Huffpost Books
Ariel Edwards-Levy Headshot
Emily Swanson Headshot

'To Be Or Not To Be': That Was Our Poll Question

Posted: Updated:
SHAKESPEARE
Vasiliki Varvaki via Getty Images

William Shakespeare would have turned 450 on Wednesday. In honor of his birthday, a HuffPost/YouGov poll posed some of his most memorable questions to the American public. In true Shakespearean fashion, we're introducing the results with a sonnet:

Do Shakespeare's words apply to us today?
Assessing that was our primary goal.
So taking inspiration from his plays
We asked his famous questions in a poll.
"To be or not"? Is greatness "thrust" or earned?
In stars or in ourselves, where does fault lie?
Perhaps it won't surprise too much to learn
That differences by party may apply.
At least on one thing most of us agree:
Too much of a good thing can be desired.
And so enough attempting poetry,
We'll get to the results before you're tired.
We know this sonnet's bad, but could be worse;
At least we don't conduct our polls in verse.

(Okay, so ours might not quite live up to Shakespeare's greatness, but how many of you have written a sonnet about polling? Yeah, that's what we thought.*

*If you do write a polling-related sonnet, please send it to us here.)

Hamlet's famous query "To be, or not to be?" elicited a fairly clear answer from Americans: 50 percent prefer to be. Just 5 percent opted not to be, while 45 percent weren't sure, but admitted "that is the question" (we didn't give them any other option).

A 57 percent majority also preferred to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them, while 12 percent chose to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. (Hamlet again -- and yes, we think the majority put a more life-affirming spin on what it means to end one's troubles than did the prince of Denmark.)

It's true, of course, that "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them," as Olivia allegedly told Malvolio in "Twelfth Night." But among Americans, at least, those groups are far from equal. More said they had achieved greatness (39 percent) than were born great (13 percent) or had greatness thrust upon them (10 percent).

Americans don't just give themselves credit for achieving their successes, but also blame themselves for their failings. Sixty percent agreed with Cassius in "Julius Caesar" that the fault that we are underlings lies in "ourselves," while only 8 percent said that "our stars" are to blame.

Democrats and Republicans tended to answer Shakespeare's questions differently, perhaps reflecting America's partisan divide over the relative importance of personal responsibility or social circumstances in driving our destiny.

Republicans (43 percent) were more likely than Democrats (37 percent) or independents (37 percent) to say they had achieved their own greatness. On the other hand, Democrats (17 percent) were more likely than independents or Republicans (11 percent for both) to say they'd been born great. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans and 62 percent of independents, but only 51 percent of Democrats, said it's our own fault that we are underlings.

But there are some things that Americans can agree on. The great majority (77 percent) -- including at least three-quarters of Democrats, Republicans and independents -- pondered Rosalind's query of Orlando in "As You Like It" and gave the same answer: Yes, one can desire too much of a good thing. Only 12 percent said one can't.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted April 18-21 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

Around the Web

Shakespeare's 450th birthday: Now all the world is his stage

6 ways to celebrate Shakespeare's 450th birthday in England

The best of Shakespeare's 450th birthday celebrations

13 Everyday Phrases That Actually Came From Shakespeare