clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Watch: 9 famous Brits, including David Tennant and Judi Dench, duke it out over Hamlet

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

April 23 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, so of course the Brits went all out.

For the BBC, that meant convincing a full lineup of beloved Shakespearean actors to repeat the famous line from Hamlet, "To be or not to be," with increasingly silly intonations.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's most recent Hamlet, Paapa Essiedu, started things off simply, saying, "To be or not to be, that is the question," with no particular emphasis.

But then Tim Minchin rushed the stage. Minchin is an Australian comedian who's best known either for appearing on Californication or writing Matilda the Musical, depending on your cultural interests. And he felt strongly that it should be, "To be or not to be."

Minchin was followed by famous Hamlets Benedict Cumberbatch ("To be or not to be") and David Tennant ("To be or not to be, that is the question"). Rory Kinnear, the award-winning stage actor best known for slumming it in the James Bond franchise, suggested "To be or not to be, that is the question." Harriet Walter ("To be or not to be"), who has been in just about everything but is probably best known in the US for playing Lady Shackleton on Downton Abbey, hasn’t played Hamlet … "yet," she added significantly.

Things took a turn toward the A-list with the arrival of Sir Ian McKellen ("To be or not to be, that is the question") and Dame Judi Dench ("To be or not to be"). But they were all upstaged by Prince Charles himself, who gave us the definitive line reading: "To be or not to be, that is the question."

It's worth watching the whole thing, which is incredibly charming. In particular, keep an eye out for the recurring debate over whether or not there's a skull in the scene, and for the look on Cumberbatch's face when everyone called him Eddie Redmayne.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.