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“To be or not to be” Soliloquy Supercut

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branagh-hamlet2Like thousands of English teachers around the world, I teach Hamlet. And every year when we read Act III, I pull out the DVD’s, because the depiction of multiple scenes are crucial to understanding the character and themes of Hamlet. The “To be or not to be” soliloquy is famous because it is beautifully and deeply philosophical. It is arguably more famous than the play as a whole, since major portions of the Western World would recognize the opening lines even if they haven’t read the whole play.

And it’s been done many, many times over, both in and outside of full Hamlet productions. The choices for which versions to show can be daunting.

With the dropping of’s “To be or not to be” Supercut, thousands of voices crying out for just this very thing have been silenced. Here is a gift to you, Hamlet-teachers of the world.

This collection of clips from a wide variety of productions on screen, sometimes inside other films, shows the continuum of tone and characterization possible. Some clips are deathly serious, others apathetic, still a few others comedic. Jesse Shade, the editor, has tied the whole thing together with subtitles to bridge clips from different performances continuing the same line. The effect is nearly overpowering with its multiplicity. As far as students are concerned, the comedic ones, like from MST3K and Last Action Hero, bring levity to a soliloquy that can often come across as incredibly dour.

But the supercut has its drawbacks. There is no way to get a full sense of any one performance. The onslaught of the many diminishes the ability to dig interpretively into any one or few. I could imagine this being an interesting starter for a lesson on the soliloquy where the students then interpret two or three from the supercut–my favorites are Branagh’s, Tennant’s, and Gibson’s, but Hawke’s offers an interesting counter to the others. Alternatively, this supercut could open a lesson where the students prepare their own interpretations of the soliloquy–chunked into smaller sections or as a whole.

Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

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