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When Your Clowns Speak[]

Hamlet ... And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too; though, in the mean time, some necessary question of the play be then to be considered...

What is the necessary question of Hamlet? When the “clowns speak”, it is “then to be considered.”

First Clown
Give me leave. Here lies the water; good: here stands the man; good; if the man go to this water, and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes,--mark you that; but if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself: argal, he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.
Second Clown
But is this law?
First Clown
Ay, marry, is't; crowner's quest law.

["Crowner's quest" means "coronor's inquest" but it is also a pun on "a crown prince's question" - "to be or not to be"

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

If Hamlet took arms against the king (a sea of troubles), he would very likely lose his own life in the attempt. Such an action might be considered suicide, which would cost Hamlet his soul. However if he waits for the king to initiate the attack (if the water come to him), then he is not guilty of his own death. The king didn’t try to kill Hamlet until after Hamlet tried to kill the king (but killed Polonius by mistake). In the end, Hamlet killed the king only after the King had indirectly killed Hamlet (via Laertes’ poisoned sword).

Before we leave the clowns, let’s dig a little deeper.

How long hast thou been a grave-maker?
First Clown
Of all the days i' the year, I came to't that day that our last king Hamlet overcame Fortinbras.
How long is that since?
First Clown
Cannot you tell that? every fool can tell that: it was the very day that young Hamlet was born

Was this then Hamlet's "inheritance" - a graveyard?

Hamlet (standing over a grave)
The very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?

To be or not to be -- what? That is the question. After Horatio had explained that the impending war was caused by a duel over land fought by Hamlet's father, whose ghost they had just seen, Bernardo replied:

I think it be no other but e'en so:
Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch; so like the king
That was and is the question of these wars.

To be or not to be... so like the king that was and is the question of these wars - that is Hamlet’s dilemma.

See also Motifs in Hamlet

--Ray Eston Smith Jr 15:21, 15 March 2007 (UTC)