"To be or not to be," what is the opinion of critics, romantics and Shakespeare of this quote? Why is this quote so popular?
Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" (3.1) soliloquy has permeated the entire cultural fabric of Western civilization. Even people who haven't read the play know where this famous quote comes from!
This soliloquy is at the heart of Hamlet and really carries the essence of the play. We'll need to quote it in order to savour its magnificence:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune(65)
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'tis a consummation(70)
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep—
To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there's the respect(75)
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of disprized love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns(80)
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death(85)
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,(90)
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. Soft you now!(95)
The fair Ophelia!
In the first lines Hamlet ponders the essential (existential) plight of being in the world. Literary critics love this selection because you might quote from Sartre, Heidegger, Bloom--nearly any literary critic or philosopher is applicable. This quote is timeless and speaks to everyone across time and space. This speech is asking the essential questions we as on a daily basis: shall I live or die? Shall I give up and end it? Shall i keep bearing the thousand natural shocks and trials that flesh is heir to? And for what? Is there a heaven after this life? Or is this life but a dream? The questions pertain to every human. That is why this quote is so popular and so cherished by many.
Enotes has many appropriate resources in answering your question. I didn't state what each literary theorist or philosopher would have said because some of it is the task for you to interpret and because my post would be too long! Here's a start for you, however. Do an enotes search under criticism and you'll find an excerpt that deals with this soliloquy exactly.
Literary critics and scholars that have written on this soliloquy include: Stephen Booth, Harold Bloom, Northrope Frye, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Greenblatt...there are literally hundreds!! Do an enotes search first, and see where that takes you.