, although lines 149-151 might indicate that he suspects ("I say we will ahve no moe marriage. Those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are"). And Hamlet only sees Ophelia at 'Soft you now, the fair Ophelia', after "To be ...". So he isn't saying it to make them think he is mad, because he doesn't know any of them are there at the time he is saying it.

But do all or any of them hear it? I honestly doubt it. I think the idea is that he is thinking it, though of course the actor has to speak it aloud for the audience's benefit.

For a textual indication I would take Claudius' lines III.i.165-166, "... what he spake, though it lacked form a little,/ Was not like madness." "To be or not to be ..." is certainly not like madness; but equally it most absolutely not lacking in form. It is a masterpiece of form, both in the logical progression of Hamlet's thoughts and in his rhetorical style. It is only when Hamlet becomes upset with Ophelia that his form suffers, and it is this that Claudius and Polonius certainly hear.

Actually, I don't think even Polonius could think Hamlet mad if he heard this speech.

-- catherine england (, February 07, 2002.

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