Shakespeare’s question “To be or not to be” presents an issue to the play since, for various reasons, it could be considered to be a wrong question.
But can questions be wrong? Yes, questions can be indeed wrong and “to be or not to be?” is one of them since it lets us see only two answers when it leaves aside a third or even a fourth option.
Questions are formed by presuppositions, and they are considered wrong when the presumption leads to the wrong answer. One false presupposition in this question is that we can choose only between two options: either to commit suicide or to continue to live in pain.
However, there often is also a third option that needs to be explored despite that it is not one of the possible answers according to Hamlet: to improve life by changing the actions or circumstances that bring pain or take our willingness to live.
But when it comes to the question of why we Shouldn’t be afraid of suffering? Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says. “Instead, we should fear not knowing how to handle our suffering.”
pain is not an option in this life, but suffering is
In this case, the third option consists primarily of taking action and, most importantly learn how to handle our pain to the point it stops being a threat to our life; it is to diminish or stop the suffering not by choosing to end life but by altering it. One decreases suffering by improving life rather than destroying it.
Returning to Shakespeare’s metaphor, in order not to suffer slings and arrows, it is sometimes sufficient, for example, to move out of their way. Considering there are more options for Hamlet than either to kill himself or to continue to suffer, Hamlet could have chosen to vent his rage and sorrow upon his uncle, or he could decide to live his life trying to forget his father, the point being that one problem can have multiple solutions.
If we take a look at suicide from A Buddhist Perspective in some traditions, like the Pure Land schools, maintain that suicide is not an absolute disaster. Carl Becker, in his book, “Breaking the Circle: Death and the Afterlife in Buddhism,” examine the ethics of suicide from this tradition:
“There is nothing intrinsically wrong with taking one’s own life, if not done in hate, anger, or fear. The important consideration here is not whether the body lives or dies, but whether the mind can remain at peace and in harmony with itself. . . . The early Buddhist texts include many cases of suicide that the Buddha himself accepted or condoned. . . . Suicide is never condemned per se; it is the state of mind that determines the rightness or wrongness of the suicide situation. ” Taking this into account it could be arguable that even though hamlet was uncertain about how to deal with his pain that the action of killing Himself would not have ended his pain it would actually prolong it because as we can see in the play his father stayed in the purgatory because first, he didn’t confess his sins and second he had unfinished business, so if hamlet had decided to kill himself because he wasn’t able to acknowledge the third answer within his question he would more likely face the same fate as him.
To be or not to be, then, is not the question. It presents only two alternatives to choose from when, in fact, there are more.