"To be or not to be..." -- A Word Association Lesson


This is the activity we did in class today to better understand Hamlet's most famous soliloquy.  You can try it on your own and see what sense you can make of it, or pair up with someone else who wasn't in class and work through it as a discussion.


1)  Sort the following 15 words into categories.  Consider how you personally view and connect the words.  Make as many categories as you wish (although you shouldn't have 15 categories :) ).  Only use a word once.  Do not put any words in more than one category.

arrows whips death heartache oppressor
life but troubles suffer release
or end whether wished (for) sleep

2) Explain/justify why you categorized the words as you did.

All of the words above were taken from Hamlet's soliloquy.

3)  Take a moment to re-read Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

4)  Keeping what you know of Hamlet in mind and paying attention to the way Hamlet connects words in this soliloquy, resort the words the way you think Hamlet would sort them.  (Leave out "but," "or," and "whether.")

5) Again, this time from Hamlet's perspective, explain/justify why you categorized the words as you did.

6) Reflect on how these categories indicate what Hamlet is talking about in his soliloquy.

7) Add the following three words to the categories you already created in step 4:  "no return," "undiscovered," and "unknown."

8)  What new twists/meanings do the new words add to what Hamlet says in this soliloquy?

Ok... now the key question:  Do you understand the message of this soliloquy any better?