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“To Be Or Not To Be”: Hamlet’s Soliloquy Translated

Read the Hamlet “To be or not to be” soliloquy below with modern English translation & analysis:

“To Be Or Not To Be”: Spoken by Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1
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 wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, 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 fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller 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 pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.

“To Be Or Not To Be” Soliloquy Translation:
The question for him was whether to continue to exist or not – whether it was more noble to suffer the slings and arrows of an unbearable situation, or to declare war on the sea of troubles that afflict one, and by opposing them, end them. To die. He pondered the prospect. To sleep – as simple as that. And with that sleep we end the heartaches and the thousand natural miseries that human beings have to endure. It’s an end that we would all ardently hope for. To die. To sleep. To sleep. Perhaps to dream. Yes, that was the problem, because in that sleep of death the dreams we might have when we have shed this mortal body must make us pause. That’s the consideration that creates the calamity of such a long life. Because, who would tolerate the whips and scorns of time; the tyrant’s offences against us; the contempt of proud men; the pain of rejected love; the insolence of officious authority; and the advantage that the worst people take of the best, when one could just release oneself with a naked blade? Who would carry this load, sweating and grunting under the burden of a weary life if it weren’t for the dread of the after life – that unexplored country from whose border no traveler returns? That’s the thing that confounds us and makes us put up with those evils that we know rather than hurry to others that we don’t know about. So thinking about it makes cowards of us all, and it follows that the first impulse to end our life is obscured by reflecting on it. And great and important plans are diluted to the point where we don’t do anything.

What do you think of the modern translation of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy above? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
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53 Responses to “To Be Or Not To Be”: Hamlet’s Soliloquy Translated

Drew says: September 26, 2011 at 7:47 am

I used this for a college audition and got a full scholarship. They loved that I used a classic and because I know what it basically means I knew how to perform the dialogue. this site helped more than I thought.

Tracy says: October 31, 2011 at 3:41 pm

It does make more sense, partly because the words are so famous that it’s hard to get behind them and see what they mean. The most amazing thing is how thought-provoking, perceptive and relevant the passage is, even with the poetry taken out.

Les HardIe says: November 12, 2011 at 1:51 am

Decide who is speaking and the tense and stick with them. You start in the 3rd person singular and in the past tense—”The question for him was…” but then switch to first person plural–”we”—and jump into the present tense. Good grief! Shakespeare, of course, did not commit these basic grammar mistakes. But then again, he was a genius.

Whip poor will...I am says: December 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Man uses language to dominate and control the planet earth, and all that that dwell here in. “And the word became God.”

I’ve yet to meet a man the most accurate pen won’t puncture. Shakespeare had an accurate pen. In a word in a world, where God’s just a word that rewards rewords wordsworth instill kill thrill still puzzles the will william shakespeare said, whipoorwill? I am willing to stare something down rather than bear ill will in my bare bod kin less than kind bends will and bare the eyes, the (i)’s can’t understand. In a word… InaGoddadavita man! it would seem the most thought threw and talked about Gods would not offer up their sweet meat and pearls beneath a groundling’s dull knife. But I basterdize,
” There are more things in Heaven that end in “To be or not to be,” Horatio , than are drempt of in your philosophy.
More matter, less art. The “To be, or not to be, ” soliquy yields secret wisdom to those who pay. There’s a price to be payed for thy eying of scars. A kind word wounds, There’s a suprise , a high price the high priest pays a very a high pricein deed to reenter and enter the womb of words and talk with God in the whole. Groundlings gawk, God talks, “He who hesitates…masturbates.” Likewise, only devils and dead men talk and walk in Shakepeare’s shoes sauntering through undiscover’d gardens of Eden swallowing the meat that gags the groundlings, devouring not eating forbidden fruit that flesh is heir to. Aye there’s the rub…

Kristi says: December 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Thank you. There is no right or wrong meaning, but this was a good interpretation. It’s gonna help me so much for my hamlet essay.

Joe Johnson says: February 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Emphatically stating “There is no right or wrong meaning” is foolishly defeatist, but all opinions are colored by context. The genius of Shakespeare’s art lays bare his life and ours. Tragically, the Hamlet in Shakespeare’s life was his son, who died at age eleven. Fear of the unknowable may render suicide in-actionable, but it only heightens the grief from losing a child or parent too soon. “To be or not to be” tackles the universal struggle and unresolvable tension between the heavy burdens of life and the fear of death’s unknowns. This “modern” translation correctly frames the issues of Hamlet’s dilemma, but for 400 years, we’ve yet to stop seeking answers to the ethical, moral, and religious questions posed by Shakespeare in his most famous soliloquy, and we never should.

