To Be or Not To Be

In this most famous soliloquy of Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet ponders what the better option is for his future: facing his grievances, blights and adversity or ending it all, committing suicide and enter the unknown. His train of thought starts in the beginning as weighing the options and then turns into how death may be the most favorable option. This is until towards the end when he realizes that his conscience will prevent him from doing this.From the perspective of rhetorical analysis, these thoughts of Hamlet do a very good job at using logos, ethos and pathos to engage the reader. I worked with my classmate Alvin to identify where each technique is utilized.

Perhaps the most prevalent technique used throughout is pathos, which is seen nearly every line with Hamlet’s use of romantic language that creates strong images seeping with emotion. A line that most captures this emotion can be seen when Hamlet says, “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” using hyperbole to exaggerate the emotion. Additionally, Hamlet uses logos as he debates the pros and the cons of each options. A very clear example can be seen when he talks about the dread of the unknown and how “conscience does make cowards of us all,” ultimately saying that the logical argument, to stay living, is the one that makes the most sense. Finally, Hamlet appeals to ethics using ethos when he talks about the benefits of dying and making is seem appeal and even pleasant to the audience when he says, “to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” This technique makes dying seem like the better option and even appear to be not that bad.

Besides this three main techniques, Hamlet’s soliloquy progresses through the five canons of rhetorical analysis. One that I noticed was the use of disposito, or arrangement. This soliloquy is arranged in four chunks: talking about the “side effects” of living, the positives of dying, hesitation in his choice, and redeciding what to do. This arrangement favors to the appeal of death and makes it seem “nice” or favorable to the audience with visions of dreams and sleep.Ultimately, though, he comes to the realizations that death might not be the best way out during the third chunk where he hesitates his decision and then finally decides to take the “coward’s way out”.