Shuffle off this mortal coil Introduction
I'm Hamlet. I'm a smart aleck with a penchant for delivering long speeches about the meaning of life. I'm pretty depressed since my dad died and my mom married my uncle. And you know what I think?
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? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life. (3.1.56-69)
Who Said It and Where
Hamlet is pretty depressed. His father just died and his mom ran off to marry his uncle Claudius the first chance she got. To make matters worse, his dear old dad's ghost showed up and told him that his uncle killed him to steal his crown. Gasp.
But Hamlet can't go around just accusing his uncle Claudius of murder and treason without any proof, now can he? What exactly would he say? "A ghost told me"? Yeah, that'll go over well.
In any case, he's in a right pickle. He debates whether he should kill his uncle to avenge his dad's death, or if he should wait and see what happens. So he hatches a little plan to make everyone think he's lost his marbles.
Sounds nuts, right? But here's the thing: it totally works. Everyone gets confused and thinks Hamlet actually has gone mad. A nobleman, Polonius, thinks it's because Hamlet's in love with Ophelia. Claudius isn't so sure. So the two men set a trap for Hamlet.
They use Ophelia as bait to get Hamlet talking. The two men will hide and wait to see what happens when Hamlet encounters Ophelia, hoping they'll be able to judge from Hamlet's interaction with her whether he's been driven mad by love, or by something else entirely. Poor Ophelia. She actually loves Hamlet and now has to lie to him.
Hearing Hamlet approach, everybody clears out so Hamlet can privately deliver one of the greatest speeches of all time. What's the question? "To be, or not to be."
In his rambling, we also learn about his preoccupation with life and death. Hamlet is basically contemplating suicide on and off throughout his soliloquies (which is just a fancy word for speeches delivered when no one else is on stage). In this soliloquy, he compares death to a little sleep, which he thinks wouldn't be so bad. The only catch is that we might have dreams when dead—bad dreams.
Of course, we'd escape a lot by being dead, like being spurned in love. This is that whole "slings and arrows" bit. He's saying being in love is like being hit with thousands of arrows because it hurts so much. Hamlet feels betrayed by his mom because she married so soon after his dad's death. And to his dad's murderer no less. He wishes he could just get rid of his "mortal coil" (or his body) and die.
Yikes, this guy is no happy camper.