An episode from 8/12/22: Everybody knows the most famous soliloquy in all of drama, or at least the first line of it: “To be or not to be, that is the question,” from act three of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Tonight, I delve into the speech and try to figure out why it works so well not just as poetry and drama, but why it has leapt beyond literature entirely to become a cultural touchstone.
Throughout the episode I include the performance of this speech from modern actors: the first is by Paapa Essiedu, and the second by Andrew Scott. The very last, to give a sense of what the original pronunciation of the speech would have sounded like, is performed by Ben Crystal. A larger compilation of nine different versions can be found here.
The books read from in this episode are Ben and David Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All, and Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography.
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