Hamlet Soliloquy Glossary: To be, or not to be: that is the question (3.1.64-98).
No traveller returns (88)
Since Hamlet has already encountered his father's ghost this line has raised much debate. There are four major current theories regarding this line: 1) Shakespeare made an egregious error and simply failed to reconcile the appearance of the ghost and Hamlet's belief that human beings do not return; 2) Hamlet has earlier suspected that the ghost might be a devil trying to trick him (2.2.600), and therefore, at the point in the play where he delivers this soliloquy, he does not believe his father truly has returned; 3) Hamlet is referring only to human beings returning in the flesh and not as mere shadows of their former selves; 4) the entire soliloquy is misplaced and rightfully belongs before Hamlet has met his father's ghost. In my estimation, theory number four seems the most plausible in light of the many irregularities among the three extant texts of the play (for example, Hamlet's final soliloquy appears in Q2 but not in the First Folio).
I am inclined to discount theory number two simply because Hamlet would likely not be so certain that "no traveller returns" after he has proof that something exists beyond this world, whether it be the ghost of his father or an evil spirit.
Back to Soliloquy Annotations
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet Soliloquy Glossary. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/soliloquies/return.html >.
Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy
Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost
The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet
Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
Revenge in Hamlet
Deception in Hamlet
The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
The Norway (Fortinbras) Subplot
Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
Analysis: O this too too... (1.2.131)
Soliloquy Analysis: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!... (2.2.555-612)
Analysis: To be, or not to be... (3.1.64-98)
Soliloquy Analysis: Tis now the very witching time of night... (3.2.380-91)
Soliloquy Analysis: Now might I do it pat... (3.3.77-100)
Soliloquy Analysis: How all occasions do inform against me... (4.4.35-69)
Sources for Hamlet
Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
Hamlet Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
Hamlet: Q & A