Skull and Words


"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

~Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2

2B, or... not?Edit

First, let's start with an important fact: At no point in the play does Hamlet ever hold a skull while saying the words, "To be, or not to be." That never happens. So why does every person everywhere seem to think that this is the case? Why does every aspiring actor hold out one hand (as if holding a skull) whenever he or she wants to be taken seriously? Why does the line "To be, or not to be: that is the question" remain one of the most famous sentences in the English language? We hope these pages may offer some answers to those questions.

Admitting life is hard...Edit

For more than 400 years, critics have argued about the source of Hamlet's grief, or as Polonius calls it, "The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy." (Act II, Scene 2, line 49). Hamlet certainly has plenty of reasons to be sad: by the end of Act I, Hamlet's father has been buried, his mother Gertrude has married his uncle Claudius, his father come back as a host to claim that he was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet's girlfriend Ophelia has broken up with him, he has dropped out of boarding school, and his native Denmark is preparing for all-out war against Norway. Not exactly a good trip home.

However, Hamlet's grief (and eventual madness) seems to have a more profound set of causes. At first, Hamlet wants to act crazy--he plans to trick his uncle by pretending to be insane. He is also undeniably depressed: he fights with his girlfriend, he accuses his old school friends of spying on him, he mocks his mother, and he stumbles around the castle Elsinore with his clothes in a mess and a crazed look on his face.