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”: 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!

See other Hamlet soliloquies >>

Read Hamlet in modern English >>

88 replies
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  1. Violet Knight
    Violet Knight says:

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

  2. natalie
    natalie says:

    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

  3. barry gilbert
    barry gilbert says:

    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

  4. Robin
    Robin says:

    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.

  5. michael novinski
    michael novinski says:

    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.

  6. Haley
    Haley says:

    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..”

  7. G. Yundt
    G. Yundt says:

    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.

  8. Ramu.K.R.
    Ramu.K.R. says:

    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…..


  9. Peter
    Peter says:

    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.


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