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. Gautier Alain
    Gautier Alain says:

    hello, I would like to leave this attempt for the Shakespeare ‘lunar society’ :

    être ou bien ne pas être, voilà la question : s’il est plus noble pour l’esprit d’endurer frondes et flèches de l’outrageuse fortune ou de prendre les armes contre un océan de malheurs, et en les prenant à rebours les confondre. Mourir, dormir_ pas plus, et, sommeillant, dire que nous mettons fin aux angoisses et mille chocs de nature dont la chair hérite_ c’est une fin pieusement désirable. Mourir, dormir_ dormir, peut-être rêver? Hé, là ça décape, on est dans la panade, car dans ce sommeil de la mort, ce qu’il se peut qu’on rêve, quand on s’est évadé du mortel tourbillon, nous impose un moment de réflexion. D’y regarder plus près nous rend une si longue vie bien calamiteuse; car qui voudrait du fouet et de l’opprobre du monde, du mépris de l’oppresseur, de l’irréparable outrage de l’âge, de l’injuste oppresseur, du mépris de l’homme fier, des affres de l’amour, des lenteurs de la loi, de l’insolence des grands, et des rebuffades des bons à rien reçues par le patient mérite, quand il pourrait se donner le coup de grâce d’une simple lame? Qui voudrait supporter ces fardeaux, gémir et suer, de guerre lasse, sauf que l’idée d’une terreur après la mort, cette contrée d’où nul voyageur ne revient, brouille la volonté, et nous fait supporter ces maux bien à nous plutôt que de voler vers d’autres qui nous sont inconnus ? La conscience fait ainsi des poltrons de nous tous, et ainsi la native clameur de nos résolutions est affaiblie par le style pâle de nos réflexions, les grandes entreprises de l’essence et de l’opportunité pour le coup vont de travers et perdent le nom d’action. Taisons-nous à présent, c’est la belle Ophélie ! _ Nymphe, dans tes oraisons que tous mes péchés soient rachetés.

    Good my lord,…

    Bon, ça vaut ce que ça vaut. Pour moi… cela m’a aidé à comprendre d’avantage dans quel état de conscience était, peut-être, ce grand écrivain de théâtre à la langue musicale, lorsqu’il écrivit ce fameux monologue historique.

    Mais ça suffit maintenant. Il ne faut trop tirer sur la ficelle.
    alain gautier.

    your’s sincerely.

  2. john
    john says:

    Nice Job!

    I’ve always loved this soliloquy, and have memorized it. The very act of memorizing this forces one, I believe, to appreciate the nuances of the struggle that Hamlet is enduring at this point.

    As an aside, I would make it clearer that the “opposing” Hamlet had in mind was that of plunging the dagger into his own heart. As for the rest, well done, indeed!

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      I always loved this passage too, John, and the first nine lines have been in my head for ages. I’m going to follow your example and memorize the rest. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Jerry Serwas
    Jerry Serwas says:

    Shakespeare speaks rhetorically through Hamlet (soliloquy) of an
    unknown ethereal post mortem state. There is no legitimate answer
    to the living. No doubt Shakespeare paused in deep thought more than once to have been confounded and frustrated between gross disparity set betwixt life and mortality. “To Be Or Not To Be” does not represent a
    real problem for Hamlet/Shakespeare. The real entity comes through a
    state of being in a present tense “is” instantly becoming defacto usage for death and finality. The truth ? Only Shakespeare can define his work.


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