In Act 3 Scene 1, Hamlet ponders “to be, or not to be” (3.1.55). This question is curt, but proves to be enigmatic for Hamlet. Laurence Olivier’s acting depicts the true essence of Hamlet’s character as he recites Hamlet’s soliloquy. Hamlet’s state of mind is roused up by a turbulence of confusion as he contemplates on the question. Through the clashing forces within the scenery, movie effects and delivery of lines, Laurence Olivier performs Hamlet’s self struggle magnificently.
The setting of Hamlet’s soliloquy is portrayed within a black and white world. The colors black and white directly reflect Hamlet's conflict between life and death because white is symbolic of life and black is symbolic of death. While Hamlet delivers his soliloquy, his mind is absent of all colors because he focuses on his entire concentration on revenge.
The scene begins with a visual of waves crashing against the rocks of the cliff which Hamlet stands atop of. Hamlet gazes down the cliff at the view of these crashing waves. Hamlet does not merely stare at waves; he gazes upon a symbolic interpretation of his state of mind. Like crashing waves, Hamlet’s mind is in a state of turbulence. In the following scene, there is a think haze rustling about the sky as Hamlet broods over “to be, or not to be” (3.1.55). The dense clouds accompanied by the sounds of crashing waves as Hamlet asks the question suggests that Hamlet is in a state of deep perplexity about the matter at hand. Hamlet wonders whether it is “nobler… to suffer” (3.1.56) or nobler “to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3.1.58) by ending ones life. Hamlet then draws a knife and points it to his heart to signify his thoughts about ending life. According to Hamlet, death is no more than a “sleep to… end… heartache” (3.1.60-61). Hamlet closes his eyes and speaks to himself within his mind. He considers entering eternal slumber, but suddenly opens his eyes, draws back, and comes to a sudden realization that there is no telling “what dreams may come true, when [he has] shuffled off [his] mortal coil” (3.1.65-66). This quality of eternal slumber causes people to make “calamity of so long life” (3.1.68). Again Hamlet wonders “who would bear the whips and scorns of time” (3.1.69) when one “might his quietus make with a bare bodkin” (3.1.74-75). Hamlet seems to find suffering through countless times is pointless when one can easily suffer once painfully and end all suffering through death. According to Hamlet, the factor which prevents one from committing suicide is the “dread of something after death” (3.1.77). The knife falls from Hamlet’s hand and into the sea. Thinking so deeply of this matter has made a coward of Hamlet. He loses the chance to end his suffering because the knife is no longer there. Hamlet ends his soliloquy advising the viewer that moments “of great pitch… lose the name of action” (3.1.84-86) when one does not take the given chance at hand.
Laurence Olivier performs Hamlet’s soliloquy best because he captures Hamlet’s state of confusion most accurately and symbolically. The combined elements of speech and setting create a perfect portrayal Hamlet’s self struggle.