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To be or not to be – original text, translation & analysis

To be or not to be, that is the question’. Read Hamlet’s famous soliloquy by Shakespeare below, along with a modern translation and explanation of what ‘To be or not to be’ is about’.

‘To Be Or Not To Be': Original words 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': Hamlet soliloquy translation

The below translation of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy is taken from the NoSweatShakespeare Hamlet ebook.

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 traveller 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 in the comments below.

See other Hamlet soliloquies >>

Read Hamlet in modern English >>

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  1. Kristi Justo
    Kristi Justo says:

    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!!!

  2. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    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
      Joe Johnson says:

      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.

      • Anita
        Anita says:

        In an age of suicide bombers and mass shooters , how can we make Hamlet a protagonist? Answering some of the moral and ethical questions raised by the Tragedy of Hamlet, are crucial to the survival of our society as a whole. How we treat and care for the mentally disturbed may be the difference between life and death, for more than one Hamlet.

  3. Whip poor will...I am
    Whip poor will...I am says:

    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…

  4. Les HardIe
    Les HardIe says:

    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.

  5. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    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.

  6. Drew
    Drew says:

    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.


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  1. […] life – a liberating idea (an end to suffering) when the psyche feels trapped in pain (Buddha and Hamlet being notable examples). Allowing the idea to arise completely, empathetically, wisely, can unlock […]

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