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Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Discussion, Part IV (Act 3)

The most famous speech in the play, perhaps in all of English literature, appears in Act Three. The question is about suicide. Hamlet’s pattern of thought now brings him to this. In the first act when he speaks of suicide, he decides not, it is against God’s law. Now he considers the act. Now dealing with an abstract question. There is nothing that is good or bad but only thinking makes it so. There is no pattern to life, only fortune, whimsy, and change. Hamlet cannot act because he believes in nothing. Hamlet gives voice to the turmoil in Shakespeare’s own life. He himself was overwhelmed, full of doubt, was not sure what to believe. He was on the verge of loosing balance. This is the playwright working it out in art. When Hamlet rebukes Ophelia, he severs his last link with sanity. Shakespeare used virtuous women in his tragedies for the spiritual health of the men. Hamlet’s treatment of her is the mark of how far he has fallen. This act is the center of the play, where the climax takes place. For the fist half of the play, there is thought without action. Now there is action without thought.

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