The monologue that begins with the line “To be, or not to be, that is the question,” (Shakespeare 50) is by far the ideal one to quote from the third act. It is by far the most important and most significant line in the entire scene. It is a line that has cascaded the eons of time to remain relevant even in the speeches of today. To be, or not to be, is a line that was uttered by Hamlet himself in a soliloquy. He was musing on the benefits vis-à-vis the pains of actually being alive. It is a monologue that bears significance not only on the play but also on the entirety of life in general. In the monologue. As he carries on in his monologue, he actually debates whether it is better to actually be alive or to just take one’s own life and, therefore, not have to bear the pangs of living. He questions the nobility of suffering the turmoils of life which are inflicted so deeply in the mind that one cannot recover, or whether it would actually be better to just sleep, to sleep in death. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer, The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” or “Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;” (Shakespeare 50) He goes on with his monologue which is more of an internal debate by outlining that so long a life is a calamity of epic proportion occasioned by the wrong of the proud, the consummation of the proud, the “pangs of despised love” and the insolence of office (Shakespeare 50). Yet, he muses, people still make the choice to continue with the struggles and calamities of life because death remains uncertain. The unknown makes us all rather bear the ills of life than to take our own lives, conscience makes cowards of us all.
With regards to the relationships that the characters have in relation to each other, Gertrude is depicted as having a subservient relationship to her husband and king Claudius. She obeys him even when he asks that she may leave. Her response to his request that she leaves them to observe the conduct of Hamlet was simply, “I shall obey you” (Shakespeare 79). She then goes on to give some words of advice to Ophelia about Hamlet. It is from this dialogue that we are able to gauge her feelings towards Ophelia. Gertrude says to Ophelia that may her good looks be the cause of the “madness” that seemed to have struck Hamlet. She then tells her that her good manners should be the cause of his restoration to sanity. In this instance Gertrude shows care to Ophelia that is not dissimilar to that of a mother. She has paternal instincts imbued in her. She wishes Ophelia good fortune but also cautions her, in a rather clever way, that she needs to be well-behaved so that the merits of her conduct should be the cause of Hamlet’s restoration to sanity. That brings to account the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. Ophelia is positively inclined towards Hamlet yet she is hesitant of showing it to him. Hamlet himself is desperately in love with Ophelia and does not comprehend why his love will not be reciprocated. He is bitter about that turn of events and this bitterness is partly the cause of his ill-treatment of her. His love for her and his bitterness as a result of apparent rejection is shown in the line, “Pangs of despised love” Shakespeare 50).
The resonant quote in act 4 is uttered by Hamlet. He says, “Besides, to be demanded of a sponge! What, replication should be made by the son of a king?” (Shakespeare 86) it is interesting the way he tells it to Rosencrantz. Hamlet calls him a sponge to represent the relationship and eventual fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with relation to the King. He uses the sponge as a symbol and even explains it when the former of the pair does not understand why Hamlet calls him a sponge. He states that Rosencrantz soaks up the authority, countenance and rewards of the king in a similar fashion that a sponge would soak up a liquid like water. He is an officer of the king and does the best service for the king at the time of his use just like a sponge does in soaking up water from the wet surface when it is needed to. However, in the end, the holder of the sponge keeps the power. When the king no longer has use for Rosencrantz, he will surely wring him dry just like the sponge he is. Hamlet might have been deemed demented at the time but made complete sense. The officer of the king was simply that, an officer of the king. The king owed him no loyalty or favors and used him as he deemed fit. Claudius would use the duo to do his dirty work and send them on errands that he did not necessarily want to be associated with. From their relation with the king, they acquired a small amount of authority and power. They also attained gifts of good will from the king. Admittedly, however, at the end of the day, Rosencrantz and his companion, Guildenstern, were completely expendable and their positions could be taken up at any time. At the end of the day, they did not have any real powers and only acted on the bidding of the King. It was an interesting metaphor resonated by Hamlet.
What I found interesting in the play was the reactions of King Claudius to the actions of Hamlet. It is the reaction of a man fraught with guilt for his own actions but too hesitant to admit the same. His guilt leads him to want the death of Hamlet or at least a reprimand because he understands that Hamlet’s madness is a result of his action to cause the death of the king and then take up his wife, Hamlet’s mother. When he hears that Hamlet has killed Polonius and has hidden his body, his reactions is tailored to represent that of a concerned father. The reaction is mostly because the queen is present. He says, “This mad young man: but so much was our love,” (Shakespeare 90) implying that it was the great affection they had for Hamlet that led them to take no action. Yet it is clear that he has no love for Hamlet because in the next scene he actually orders for the punishment of Hamlet. Therein he says, “Yet must not we put the strong law on him:” (Shakespeare 98) His reactions to the actions of Hamlet are based on the audience near him.
Shakespeare, William. Tragedy of Hamlet, prince of Denmark. SR Winchell & Company, 1885.