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Hamlet Soliloquy: To be, or not to be: that is the question (3.1)

No traveller returns (88)

Since Hamlet has already encountered his father's ghost this line has raised much debate. There are four major current theories regarding this line: 1) Shakespeare made an egregious error and simply failed to reconcile the appearance of the ghost and Hamlet's belief that human beings do not return; 2) Hamlet has earlier suspected that the ghost might be a devil trying to trick him (2.2.572), and therefore, at the point in the play where he delivers this soliloquy, he does not believe his father truly has returned; 3) Hamlet is referring only to human beings returning in the flesh and not as mere shadows of their former selves; 4) the entire soliloquy is misplaced and rightfully belongs before Hamlet has met his father's ghost. In my estimation, theory number four seems the most plausible in light of the many irregularities among the three extant texts of the play (for example, Hamlet's final soliloquy appears in Q2 but not in the First Folio).

I am inclined to discount theory number two simply because Hamlet would likely not be so certain that "no traveller returns" after he has proof that something exists beyond this world, whether it be the ghost of his father or an evil spirit.

Back to Soliloquy Annotations

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet Soliloquy Glossary. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < >.


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The Ghost in the Cellarage

"It has been thought that the whole of the last part of I. v., from the entrance of Horatio and Marcellus, follows the old play closely, and that Shakespeare is condescending to the groundlings. Here again, whether or no he took a suggestion from the old play, I see no reason to think that he wrote down to his public. So far as Hamlet's state of mind is concerned, there is not a trace of this. Anyone who has a difficulty in understanding it should read Coleridge's note. What appears grotesque is the part taken by the Ghost, and Hamlet's consequent removal from one part of the stage to another." A. C. Bradley. Read on...

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