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To Be or Not To Be

Shakespeare, it seems, isn’t very popular these days. Most people associate Shakespeare with only the dry and painful days at school, when they were forced to study his works – usually limited to The Merchant of Venice and perhaps a verse or two from The Tempest or the opening scene of Macbeth. Quoting Shakespeare in everyday conversation is usually not a good social stimulant either, unless you’re in The Royal Shakespeare Company or in the company of old men who are willing to lend you their ears.

Despite this, there are certain Shakespearean lines that stick. The famous To be or not to be, that is the question, for example. Of course, few know that it comes from Shakespeare, in a fairly depressing soliloquy in Hamlet. Fewer know that it is a question borne of  existential angst. Today, in many circles, the quote has evolved into something of a joke without any intent at satire.

The party most guilty for the massacre of Shakespeare must, undoubtedly, be the writing industry. I vaguely remember an extremely painful advertising slogan “To Breed or Not To Breed” in a campaign to curb the breeding of mosquitoes. At least, I think that was the slogan. I couldn’t look at it for more than half a second before cringing. (I can’t decide which pesky slogan is worse, this one or If They Breed, You Will Bleed.) To Breed of Not To Breed, as expected, has also been over-used in countless articles on child-bearing, dog-rearing, and sperm development, probably by writers who just want their miserly $20 for the article. Second only to them are the teenagers and academics (who are mostly grown up teenagers anyway) who believe accessorising their work with random, inappropriate lines from Shakespeare somehow makes them wittier and less superficial. (This particular gripe is with the acclaimed article Southeast Asia: What’s In the Name? by Donald Emmerson, which has generated a huge round of applause by the deconstructionist folk.)

You can probably guess, by now, that the writer of this post is an ardent fan of Shakespeare. That’s why, in lieu of catchy slogans, I applaud for selling Pieces of Cheese’s t-shirt: