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Hamlets Fourth Soliloquy (to be or not to be) - Original Text & Summary

Updated on September 28, 2011

This soliloquy is considered to be one of the most important and fundamental lines in English literature.

Shakespeare's 'to be or not to be, that is the question' is still considered as a pioneer and stands apart in English literature.

Original Text: (To be or not to be)

Hamlet's fourth soliloquy (to be or not to be) falls in the Act 3, Scene 1.

To read the original text, click the below given link:


Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy that falls in Act 3, Scene 1, is the most famous and the most celebrated one, because it is the most philosophical of all. In this soliloquy, Hamlet enters with a dilemma: “To be or not to be – That is the question”

In this soliloquy, Hamlet enters toying with the idea of suicide. He thinks of the two alternatives as which one is more appropriate; whether to silently suffer the cruelties of fate or to put up a fight against the misfortunes of life. Hamlet thinks for a while that death may end all the troubles and problems of life. He quotes: (the death may) “end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flash is heir to”

But then Hamlet thinks of the other possibility and consequence of death and afterlife. What if death doesn't end all the troubles but increases some more and may prove to be a reflection of all the misdeeds and crimes?

What if we do not sleep in the death for eternity? What if we just cease to sleep and be restless for eternity?

This soliloquy gives us an idea that the main hindrance that comes in the way is the unknown consequences after death. One may put the misery of his life to an end, but he does not know what is saved for him after his death. He may be restless, sleepless, and more miserable than he was in his life. No one has ever come back to report what are the consequences after death. So, it always remain a matter of debate.

"No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have"

Hamlet, using the word 'We’, reflects the thoughts of all those people who once in their lifetime thinks about committing the suicide, but finally drops the idea because of several considerations including those specifically mentioned by Hamlet. This soliloquy partly explains the dilemma of Hamlet’s mind and the reason of the delay in executing the revenge of the Ghost.

Now the question arises that how this soliloquy explains the reason for Hamlet's delay in executing the Ghost's revenge and killing King Claudius?

The answer is simple. If Hamlet kills King Claudius, he was sure that he'll be dead too after killing him, and he was afraid of death because of the unknown consequences he mentions above. That is why Hamlet was in a dilemma. He was not able to make a decision whether to execute the ghost's revenge or to live in these sufferings as he is doing right now.


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      Amrit Bara 5 weeks ago

      This note is very helpful to me and others too who is a student of English literature . So I thank for note. Thankyou.

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      MR. BE, NOT 4 months ago

      "To be or not to be" is the philosophical message to the audience. Fortimbraa, driven by revenge of his own father makes a different destiny for himself. At the end when he meets up with Hamlet, he is basically meeting his own paradox, however both agreeing that each is noble in their own way. Two parallel existences. One Prince to king living in while the other Prince to king dying in honor.

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      olivepowder 20 months ago

      wait what? is this not legit ! someone help asap i got an exam in 5......MINUTES!!

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      billy 22 months ago

      this is terrible in every way

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      Kiyoshi Wada 3 years ago

      According to the explanation of Hamlet’s Fourth Soliloquy (to be or not to be) - Original Text & Summary, the opening few lines seem to have much the same meaning as a common Japanese translation of this part: ' To be, or not to be: that is the question: Which is nobler, to suffer ~, or to take arms ~?' But I have a different interpretation.

      The whether clause is most probably an amplification. If so, 'Which is nobler, to suffer ~, or to take arms ~?' is unreasonable. Because 'To be, or not to be, that is the question.' and 'Which is nobler, to suffer ~, or to take arms ~?' are then two different questions that have different meanings.  As is clearly shown by a certain Japanese translation ( Which way of living is nobler, to suffer ~, or to take arms ~ ? ), to suffer ~ and to take arms ~ 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. Thus the question of whether to continue to exist or not, that is, the question of ‘life and action’ or ‘death and inaction’ is totally different from the question of which is nobler of the two ways of living – two courses of actions.

      My (grammatical) interpretation of the whether clause is as follows. Although the pronoun ‘ it ’ in ’tis indicates to suffer ~ and to take arms ~ , the whole clause does not mean ‘Which is nobler, to suffer ~ , or to take arms ~?’ It means ‘Is to be nobler (than not to be )?’, that is to say, ‘ Is to suffer ~, or to take arms ~ ( no matter which ) ( really ) nobler ( than to die )?’ Taken literally, ‘to take arms ~’ obviously implies life and heroic action, “though perhaps with the loss of life”, and does not equal ‘not to be’ as some think it does. So the equivalence is between ‘to be’ and ‘to suffer ~, or to take arms ~’ and between ‘not to be’ and ‘To die’ (l.60).

      I think this is the only way to make the whether clause a more consistent elaboration on the question of whether to continue to exist or not, and that “Shakespearean grammar” would permit this explanation.

      I would appreciate it very much if I could have any comments on my interpretation.

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      PBK 3 years ago

      I have a different interpretation, always felt 'they' the speakers for humanity, they who cry out in the name of the collective but are in fact some minority, some individual of it. They, public teachers, ignore the most basic and fundamental part of the speech and of the play. The reason why I believe "To be or not to be" is the most important soliloquy in Western Literature. The words could be said this very second and....

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      Syed Hunbbel Meer 5 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      You are welcome. I am glad that I was of any help. Best of luck :)

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      YOUSFI HALA 5 years ago


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      TattooKitty 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Great subject for a hub! Thanks for the read ;) Although Shakespeare's "to be or not to be" soliloquy is, by far, one of the most quoted parts of any play in history, I actually prefer "Tis now the very witching time of night" (Act III, Scene II).

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      Syed Hunbbel Meer 6 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      Absolutely. Though I guess that 'to be or not to be' stands apart in the literature environment, because of the philosophical and the thoughts of general audience involved. It is so much true, sensible and logical by every means.

      And I guess I should hurry up to put that last soliloquy, because of the fan basis of that soliloquy :)

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      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I actually agree with gekeye; that last soliliquy is absolutely unparalleled in literature. However, for most people, it seems the "to be or not to be" fourth soliliquy seems to have much more lasting resonance. The resonance it has seems to not even belong to the overall resonance of the play, but stands alone, as poetry with sharp, vital, mortal images stands alone.

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      Syed Hunbbel Meer 6 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan.

      That soliloquy is lined up for the series :)

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      gekeye 6 years ago

      While there is no question “To be or not to be” is unequivocally Shakespeare’s most recognized line, and perhaps the most well known in English literature, and that the soliloquy is vital to the play, it may not be the most important moment of Hamlet sharing his innermost thoughts.

      The “How all occasions” final soliloquy, set in Act IV as Hamlet has just met Fortinbras’ captain, represents a turning point in his character. Unlike his prior soliloquies which end with him always seeking a way out (including those prior to his visiting his mother and in the chapel), this one shows a more resolute and determined Hamlet, concluding with the unwavering, “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (IV.4). When he next appears, Hamlet is a far more driven character, hell-bent on revenge, leading to his perhaps ill-timed and quite melodramatic graveyard grapple with Laertes over who loved Ophelia most.

      Nevertheless, the audience now sees a transformed Hamlet who was certainly inspired by Fortinbras’ drive to preserve family honor, a notion the strikes at Hamlet, given his similar set of circumstances. While Hamlet does not agree with what the Norwegian prince is doing (attacking Poland for lack of anything better to do, though with inexorable designs on Denmark), he says that by finding “quarrel in a straw,” Fortinbras is defining the nature of greatness. This admiration for Fortinbras also advances the action of the play and helps explain Hamlet’s curious death-door decision to cede Denmark to its long-time adversary.