To illustrate 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 language 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?


1 Answer 1


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.

  • 2
    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, 2014 at 1:26

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