Literature: To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure

Hold Up, This Book Is Crazy

To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure is a Choose Your Own Adventure-style adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, written by Ryan North. Using the conceit that it is, in fact, the original story of Hamlet, from which Shakespeare lifted a single path and later turned that path into a play, the book allows readers to choose between multiple viewpoint characters and a number of plot tangents of varying levels of realism.

The book was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that, when it ended, was the most successful publishing project in Kickstarter history, attaining 2,904% of its $20,000 goal.

Is has also been adapted for the PC, iOs and Android.


To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Acting Unnatural: While trying to cover up Polonius' murder, Hamlet is many times given the option to just play the situation off by acting casual. Since lying down on the floor in a room covered with blood isn't exactly the most normal of actions, it fails miserably every time.
  • Action Girl: Ophelia, unless you choose to follow the play's plot, which is treated as Character Derailment.
    Ophelia's adventure is as well-thought-out as Hamlet's, but rather than being a hero suffering from crippling inaction, you are a smart, self-sufficient woman who knows what she wants and is totally rad 100% of the time, and also you are dating a PRINCE. You can choose what you want to do with your life: help your boyfriend who's crying about a spooky ghost, or I don't know TAKE DOWN INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS INSTEAD?? It's nuts. It's awesome. Oh my gosh.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Hamlet's brush with the pirates is expanded into a full-on swashbuckling adventure.
  • AFGNCAAP: Parodied.
    ďThat was my uncle Skellington!Ē screams your husband or wife, depending on your sexual orientation and life choices. If you are not married, you scream it to yourself while looking in the mirror as you realize what youíve done.
  • Anachronism Stew: If you were expecting complete historical accuracy, you're not gonna find it in this book wherein Ophelia invents indoor heating, Hamlet signs to Ophelia "YA SERIOUSLY WTF" and the characters occasionally discuss the sexism inherent in the time period. Of course, this is completely intentional as per Rule of Cool and Rule of Funny.
  • Anticlimax: Several. Among them, you can decide to go murder Claudius immediately then rule the kingdom as an awesome and benevolent monarch. The End.
  • As You Know: Often used to explain details about the setting to clarify potentially confusing things to the audience.
  • Bad Liar: Pretty much everyone, but Claudius really takes the cake: at one point while playing him you're given the option to suddenly yell "I'M NOT A MURDERER!", throw a book at Hamlet, yell "I regret nothing!" and then run away sobbing. Before anyone has actually accused you of anything.
  • Bi the Way: Ophelia, judging by the fact that one of the people she can date in England is a woman.
    • Also quite probably Horatio. In one of the Ophelia storylines he gives her a choose-your-own adventure book to catch her up on events at court. One of the paths in this book involves him marrying most of the girls at court and some of the guys. It's implied to be wish fulfillment on his part.
  • But He Sounds Handsome: Happens on a meta level when Hamlet hears that an author is coming to the castle and immediately starts talking about how handsome and sexy authors are.
  • But Thou Must: The book has a few of these, but the most blatant is in the chess match between Ophelia and Gertrude:
    Block with my queen (QD8-D7): turn to page 49
    Block with my bishop (BF8-E7): turn to page 49
    Block with my horse (NG8-E7): turn to page 49
  • Character Derailment: invokedOphelia has been retooled as a smart Action Girl. If you choose to make her act in accordance with the play, the narrator chides you repeatedly for ruining her, and eventually forces you to switch to Hamlet. (Coincidentally as her scene ends.)
    Listen, I'm going to cut our losses here. You're not allowed to be Ophelia for a while.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Dating Sim: If you choose to take a vacation as Ophelia, the adventure instead turns into one of these as Ophelia gets to choose from between three people to find True Love. And then terrorists attack instead.
  • Dedication: "To Bea."
  • Genre Roulette: Is the story a mystery? A grizzly gore fest? A romance? An adventure? Either way, the only thing that stays constant is that it's a comedy.
  • Gotta Kill Em All: One ending has Ophelia killing every single character in the story, because Claudius' ghost convinces them to kill her first, or die trying.
  • Hurricane of Puns: During the fight with the pirate captain. Every attack Hamlet makes comes complete with a pun of some kind.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Laertes. His first line in the book is 'If you sleep with Hamlet you're a slut!'
  • I Am A Humanitarian: If you choose to dump Polonius' body parts into a stew and then eat it, for some reason.
  • It's for a Book: The acknowledgements page has Ryan thanking Metafilter for giving him advice on how to dispose of a dead body, and then also thanking the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for not getting him in trouble for making searches like 'gross dead body +how to hide it' and 'what if I committed the murder act, how do I ditch the body & not go to jail IT'S AN EMERGENCY??'
