In illustrating how the Great War came to be viewed increasingly by Germans as an existential struggle, Max Hastings, in his Catastrophe: 1914: Europe Goes to War (p. 542), describes how

The words sein oder nichtsein — 'to be or not to be' - were constantly on people's lips.

Does this phrase, as implied, enter the German through from Hamlet? Were the Germans indeed quoting Shakespeare as they fought the British? Or does the phase have an independent origin — if not in English, at least in German?

  • @meireikei Still around? That association bonus sure helped didn't it? – LateralFractal Nov 23 '14 at 0:14
  • i do not even know what an association bonus is, i am fleeing into this nonsensical forum to escape the hour long hystericisms of my mother and the fact, that i have to live with her again - as a grown up man. – meireikei Nov 23 '14 at 0:18
  • @meireikei My condolences. The association bonus is a +100 bonus across all stack sites once you hit 200 on any stack. – LateralFractal Nov 23 '14 at 0:21
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    +1 Great question. This currently is a known saying and the Shakespeare pieces were translated over 100 years earlier by August Wilhelm Schlegel. Google ngram has a spike during WWI and does show that the expression did occur. It also shows mostly philosophical sources using it in the 18 and 19th century - no idea which side this supports – user45891 Nov 23 '14 at 0:59
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    @meireikei I am sorry if you are going through a bad time, but there are plenty of support sites on the net - I suggest you try one of those. This site is for serious historical discussion, not personal therapy, and certainly not for racist rants which I, personally, find highly offensive and inappropriate. – TheHonRose Nov 23 '14 at 11:00

Shakespeare has always been very popular in Germany. Versions of his plays were performed by German players already during Shakespeare's lifetime. In the nineteenth century there were more performances of Shakespeare's play in Germany than there were in Britain.

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    That's not the question. That Shakespeare was popular I know. The question is whether he is indeed the source of this phase, used in this context, or whether it has other origins, in either English or, especially, in German. – orome Nov 23 '14 at 1:26

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