Great Poems: Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be”

Great Poems: Shakespeare's "To Be or Not to Be" Human Voices Wake Us

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.

Don’t forget to join Human Voices Wake Us on Patreon, or sign up for our newsletter here. You can also support the podcast by ordering any of my books: Notes from the Grid, To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, and Bone Antler Stone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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