To Be or Not to Be
Author: Ryan North
Series: Chooseable-Path Adventures
Page Count: 548
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Original Publication Date: 2013
Genre(s): Fiction, Humor, Retelling
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Or maybe you’re more of the Ophelia type, though you prefer to give her a better ending than Shakespeare gave her. Or maybe you would prefer to be Hamlet Sr., and yeah, he gets killed, but he also gets to be a freakin’ ghost! Ryan North lets you choose your own character and adventure in this chooseable-path adventure book. With over 100 different outcomes between the three playable characters (King Hamlet’s ghost, Ophelia, and Prince Hamlet), you’re bound to have endless fun with this fantastic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s (in my opinion, greatest) play.
I first heard about this book on So Many Damn Books and couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before. Apparently, this book started out as a Kickstarter project in 2012, raising more than $500,000. Which is CRAZY. I told my girlfriend about it that night, and the next day she had it ordered for me on Amazon. She is amazing. I’ve been flipping through it for a few months now and though I’ll probably never run through every possible outcome, I’ve played as each character at least once and would like to share those outcomes.
I first played as Hamlet, and while flipping through pages following each decision I made, I was sure I would end up horrifically dead. The book features tons of illustrations, many of them comical, some of them pretty sad because wow, you can die a lot. Surprisingly, as Hamlet, I ended up exacting revenge on Claudius, became King of Denmark with Ophelia at my side, and became suuuuuuper rich. The end.
Yeah. I don’t know how I managed to live happily ever after. So when I played next as Ophelia, I was sure I would meet a terrible demise, like she faces in the original play. Unfortunately, I received a good outcome with her, too! As Ophelia, I ended up distracting Hamlet from his obsession with his father’s ghost, and we wound up moving in together, getting married, and eventually becoming King and Queen of Denmark when Claudius (who never fathered an heir) died of lung cancer. We had a kid named Alex. The end.
Okay, so playing as the dead King Hamlet had to give me a negative outcome. I mean, I die in the opening lines. Well, funnily enough, you can either choose to become a ghost and continue the story, or you can choose nothingness and immediately reach The End. I decided to become a ghost, and guess-freakin’-what…….. I ended up discovering who killed me, tracked him down, killed him (in a really, really gross way), and lived out my ghost-days as some kind of judge from the afterlife.
Yeah, so, I basically “won” in every situation. How? I don’t know. But I’m interested in playing a dozen more times to try and reach a negative outcome.
The book is written really well. It’s modernized and incredibly comical. In one scene, Hamlet crabwalks out of Ophelia’s room after undressing. Like, what? North also gives Ophelia more depth, which is awesome. She’s studying science in University and (in my outcome) ended up developing an early version of a thermometer. She’s definitely a kick-ass, intelligent female character, not just a love interest in the background who kills herself over a boy. It’s refreshing.
The outcomes can get pretty ridiculous as far as I can tell from flipping through the pages. You can even choose to follow Shakespeare’s original play, as denoted by small skulls next to certain choices. These are actually “Yorick skulls,” and if you know your Hamlet, you know Yorick is the dead court jester whose skull is dug up by the gravedigger in Act 5.
In addition to these skulls, there are also a plethora of illustrations throughout the book. The illustrations add a lot to the humor of it all. They are all drawn by various artists and are given credit in the back of the book.
This is not a book you sit down and “read” in one sitting, but rather one you flip through every now and then when you want to revisit Hamlet’s Denmark. It’s endless fun and something to share with friends. In fact, I have a former English professor who would love to know about this… Definitely a coffee-table book that gives you the power to play an RPG without actually turning on your video game console.
**After some research on Wikipedia, I found it interesting to note that during some outcomes, you can switch to control another character, i.e. from King Hamlet to Hamlet. You can also play as Claudius in one scenario, and even as Horatio in another!