For my final look at famous quotations from the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) as the 400th anniversary of his death approaches (on April 23), here are some famous speeches and smaller quotations from “Hamlet.”
Among the smallest is one that needs to be short:
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
— Act II, Scene 2
If these weekly posts have you muttering “The play’s the thing” and not quite knowing why, here’s help:
“The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
— Act II, Scene 2
But both the most familiar and the most misquoted speech in Hamlet is known as “Hamlet’s soliloquy.” It gets misused for just about anything that can be considered a question, or anything that has to do with sleep — but it’s worth remembering that when this speech occurs, Hamlet is considering being or not being: suicide.
“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 heartache 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.”
It has given me pause as I contemplate the quotations in this series of posts to consider that their author has been “off this mortal coil” for nearly 400 years. I hope that you’ve enjoyed considering his work along with me.
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