So I’m writing up a piece on Hamlet, and I’m talking about Hamlet’s opportunity to kill Claudius and his decision and reason for not doing so (“And so he goes to heaven, and so am I revenged…“)
This happens in Act 3, Scene 3.
And then I realized something. In Act 3, Scene 1 we got his famous “To be, or not to be…..” speech. Isn’t the primary theme of that one that we have absolutely no idea what happens to us after we die? The whole “what dreams may come” thing, the “undiscovered country” and all that? Those unknowns, he’s just successfully argued, are the things that should “give us pause.”
So two scenes later he sees a quick trip to heaven as a reward that Claudius doesn’t deserve, and it is his desire to keep this reward from Claudius that gives him pause. I realize that part of the former has more to do with suicide, but even if that was the table (if the Almighty had not fixed his canon against self-slaughter), he’s hardly painting a rosy picture of what to expect on the other side.
Can we reconcile these two ideas, or is this just one of several times where Hamlet knows what he wants, and then justifies it to himself by talking through it? He’s personally afraid to die, so we get “to be or not to be.” He doesn’t want to run the risk of sending Claudius to his eternal reward, however, so we get “and so he goes to heaven.”
(Reading this back, the first and more famous speech ends up sounding a bit like sour grapes, doesn’t it? “Life’s a real pain, but I don’t really get an option of doing anything about it, so you know what? I bet it’s probably not so great. After all what do we really know, you know?”)