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]

Text[edit]

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

This version of the portfolio 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,
The 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 thou all my sins remembered.[4]

First Quarto (1603)[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. 8-- For ease of comparison the spelling here is updated as above.

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]

Second Quarto (1604)[edit]

The Second Quarto presented a form closer to the one in present use. Major changes to the presentation of the scene include moving King Claudius and Polonius's decision to confront Hamlet with Ophelia earlier in the play[7] and the addition of "Soft you now", suggesting that Hamlet has not (or is feigning having not) seen Ophelia thus far during his speech.

Other sections of the text were also much expanded from the First Quarto edition. In a new passage closely paralleling the opening of Hamlet's soliloquy, one of the watchmen Barnardo[8] tells Horatio concerning the ghost they saw, "I think it be no other, but enso; well may it sort that this portentious figure comes armed through our watch so like the King that was and is the question of these warres" between Denmark and Norway, to which Horatio replies, "A moth it is to trouble the mindes eye".[9]

To be, or not to be, that is the queſtion,
Whether tis nobler in the minde to ſuffer
The ſlings and arrowes of outragious fortune,
Or to take Armes againſt a ſea of troubles,
And by oppoſing, end them, to die to ſleepe
No more, and by a ſleepe, to ſay we end
The hart-ake, and the thouſand naturall ſhocks
That fleſh is heire to; tis a conſumation
Deuoutly to be wiſht to die to ſleepe,
To ſleepe, perchance to dreame, I there's the rub,
For in that ſleepe of death what dreames may come
When we haue ſhuffled off this mortall coyle
Muſt giue vs pauſe, there's the reſpect
That makes calamitie of ſo long life:
For who would beare the whips and ſcorns of time,
Th'oppreſſors wrong, the proude mans contumly,
The pangs of deſpiz'd loue, the lawes delay,
The inſolence of office, and the ſpurnes
That patient merrit of the'vnworthy takes,
When he himſelfe might his quietas make
With a bare bodkin; who would fardels beare,
To grunt and ſweat vnder a wearie life,
But that the dread of ſomething after death,
The vndiſcouer'd country, from whose borne
No trauiler returnes, puzzels the will,
And makes vs rather beare thoſe ills we haue,
Then flie to others we know not of.
Thus conſcience dooes make cowards,
And thus the natiue hiew of reſolution
Is ſickled ore with the pale caſt of thought,
And enterpriſes of great pitch and moment,
With this regard theyr currents turne awry,
And loose the name of action. Soft you now,
The faire Ophelia, Nimph in thy orizons
Be all my ſinnes remembred.[10]

First Folio (1623)[edit]

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, published by Isaac Jaggard and Ed Blount in 1623 and better known as the "First Folio", includes an edition of Hamlet largely similar to the Second Quarto.

To be, or not to be, that is the Queſtion:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the minde to ſuffer
The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune,
Or to take Armes againſt a Sea of troubles,
And by oppoſing end them: to dye, to ſleepe
No more; and by a ſleepe, to say we end
The Heart-ake, and the thouſand Naturall ſhockes
That Fleſh is heyre too? ’Tis a consummation
Deuoutly to be wiſh’d. To dye to sleepe,
To ſleepe, perchance to Dreame; I, there’s the rub,
For in that ſleepe of death, what dreames may come,
When we haue ſhufflel’d off this mortall coile,
Muſt giue vs pawſe. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of ſo long life:
For who would beare the Whips and Scornes of time,
The Oppreſſors wrong, the poore mans Contumely,
The pangs of diſpriz’d Loue, the Lawes delay,
The inſolence of Office, and the Spurnes
That patient merit of the vnworthy takes,
When he himſelfe might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would theſe Fardles beare
To grunt and ſweat vnder a weary life,
But that the dread of ſomething after death,
The vndiſcouered Countrey, from whoſe Borne
No Traueller returnes, Puzels the will,
And makes vs rather beare those illes we haue,
Then flye to others that we know not of.
Thus Conſcience does make Cowards of vs all,
And thus the Natiue hew of Resolution
Is ſicklied o’re, with the pale caſt of Thought,
And enterprizes of great pith and moment,
With this regard their Currants turne away,
And looſe the name of Action. Soft you now,
The faire Ophelia? Nimph, in thy Orizons
Be all my ſinnes remembred.[11]

Cultural impact[edit]

The line "To be, or not to be" is widely quoted in modern English and the soliloquy has been referenced in many works of theatre, literature and music.

References[edit]

  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.
  7. ^ Tronch Pérez, Jesús. "Dramaturgy of the Acting Version of the First Quarto of Hamlet". SEDERI VII (1996), p. 219.
  8. ^ Now usually "Bernardo".
  9. ^ Shakespeare, William. [The "Second Quarto"]. Hosted at The Shakespeare Quartos Archive as Hamlet, 1604. Copy 1. Folger Library, image 8. Accessed 13 December 2013.
  10. ^ Shakespeare, William. The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie [The "Second Quarto"]. Nicholas Ling, 1604. Hosted at The Shakespeare Quartos Archive as Hamlet, 1604. Copy 1. Folger Library, images 27 & 28. Accessed 13 December 2013.
  11. ^ Shakespeare, William. The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies Published according to the True Originall Copies [The "First Folio"], p. 265. Isaac Jaggard & Ed Blount (London), 1623. Hosted at the Internet Shakespeare Editions as First Folio, Page 773. Brandeis University. Accessed 13 Dec 2013.

External links[edit]