To be, or not to be

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"To be or not to be..." is the opening phrase of a soliloquy in the "Nunnery Scene"[1] of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.

In the speech, a despondent or feigning Prince Hamlet contemplates death and suicide. He bemoans the pains and unfairness of life but acknowledges the alternative might be still worse. The speech functions within the play to explain Hamlet's hesitation to directly and immediately avenge his father's murder (discovered in Act I) on his uncle, stepfather, and new king Claudius. Claudius and his minister Polonius[2] are preparing to eavesdrop on Hamlet's interaction with Ophelia: [3]


Comparison of the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy in the first three editions of Hamlet

This version of the speech preserves most of the First Folio text, with updated spelling and four common emendations introduced from the Second ("Good") Quarto (italicized).

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
Th' Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia. Nymph, in all thy Orisons
Be all my sins remembered.[4]

First Quarto[edit]

The first edition of Hamlet in print was the 1603 "First Quarto" which some have argued represents a bad quarto (essentially, a theatrical knock-off) rather than a first draft or touring copy of Shakespeare's script. This has a shorter version of the speech which for ease of comparison is given here with spelling updated as above. Among the obvious differences between this version and the 'authoritative' text is its position in the play, occurring much earlier.

To be, or not to be, aye there's the point,
To Die, to sleep, is that all? Aye all:
No, to sleep, to dream, aye marry there it goes,
For in that dream of death, when we awake,
And borne before an everlasting Judge,
From whence no passenger ever returned,
The undiscovered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the joyful hope of this,
Who'd bear the scorns and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich cursed of the poor?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tyrants reign,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweat under this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin, who would this endure,
But for a hope of something after death?
Which puzzles the brain, and doth confound the sense,
Which makes us rather bear those evils we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Aye that, O this conscience makes cowards of us all,
Lady in thy orizons, be all my sins remembered.[5][6]


  1. ^ Act III, Scene i, so called from Prince Hamlet's admonitions of "Get thee to a nunnery" to his former lover Ophelia.
  2. ^ Called "Corambis" in the First Quarto edition.
  3. ^ A plan established immediately before in the First Quarto but discussed in Act II, Scene ii, of the Second Quarto and subsequent editions.
  4. ^ Perseus Project. "Perseus:image:1998.04.0773 Image:1998.04.0773". Tufts University. Accessed 24 August 2013.
  5. ^ Shakespeare, William. The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke. As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse seruants in the Cittie of London : as also in the two Vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where [The "First Quarto"], pp. 35 ff. Nicholas Ling & J. Trundell (London), 1603. Reprinted as The First Edition of the Tragedy of Hamlet: London, 1603. The Shakespeare Press, 1825.
  6. ^ Shakespeare, William. [The "First Quarto"]. Hosted at The Shakespeare Quartos Archive as Hamlet, 1603. Copy 1. Huntington Library, image 17. Accessed 13 December 2013.

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