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

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Hold Up, This Book Is Crazy

To Be or Not To Be: That Is the Adventure is a Gamebook 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.

A Kickstarter-exclusive prequel, Poor Yorick, was also made, with illustrations by Tyson Hesse.

It has also been adapted for the PC, iOS and Android. It has a sequel, Romeo and/or Juliet.

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

  • 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.
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: invoked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are portrayed much more favorably as awesome friends to Hamlet, and the narrator frequently sings their praises in the PARTY BOAT!!! branch. (You can guess North is a fan of Tom Stoppard.) In fact, when Hamlet discovers the letter recommending his death to the king of England, Ros and Guil are as surprised as he is. The covert letter-swap still happens, but rather than designating his friends for death, Hamlet advises the king to set them up lavishly instead. Ros and Guil stay as Hamlet's allies from then on.
  • 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.
  • Asshole Victim: In one of the endings, it is mentioned that you (as Hamlet) kill Fortinbras, but he's a jerk, so nobody cares.
  • As You Know: Often used to explain details about the setting to clarify potentially confusing things to the audience. Also Lampshaded and Defied:
    Oh! You do figure out a way to measure the specific gravity of alcohol while Hamlet's busy. That's pretty cool.
    All it requires is a flask that's weighed three times: once empty, once full of water, and once full of the liquid you're measuring, and then you can – but why am I telling you this?
    You invented the whole technique!
  • 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.
  • Bond One-Liner: Both Hamlet and Ophelia love to use these when killing people, usually involving body parts.
  • …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. Occasionally, you'll be given choices, but choosing one of them will just loop you around to the correct choice anyway. For instance, you can join in with the gravedigger's song as Hamlet, but it changes nothing, as the end result of finding Yorick's skull is the same. 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
  • Cessation of Existence: Can happen to the Ghost of Hamlet Senior if he gets killed… again.
  • 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.
  • Complexity Addiction: Hamlet and Ophelia can plan to murder Claudius by using a book to get him admit to his crimes, after which they plan to stab him. When Ophelia rejects Hamlet's attempt to write said book, they plan to plagiarize an existing book to match the situation. Hamlet shows Ophelia The Murder of Gonzago: A "The Adventure Is Being Chosen by You' Story! Can You Murder Your Brother Gonzago and Then, Playing as Your Dead Brother's Son, Murder Your Usurping Uncle? I Sure Hope So; Choose From Over 300 Different Possible Endings. Ophelia suggests simply showing Claudius that book, but Hamlet still wants to plagiarize it.
  • 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." It's a pun.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Discussed all over the place. Namely, the Lemony Narrator makes note of the massive amounts of sexism towards women in the story. The first scene with Ophelia, if you follow the story as written, will have the narrator point out how Ophelia is agreeing to incredibly sexist things about a woman's place in the world by her father and her brother. This includes asking about her sex life and calling her a slut for sleeping with Hamlet before marriage, yet he gets to sleep around as much as he wants with no consequences.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: In the "ways to murder a king" list.
    (Requires: explosions.)
  • End Game Plus: So you've finished the book, but aren't satisfied with the ending? Good news, there's a secret ending afterwards: put down the book, and be the best damn person you can be.
  • Epic Fail: One ending, which you can only reach by flipping the page after the introduction, has the narrator calling you out for being incapable of following simple instructions and awards you "maybe learn to read books better sometime" points out of 1000
  • Featureless Protagonist: Parodied.
    “That was my uncle Skellington!” 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 you’ve done.
  • Fix Fic: Several routes serve this purpose relative to the original story, especially the ones that go into depth on his relationship with Ophelia.
  • Genre Roulette: Is the story a mystery? A grisly gore fest? A romance? An adventure? Either way, the only thing that stays constant is that it's a comedy.
  • Golden Ending: If Hamlet chooses to simply kill Claudius, his benevolent and competent rule makes Denmark (and through trade relations, the rest of the world) a better place, and he accidentally steps on a butterfly which prevents two worldwide wars.
  • 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.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Laertes. His first line in the book is 'If you sleep with Hamlet you're a slut!'
  • Historical Domain Character: At one point, you can encounter a gender-flipped version of Christopher Marlowe named Chrstina Marlowe.
  • Hurricane of Puns: During the fight with the pirate captain. Every attack Hamlet makes comes complete with a pun of some kind.
  • 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??'
  • Late to the Tragedy: Two of Ophelia's endings result in her arriving late to the throne room to find almost everyone dead as a result of Hamlet's actions, much like at the end of the play. In the "returning from vacation" ending, Fortinbras has already been crowned king. In the "faking drowning" ending, Fortinbras arrives shortly after and is just as clueless about what has transpired as Ophelia is.
  • 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 chastises you for abusing your reader privileges.
    • In a very Off the Rails side path, Ophelia loudly announces her intention to "KILL EVERYONE IN HAMLET". The narrator then clarifies that she meant kill everyone in this hamlet. As in, village.
  • Lemony Narrator: It's a parody of Hamlet as a choose-your-own-adventure book; this trope was practically inevitable. Sticking to the canon route mostly has him bemoaning your terrible decisions and attempting to salvage things by retconning events and/or wresting control from you, but he's got plenty of snark to dish out for the rest of the book.
  • 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.
