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Hamlet’s Dilemma

Here we’re going to analyze the most famous lines in Hamlet – the “to be or not to be”

monologue. Read over this speech in act 3 of HAMLET.

In this speech, Hamlet actually makes TWO appeals to logic as he tries to persuade his audience

to accept a certain conclusion. I’ll make it bit easier for you to outline them: both lines of

reasoning are deductive and one of them is embedded within the other such that the Conclusion

of one syllogism is repeated as a minor premise that will allow our melancholy reasoner to

complete the other syllogism.

This is still confusing for many of you, so some more hints are probably in order. The famous

line (“To be or not to be”) is actually a very vague way to state the major premise of an appeal

to Modus Tollendo Ponens. Go ahead and paraphrase this vague line to clarify what Hamlet is

talking about here (ie, what the two options on the table are).

Now we know (from our Lecture Note on Deduction) that the minor premise must deny or in

some way negate one of the two terms in the major premise. So we need to be able to rule out an

option, right? That way we can conclude that the other option – the non-ruled-out one – is the

one we need to accept. But what if we can’t rule out an option right off the bat? What if we need

to deduce a statement that denies or somehow negates one of the options presented in the major


Some of you have seen this before. Have you seen the movie, The Princess Bride?

If you scroll down to the bottom of this document, I’ll jog your memory:

You need to write a short essay that begins with an intro-paragraph that does the usual things: it

should fully spell out the rhetorical situation that your speaker is confronting. It should introduce

a classical strategy for rhetorically manipulating audiences. And it should narrow your more

specific thesis.

Follow this up with 2 or 3 body-paragraphs in which you

a) explain how one specific form of appeal to logos works;

b) analyze (by outlining) Hamlet’s appeal to this form of logos as he tries to

persuade his audience;

c) critique the strengths and/or weaknesses of the attempt to use logic in this


Assignment Length: 300 words

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