Kristi Justo says: December 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Me again. I found a site just like this that helped me even more. My writing test isn’t until Thursday, so well see what site I use!!!

Sandra says: March 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I am trying to help my 16 year old with this as his english teacher has assigned this whole soliloguy to be translated into modern english as homework. Personally, I think this is more for college not high school.

brittany says: May 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm

thats the thing with parents and children today. parents think school needs to be easier. God forbid our children use their brains for once. when i was in school I had test every week and we learned something new everyday. That was private school for you. If you think your child needs to be in college before he learns about shakespear plays then id hate to see your child in college cause its just gets a little bit more tougher

Joe Johnson says: February 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Why wait? Teenagers have a high suicide rate. Hamlet’s soliloquy just might help them reason their way to a healthier mindset. It’s never too early to enrich the mind. Sandra, I hope you didn’t wait until he was in high school to address your son on issues of sex and relationships. Shield your kids too long and risk never becoming their trusted source.

Jezerae says: March 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I love this. This explains it in a very simple way, no symbolic ideas that other sites would dub “explained.” I like how clear it is. THANK YOU. English isn’t my best subject, and taking an AP English course online and add Shakespeare is not good for me. Haha.

Aeon says: April 2, 2012 at 8:07 am

this soliloquy is not hamlet debating suicide, rather its him debating on action. hamlet is trying to decide whether or not to take action on his plan to kill cladius. he is weighing the pros and cons of killing cladius and not killing him. if you were to look up the action of “be” in “to be or not to be” you would see that “to be” means to act, or to take action. it doesn’t mean suicide at all.

DJ says: April 21, 2012 at 8:16 am

Wouldn’t suicide be an action?

Joe Johnson says: February 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Yes, suicide is an action and to contemplate stabbing yourself with a naked blade to achieve “quietus” is a suicidal thought. Furthermore, taking bloody revenge for your father’s murder was certain suicide 400 years ago, just as it would be in many states today. Fear of death’s unknowns prevent Hamlet from taking action because he can’t be sure suicide will relieve him of his torment, but to insist that suicide is not on the table in Hamlet’s soliloquy deflates the dramatic tension. Shakespeare’s genius was in raising the stakes to a point that we would still be discussing the semi-suicidal prince four centuries after the Bard created him.

Star says: May 17, 2012 at 1:21 am

My father committed suicide and for years I judged his decision. I am reading Hamlet for a college final but gained a sense of closure and a kind of understanding of what might have been going through my fathers mind when he made the decision that he made. It was helpful in more ways tha one. Thank you

Patrick says: May 25, 2012 at 4:36 am

Thank you for this! I had to do a project in my english class, and I thought, “what if i recite a soliloquy?” ok, that is not really what happened. my mom gave me the idea. but i searched for different soliloquies from shakespeares plays, in comedy of errors, in the tempest (prospero’s last speech, in the epilogue), and also in hamlet. I found this speech on another site, but it didn’t have the act or scene that it came from in the play. so i came back to you guys, and found it. I am sure to ace this project!!!!

Buckeye Nut Schell says: October 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I believe you are correct. I have read over and over, here and elsewhere that this soliloquy is about suicide. You are absolutely correct, when taken in context to what happens immediately proceeding this speech, it only makes sense that Hamlet is wondering whether he should sit back and be safe and not take on his uncle/step father or should he take arms against him at the probable cost of his own life.

I think it confuses people when he ponders about how fear makes cowards of us and says basically that otherwise, people who are miserable would just kill themselves. Hamlet was not talking about suicide, he was talking about revenge and the risks it poses and whether it was worth the risk. Hamlet was the quintessential existentialist

John says: July 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm

To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Is it more noble to suffer the pain and agony of misfortune,
or to declare war on that ocean of trouble,
and, by opposing it, strive for some measure of justice,
even at the cost of one’s life?
To die for a just cause, and then to be no more, to find eternal rest
from the heartache of the thousands of wounds that flesh is heir to,
is this not an outcome to be devoutly wished for?
And what if one has no stomach for such a war?
Why would that person tolerate the whips and scorns of time; the oppressor’s wrong;
the contempt of arrogant men; the pain of rejected love; the law’s contentious delay;
and the advantage that those in power take from the powerless,
when one could release oneself with a naked blade?
Why would anyone bear the burdens of life if it were not for the fear of death
and the uncertainty of what lies beyond, from which no one returns?
That’s the thing that confounds the mind, causing it to tolerate evils that are known
rather than to hurry off to that which is unknown.
Pondering about and not knowing what lies beyond human death,
makes cowards of us all.
And it follows that the initial impulse to sacrifice one’s life for a just cause,
or to end one’s life and escape this world, is obscured by reflecting on it.
For whatever course of action one considers, it is finally diluted to the point
where nothing is done.

