At the point in Hamlet when this famous soliloquy takes place, Hamlet has many reasons to be questioning his existence. Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his late father, who explains that he was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, who is Hamlet’s mother’s new husband. His father cannot rest until Hamlet has gotten revenge. Hamlet’s father has just been murdered, his friends are sent to spy on him, his lover is forbidden to see him, and Hamlet feels that his life is pointless and miserable.
The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit f the unworthy takes…” These are the miseries that Hamlet must endure. This is why he makes this speech to himself, almost as if he is convincing himself that there are reasons to stay living. Most everyone in Hamlet is leading a horrible life. Hamlet’s mother has just lost a husband, his uncle is worried and guilt-stricken over the terrible crime he committed of murdering his brother, and Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover, is miserable because her half-witted father has forbidden her to see Hamlet.
This soliloquy pertanes not only to Hamlet, but to virtually all the characters in the play. All the haracters are “bear the whips and scorns” of their piteous lives. The monologue is not only relevant to the characters in Hamlet, but to all people. Many people feel at some point that their lives are not worth living. They may question if life has a purpose, and whether or not they are serving that purpose.
It is quite easy to relate to Hamlet’s feelings of woe and uncertainty. This is what makes Hamlet timeless. No matter what century, country, or person, everyone has experienced to some degree what Hamlet endured. Perhaps someone has just lost a father, or undergone a divorce. They could relate to Hamlet’s misery. They may not contemplate suicide, as is what is sometimes believed about Hamlet, but they do have questions about life, and the afterlife.
Shakespeare uses Hamlet’s feelings to express his own, as well as those of all people. Because of this, Hamlet has become a classic. Hamlet’s character represents people in all circumstances. He questions everything, and has experienced love, hate, betrayal, depression, grief, and anger. He is sometimes used to represent the Biblical view of life, to “turn the other cheek” in situations when he would like to get revenge.
As Hazlitt states, “It is we who are Hamlet. Everyone has undergone the struggle to decide whether turning the other cheek would be best, whether their life is really worth all its troubles, and what happens after death. The reoccuring themes of revenge, death, and right and wrong, can relate to anyone. People experience these things every day. Because Hamlet represents everyone, the soliloquy in which he questions his life has become extremely famous. “To be, or not to be, that is the question…” This single line in poetry has been immortalized because, in fact, that is the question.