We are apt to call barbarous whatever departs widely from our own taste and apprehension, but soon find the epithet of reproach retorted on us.
The centuries-old ritual is about to begin anew. In a small theater, Hamlet nears his most famous soliloquy, the immortal language of which has remained relatively stable over time, even as other elements of the play have altered. The audience shift in their seats and become still with concentration. The house lights seem to dim and the stage lights, to brighten. How will this actor’s delivery measure up to that of the thousands who have preceded him in the role? What new nuances, new emphases, will he (or occasionally she, as in the case of Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet and more recent female Hamlets) bring to the performance? In what way will this Hamlet mark the soliloquy as his own? He begins traditionally enough, but then something goes radically wrong:
To be or not to be—aye, there’s the point.
To die, to sleep—is that all? Aye, all.
To sleep, to dream—aye, marry, there it goes.
For in that dream of death, when we awake—
And borne before an everlasting judge—
From whence no passanger ever returned—
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed, damned—
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who’d bear the scorns and flattery of the world:
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor,
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wronged,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrant’s reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,