clarence says: October 5, 2012 at 11:44 am

Very good, John, but nothing to do with Hamlet. What, ‘conscience’ is pondering about and not knowing what lies after death? I don’t think so. And where does Hamlet say anything about justice?

emil simionel says: August 13, 2012 at 7:33 pm

This is exactly the translation I had imagined when I first read it. I am glad I had the right insight in my favorite soliloquy. Congrats Drew!
Emil S. Simionel

Kiyoshi Wada says: September 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

The modern translation is quite clear and lucid, and is very useful in understanding the original text. However, if the whether clause (ll.2-4), which is probably an amplification, means much the same thing as ‘Which is more noble, to suffer ~ , or to declare ~?’, I do not agree. Because in that case ‘To be, or not to be: that is the question.’ and ‘Whether ’tis nobler ~to suffer ~ , or to take ~?’ are two different questions that have different meanings. 
My interpretation of the meaning of the whether clause is as follows. The pronoun ‘it’ indicates to suffer ~ and to take arms ~ , but the whole clause doesn’t mean ‘Which is more noble , to suffer ~ , or to declare ~ ?’ It means ‘Is to be – i.e. to suffer ~ or to declare ~ ( no matter which ) –( really ) nobler ( than not to be )?’ Because to suffer ~ and to declare ~ are both ways of life-courses of action open for Hamlet in his present difficult situation, though noticeably different from each other, stoically passive vs. heroically active. And if the answer to the question (i.e. Is to be nobler? ) is affirmative,
Hamlet should continue to exist, needless to say.
I think this is a more consistent elaboration on the question of whether to continue to exist or not, and that “Shakespearean grammar” will permit this explanation.

clarence says: October 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Brilliant identification of the problem and half-way right on the solution (To be=to suffer and not to be=to take arms etc) but they are not ways of life because to take arms is to die therefore the choice is between living, which means suffering, and taking action to end suffering that will assuredly result in death, which can only mean suicide. The word everyone trips up on is ‘nobler’, making us think the speech is about what he SHOULD DO, but phrase is ‘nobler IN THE MIND’. He’s saying ‘What does Thought, or Reason, suggest we do: suffer or kill ourselves?’. ‘Nobler’ is ironic because, as the speech proves, ‘the mind’ decides it’s better to suffer than to act: ‘conscience makes us cowards’. He’s not contemplating suicide – we already know he won’t – he’s making a point about human intellect which he makes again in ‘How all occasions’, that it’s not necessarily working in our favour.

Claude says: October 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

This means a lot more to me than fear of death. Its also about the fear of changes in life. Loss of a job, going back to school, divorce(s), the death of loved ones and going on alone. I hate change. It makes you get off your comfortable seat and do something. Whenever I have to face a major change I read this to give me strength and resolution to make something positive out of it. Thank you Shakespeare, my life is better for your wisdom and the fear of death is somewhat lessened. And i will never give up on pursuing the follies of true love.

clarence says: October 6, 2012 at 5:41 pm

“The question for him”? Surely the most obvious thing about the speech unlike all his others is the fact that doesn’t refer to himself at all.

Mona says: October 8, 2012 at 9:06 am

” to be or not to be……beautiful soliloquy of WilliamShakespeare ‘s play Hamlet .Its a life long quesion coming very often in every bodys life .Facing problems & to come out from those problems with great sucess is a true test of ones life This gives insipiration ,faith confidence in life .To End Die Or Sleep these type of words having no place & should be irredicated in one’s life

Miss H. says: November 11, 2012 at 3:52 am

Hamlet was in despair. That is what Shakespeare was expressing through this well renowned soliloquy. The main problem with Hamlet’s reasoning is that the question should not be “to be or not to be”; it should be how to be. The person who faces whatever he must despite the great turmoil as often recurs in Shakespearean literature is not made a coward; he is the true brave one.

