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Metaphor in Hamlet

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  • March 2005
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Metaphor in Hamlet

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III scene 1, Hamlet's soliloquy of "To be or not to be" is full of metaphors that bring the various themes of the play together. One of the primary themes of the play is Hamlet's uncertainty of action and inability to decide how to cope with the problems he faces. In Hamlet's soliloquy, Hamlet metaphorically discusses his indecisiveness about the importance of continuing his life and asks himself "whether ‘tis nobler of the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing them, end them." Hamlet wonders whether it is worth facing all his problems ("slings and arrows of outrageous fortune") or to commit suicide ("and by opposing them, end them.") Hamlet metaphorically compares the problems of his life to "slings and arrows" and to a "sea of troubles."

A second theme in Hamlet is Hamlet's depression and belief that his life is full of troubles and hardships. When Hamlet lists the obstacles in life, he is ready with far too many examples. He refers to "th' oppressors wrong, the proud man's contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law's delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of th' unworthy takes." In Hamlet's depression, even everyday things become painful and terrible. He refers to love as "pangs of despised love," making the beauty of love a metaphor for pain and torment. He is angered by trivial things such as "the law's delay" (the slowness of justice) and he sees insolence in seemingly harmless things, such as holding office ("the insolence of office.") Hamlet's comments about the worthlessness of the world around him give the reader a glimpse into his tortured psyche.

Another theme of the play is Hamlet's obsession with death and the afterlife, brought about by his father's untimely death and his own doubts concerning whether or not life is worth living. He metaphorically compares death to...

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