  • Multiple Endings: Well of course! The endings range from the many ways that Hamlet Sr. can spend his afterlife, to the various ways that Hamlet and Ophelia can kill Claudius, to Ophelia cutting a bloody swath across the character roster, to everybody being total idiots and getting killed in the dumbest ways possible.
  • 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 I’m not going to say here because I don’t 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.
  • New Game Plus: If you reach the ending where Hamlet travels back in time, you're instructed to re-read the book until you reach a certain choice, and instead of picking one of the choices given, you're instructed to do some math to enter the new timeline created by the previous ending.
  • Noodle Implements: At one point when killing Claudius as Ophelia.
    Anyway, I don’t want to get too gory but you kill Claudius with a mace and two knives and a vegetable peeler!
  • Offscreen Inertia: Parodied in Ophelia's "ninjas" subplot. Ophelia and Hamlet spy on the other characters, only to find out that everyone else in the story lives awfully dull and uneventful lives when the two of them aren't around.
  • Off the Rails: Play your cards right, and you can derail the story in insane ways that the Lemony Narrator accepts, such as making Hamlet shoot himself out of a cannon or having Ophelia murder everybody. This is because the narrator doesn't like the original play or just finds it boring. As such, spicing it up by doing something insane will make the narrator like you if you take something far enough.invoked
  • 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."
  • Press Start to Game Over: Picking Hamlet Sr. at the start gets you immediately killed by Claudius. Fortunately, the narrator takes pity on you and lets you become a ghost, although you can end things there by rejecting the offer.
  • Posthumous Character: Hamlet's father, natch. You can play as his ghost, trying to influence events.
  • Puzzle Boss: Ophelia vs Gertrude in a deadly chess match at the end of one path.
  • Railroading: It's obvious that the Lemony Narrator doesn't actually like the original play and thinks his version is superior; attempting to derail his ideas or act out the canonical version of Hamlet leads to increasingly angry tantrums and attempts to retcon away your actions, such as claiming Hamlet was only pretending to be a jerk to Ophelia. Play your cards right though, and you can derail the story in insane ways that he accepts, such as making Hamlet shoot himself out of a cannon or having Ophelia murder everybody.invoked
  • 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.
  • Shmuck Bait: When introducing the characters you can choose, the narrator waxes on about the awesomeness of Hamlet's dad and suggests that if you choose him, "You may experience kingly glory." Of course, you're immediately murdered in your sleep.
  • 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.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Played with for Ophelia as though she is quite intelligent, she turns out to have never played chess, resulting in her being almost completely outmatched by Gertrude in most of the moves she makes. However, if the reader picks the right choices, they can have Ophelia get the hang of it and be flexible enough to beat Gertrude.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Even if you choose to re-enact the original play, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern don't die; Hamlet just tells Horatio they did in order to cover up the real events. They do end up dead in some of the other paths, though; most commonly they are murdered by Ophelia.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: When playing as Claudius, the player can make him run away screaming "I'M NOT A MURDERER!" even though nobody accused him of anything. The forged letter that Hamlet replaces Claudius's letter with is also this, repeatedly insisting that Claudius really did write the letter even if he claims not to. Also there's this, on the narrator's part:
    "You go to bed and spend about eight hours lying unconscious while you hallucinate. Wait, humans call that "dreaming," right? Right! Because we're all humans here!"
  • 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."
  • Unreadably Fast Text: In the Steam version, you can turn the page again after the Epic Fail ending above, which you can only reach by flipping the page after the introduction. But this time, the text scrolls so fast that it's difficult to read note  because you somehow managed to break the narration doing so. This is it in full:
    "Okay, wow. You... you tried to turn the page again. I hope you weren't listening to the narration, because you just managed to break that."
    "You're persistent, I'll give you that, ESPECIALLY as this isn't even technically a book. You shouldn't be able to turn to the next page in the first place!"
    "Points for trying, I guess."
    ["+74 Effort Points" is displayed]
    "How about... 74 Effort Points out of a possible 1000?"
    "Unfortunately, your Comprehension Points just took a HUGE nosedive."
    ["-53,000 Comprehension Points" is displayed]
    "You've got like, negative 53,000 of those now. I don't know how you're even reading this"
  • 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.
    • Also, in some of the bloodier endings, the narrator gets worried about the player's thirst for blood.
      "After Gertrude's dead... (And no, I'm not telling you how it happened, you are a SICKO for even wanting to know, what is WRONG with you, also you MURDERED A WHOLE TOWN and that's weird too, now that I think about it,)"
    • And in another ending:
      "As gamemaster, I can see across alternate timelines, and dude, this isn't even the first time you've killed everyone in the entire town. It is the first time you camped out in one room and killed them as they walked in, which was easier than the alternative, I guess, but it really seems like maybe you’ve got some issues you maybe want to work out? Maybe there are some things you want to address? Perhaps some impulses within you should be brought to light, just maybe?? AND HERE I’M KINDA REFERRING TO YOU, THE READER, IN REAL LIFE?? ...Naw, I’m just kidding, fantasy is awesome because you can do whatever you want and not get in trouble. Kill ’em all, m’lady!!"
  • Weasel Words: During the character select, the narrator goes on about how awesome Hamlet's father is and promises that if you select him, you "MAY experience kingly glory." Of course, you start the story already dead.
  • 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'.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!: Said word-for-word during the fight at Ophelia's funeral. You even have the option to turn Hamlet into an Expy of The Incredible Hulk, complete with Hulk Speak.

Alternative Title(s): To Be Or Not To Be