• SumoMe

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 >>

86 replies
« Older CommentsNewer Comments »
  1. Nathan
    Nathan says:

    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.

  2. andrew
    andrew says:

    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 yesterday..as well i use it at times to impress the females..great learning experience

  3. Erin Elizabeth
    Erin Elizabeth says:

    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?

  4. Kiyoshi Wada
    Kiyoshi Wada says:

    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.

  5. Miss H.
    Miss H. says:

    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.

  6. Mona
    Mona says:

    ” 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

  7. clarence
    clarence says:

    “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.

  8. Claude
    Claude says:

    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.

  9. Kiyoshi Wada
    Kiyoshi Wada says:

    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
      clarence says:

      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.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>