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Throughout the book you can jump between characters. At one point when you're Ophelia and you can't get Hamlet to go along with your plans, you have the option to jump to Hamlet, get him to agree and jump back to Ophelia. Eventually the author chastizes you for abusing your reader privileges.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Naturally. Occasionally parodied, for example when Hamlet jumps out of a fifth story window, miraculously survives, and then trips over a body part and breaks his neck. The narration says that you could complain about the out of nowhere neck-breaking death, but jumping out the window in the first place was so stupid that you sorta can't.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: During the fight with the pirate captain.
    The pirate captain gloats at drawing first blood, pointing to you and calling you a bunch of very unkind names that Iím not going to say here because I donít want you to throw down this book so you can try to find and murder this pirate in real life! Just take my word for it: the things he says about you are that bad.
  • Never One Murder: One of Ophelia's endings has her murder Claudius in front of Gertrude. Which naturally makes her have to murder Gertrude as well, only to notice Horatio - and so on and so on until Ophelia's killed every single character with her bare hands again. By the time Hamlet arrives, Ophelia has become so used to killing people that she accidentally kills him as well.
  • Noodle Implements: At one point when killing Claudius as Ophelia.
    Anyway, I donít want to get too gory but you kill Claudius with a mace and two knives and a vegetable peeler!
  • One-Liner: Everywhere, constantly. Sometimes paths diverge depending on which one-liner your character chooses to use (and then converge again later, but still). On one path, you, the reader, are given a blank line on which to write your own one-liner.
  • Poke the Poodle: Even after he finds out he's been murdered, Hamlet senior's initial plans for revenge on Claudius are pretty weak. Subverted when he hears that Claudius is sleeping with his wife and he demands Hamlet murder him.
    "Anyway, I want you to take revenge on him for me. I dunno. Cuss him out or something. Pull out his chair when he's about to sit down. Offer him a high five but when he tries to high five you, pull your hand away and say, 'Too slow.' Or should he offer you a high five, you must leave him hanging."
  • Puzzle Boss: Ophelia vs Gertrude in a deadly chess match at the end of one path.
  • Railroading: The narrator likes to punish you for insisting on the stupid and/or sexist choices by forcing you along a particular path. Unsurprisingly, this happens quite a bit along the "canon" route.
  • Reality Ensues: You can have Hamlet try to kill Claudius by firing himself out of a cannon, at which point the narrator asks what kind of outcome you're aiming for. Choosing the realistic outcome has Hamlet turned into a fine red mist which splatters Claudius and Gertrude.
  • Retcon: If you choose the crazy options when interacting with Ophelia early on, the narrator gets annoyed and retcons an earlier scene to have Hamlet tell Horatio that he's going to act crazy for a little while in an attempt to find a justification for your actions.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: During the path where Claudius's ghost kills Hamlet, Ophelia sets out to "kill everyone in Hamlet, and by that I mean this village!" with Gertrude as the Final Boss.
  • Science Marches On: Lampshaded In-Universe regarding the original script.
    King Hamlet: While I was sleeping he poured poison in my ear.
    Hamlet: I didn't know poisons worked that way.
    King Hamlet: That's what I said!
  • Scoring Points: Occasionally the game offers points, especially at endings. They are, of course, always useless. For example, one ending earns you apples out of 100. Another earns you 15 litres of points.
  • Screw Yourself: In one ending, Hamlet goes back in time to kill Claudius with his past self. The epilogue suggests that this is exactly what ensues.
  • Second-Person Narration: This being a choose your own adventure book.
  • Shout-Out: Dozens. In particular, every time Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show up, you can expect references to Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff - up to and including actually looking like them in some of the ending art.
  • Show Within a Show: As in the original. This time, however, the inner book is another Choose Your Own Adventure story partially about killing skeletons.
  • Slutshaming: Laertes in his first appearance. The narrative presents this as misogynistic and stupid, though.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: In one scene:
    "Screaming, you throw your sword at the pirate, roll a natural 20, and do a critical hit right in his eye."
  • Values Dissonance: In-universe. The narrator occasionally speculates that "future generations" might view certain choices as more socially acceptable than others. Sometimes it explicitly describes choices Hamlet can make as sexist — every one of which Shakespeare chose on his path.
  • What the Hell, Player?: The narrator chides you for stupid or misogynistic choices. This includes almost everything Ophelia does in the original play, and a large portion of Hamlet's canonical behavior.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: Played with. At one point, Hamlet can choose to escape a bad situation by jumping out the window. Of a tower. The next page has him miraculously survive, surprisingly, until he suddenly slips on something and falls to his death. The narration admits that the actual death was pretty arbitrary and unsatisfying, but also says that the original choice to leap out of the window was so stupid that the audience can't really complain.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: Parodied in a sequence based around text adventure games when Hamlet tries to find increasingly bizarre ways of rephrasing the sentence 'look room'.


Alternative Title(s):

To Be Or Not To Be