Contemplating suicide in his soliloquy “To be or not to be,” Hamlet talks about “shuffling off this mortal coil.” As an idiom, the phrase means “to die and free oneself from the troubles of life.”
In Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” he debates whether he should kill himself or not. He compares death to sleep and contemplates what dreams may come after life ends. He talks about life being a misery filled with heath-aches and “a thousand natural shocks.” By dying, we “shuffle off this mortal coil.” In other words, we abandon the troubles of daily life and all the world’s sufferings.
Researchers have suggested several interpretations of the phrase “shuffled off this mortal coil.” The most popular theory is that the word ‘coil,’ or ‘coyle,’ meant ‘fuss’ or ‘bustle’ in Shakespeare’s time. Idiomatically, the phrase means “to abandon the bustle and turmoil of this mortal life.”
Some researchers argue that ‘shuffle off’ alludes to a snake sloughing the coil of its dead skin. Then, ‘mortal coil’ means the physical body of a man that we leave when we die. Snakes shuffle themselves out of their old skin to emerge as something brand new. In the same way, we are reborn into a new existence when we die. The man’s flesh and body are thought of as the mere covering for the spirit.
The phrase also evokes religious associations. It alludes to the Christian idea of eternal life after death. For Hamlet, the uncertainty of what follows after death becomes the primary motive for bearing with the life itself.