It is certainly the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare—at least the first line of it.
Within the play Hamlet, the speech does not move a lot of plot, and often feels a little separated from the story. Different quartos and folios of Shakespeare’s work also had different versions of the speech. It is often thought of as a soliloquy, but that is inaccurate, as Ophelia is generally onstage during the speech, with Polonius and Claudius hidden behind a curtain. Thus, it is up to the director and the actor playing the role, to decide whether Hamlet means every word of the speech, or whether it is something of an act put on because he knows people are listening.
The fame of the speech probably stems from the pithy, beautiful opening line: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” It is extremely easy to remember, and jumps right into themes of suicide and human nature more directly than a lot of other Shakespearian speeches. The fact that the speech is not overly concerned with the plot...
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