To Be or Not To Be

to be or not to beSo take the following: Choose Your Own Adventure, Shakespeare, illustrations, humor. Which belong together? In Ryan North’s book To Be or Not To Be, a choosable-path adventure based on Hamlet, you can have all of the above!

At the beginning of the book, you choose to play as one of three characters: Ophelia, Hamlet, or Hamlet’s father. It works just like the Choose Your Own Adventure books you remember: each time you make a choice, you turn to another page to find out the result and (hopefully) make your next move. I played as Ophelia at first, and managed to get two happy endings in a row, which just tells me I make better life choices than the actual characters in Hamlet. I wasn’t so lucky with Hamlet’s father: in two moves I was dead. But! Surprise! I could come back as a ghost! Choices that actually go along with the plot of the play are marked with little Yorick-skulls, but we all know how that turned out; maybe choose something different?

The book is tremendous fun. It’s illustrated by just about every webcomic artist known to human beings, like Kate Beaton and Jeph Jacques and Lar deSouza and Randall Munroe and Danielle Corsetto. The description of the paths you choose is funny and engaging, and contains all sorts of references to the actual play as well as to Shakespeare’s life and contemporaries (including Christina Marlowe.) Here, for instance, Ophelia has just chosen to let Laertes into her room.

O-okay? You let him into your room. He sits down on the bed and pats the empty space beside him.

You choose to remain standing.

“Listen,” he says, “I know you like Hamlet, but he’s a prince, so he’s going to have to marry someone of his own rank.”

“Who said anything about marriage?” you reply. “I’m happy with Hamlet, and he’s happy with me. We’re having fun. Nobody’s talking about marriage.”

“That’s another thing,” he says. “Look, if you have sex before marriage, then you’ll be ruined for other men and nobody will ever want you. He’s only dating you because he wants sex. Don’t sex him because I’m your brother and I’m telling you not to.”

Throw him out of your room and slam the door in his face: turn to 368

Sit down beside him, for some reason, and tell him that he makes a lot of sense (somehow?) and you’ll do as he says: turn to 394

There’s even a book within a book (instead of a play within a play) that you can read/play separately but that also figures in the larger, Hamlet-book. It’s so cleverly constructed and so much fun that you, or a group of people, could hang out making choices through this minefield of a play (so. many. deaths) for a long time before getting tired of it. You might even get obsessed by finding Ophelia a happy ending.

This entry was posted in Classics, Drama, Graphic Novels / Comics. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to To Be or Not To Be

  1. I read his Romeo and/or Juliet and looooooooooooooved it — so clever and fun!

  2. Ah man, I love Ryan North. I haven’t read this yet but I love Dinosaur Comics and I adore and cherish Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. What could be bad about Ryan North + webcomics artists + Shakespeare? :D

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