Kiyoshi Wada says: November 11, 2012 at 9:07 am

Thank you for your comment of October 5. I regret to say, however, that I can’t change my textually based interpretation of the meaning of the whether clause. I still believe, for the same reason I gave in my comment, that the equivalence is between ‘ to be ’ and ‘ to suffer ~ , or to take arms ~ ’, and between ‘ not to be ’ and ‘ To die ’.
Judging by the actual words uttered by Hamlet , ‘ to take arms ~ ’ obviously implies life and resolute action, even though it will assuredly result in death. The infinitive does not mean ‘ to die ’. On the other hand ‘ not to be ’ in the opening phrase, which alludes to ‘ death and inaction ’ and does not equal ‘ to take arms ~ ’ , would be better paraphrased by using some wording like, for instance, ‘ his quietus make with a bare bodkin ’.
As to ‘ nobler in the mind ’, I don’t think either ‘ nobler ’ or ‘ in the mind ’ implies anything special . The phrase ‘ in the mind ’ seems to me to have little or no meaning here, except that it possibly makes the line sound more rhythmical.

Erin Elizabeth says: December 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm

It is not by chance that several hundred years after this piece was written we are still entertained by the wealth of it’s content.

How many of us truly understand Shakespeare? could it be simply understood by reading, watching his plays, or reading reviews/comments of others or does it somehow go deeper than that?

could it be he touched our souls so deeply, he understood us better then we did ourselves?

When he says, “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?” He is professing to be a marter, and to continue on to the bitter end of end the bitterness.

Who among us has ever felt the outrageous fortune? true, not a minor set-back of events but the kind of life altering ones which we cannot stand alone, yet must?

andrew says: January 18, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I learned this in grade six for speech arts…I did this as a performance for my speech arts competition… I was dressed as a king in all the royal clothes. I am now graduated from university and i still remember this play like it was well i use it at times to impress the females..great learning experience

Nathan says: February 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I can see that this is an attempt at a sense-for-sense translation, rather than a more direct one where the outdated words are simply replaced with more contemporary understandings and where the grammar is tweaked a bit to make it easier to read. Overall, it’s decent and better to understand, however, it seems that even the attempt at sense-for-sense is still rather academic and could be more simple. I would still have liked to see it broken down into the vernacular a wee bit more; this is more for the benefit of today’s youth who’s vocabulary is suffering greatly. For instance, I wonder how many youth can define/understand words like: insolence, afflict, slings and arrows, scorns, tyrant or contempt. Phrases like: “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of an unbearable situation…” could be reworded as: “Whether we think it is more courageous and respectable to accept the pains and hurts dealt by fate and fortune…” My point is simply this: if we are going to be translating into the contemporary language, then we need to either stay as close to the original construction of the language as possible so as not to lose intended emphasis, or go all the way in the reworking to make the language as simple and clear as possible so that everyone (especially our young students) may benefit.

Peter says: February 21, 2013 at 10:03 am

I am by no means a scholar, but I just want to say that, everyone’s comments here are thought provoking in the least.

My conclusion is that there are no right or wrong interpretations of this soliloquy, everyone has made strong and valid points. Therefor the only way forward is to show respect for each others thoughts, and an even greater respect for Shakespeare, who indeed still has us debating it, four hundred or so years later.

Ramu.K.R. says: March 12, 2013 at 9:33 am

From the above it is clearly says Life is not a bed of roses, when you say there is a life? only when you keep solving challenges in life…. the only man is in peace on the earth… the man is in the Grave…. so life means joy and suffer….. As the voice of Hamlet ” To be or not to Be… be boldly face and conquer the life… A coward is dying every day…. So To be or Not to be is not the question … It is an Answer…..


G. Yundt says: March 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm

The translation helped me a lot. I congratulate you on it! I will have to spend time considering this.
Shakespeare was not taught at my high school; I’m happy to find this website.

Haley says: April 25, 2013 at 3:40 am

Ugh. We have to memorize and recite this for Theatre- Tomorrow! And it’s so long. Anyone know a trick to memorize all of this fast?
I have up to,
“And a thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to..”

michael novinski says: May 1, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Am is the present first singular of be. It therefore translates to I am or I am not. I Am were those words God described himself when asked by Moses to how he should refer to Him when asked. It would follow then that perhaps Shakespeare had much deeper insight then is often given credit for in these lines.

Robin says: May 10, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Any translation I’ve read of such beautiful poetry is hollow. The soliloquy is perfect as it is. If anyone has seen a translation that invokes the beauty of this passage, please let me know.

barry gilbert says: June 9, 2013 at 10:49 am

i think your translation of who would fardels bear is not quite right, i would say , who would put up with a quarter of this

natalie says: August 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I am only 14 on my way to high school i never read a full Shakespeare before i love it !!! :-) i also love how you guys broke it down im saying something becuase i passed one of my hardest test ever and becuase of you guys i knew everything so thank you

Violet Knight says: September 17, 2013 at 10:02 am

wow! I had to do a big homework assignment on Shakespeare and this website really helped!!! Thanks a lot to the original creator! :3


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