What Does Hamlet’s “To Be, or Not to Be” Speech Mean in Modern English?

Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy represents his internal struggle over the purpose of human existence and the meaning of life and death. It is also represents the climax of Hamlet’s existential crisis that builds throughout the play.

In this famous soliloquy, Hamlet weighs the pros and cons of human existence. He debates whether it is better to continue living a life of suffering in this world or to end existence in the face of life’s endless sorrows. However, he is unable to come to a conclusion because nobody knows whether death would be a better option. If death were like a dreamless sleep, he says, then it would be preferable to the sorrows of life. The dilemma he faces is that nobody knows what comes after death, and he worries that whatever it is could in fact be much worse than the suffering an individual must face in life.

Hamlet’s soliloquy is considered an example of existentialism in literature. Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the hostility and indifference of the universe towards the individual, and regards human existence as unexplainable. Hamlet finds no satisfactory solution to his internal crisis, and he uses this speech to curse the inescapable nature of his dilemma.