‘To Be, or Not To Be’

Hamlet Q1, Q2 and Montaigne

in Critical Survey

The differences between the second quarto (1604–1605) version of Hamlet’s soliloquy beginning ‘To be, or not to be’ and the version contained in the first quarto (1603) have often been used to argue for the authorial integrity of the former and the degenerate nature of the latter. However, recent research has questioned the customary primacy between these two texts, arguing instead that Q2 revises and expands Q1. This article will attempt to substantiate this interpretation by showing that Shakespeare’s revision of ‘To be, or not to be’ is inspired by Montaigne’s essay ‘By diuerse meanes men come vnto a like end’, translated by John Florio and published in 1603. Shakespeare’s indebtedness to Montaigne has been noted before, most notably in The Tempest. But it is significant that possibly Shakespeare’s first direct encounter with Montaigne is inspired by the very first three pages of Montaigne’s Essays.