Author : Bob Newbell

“To be or not to be.”

“Well, continue,” said the red, starfish-like alien to his compatriot.

“I don’t understand the line,” replied the tall being with twenty spindly tentacles. “What does ‘not to be’ mean?”

“Hamlet is considering life versus death.”


“It’s an irreversible loss of metabolic function resulting in the dissolution of the organism. All humans experience it. Let’s continue.”

The lanky green extraterrestrial got back into character. “To be, or not to be–that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous– What are slings and arrows?”

The red alien threw up two of his five limbs in exasperation. “They’re primitive human weapons. Shakespeare is using them as a metaphor for the suffering Hamlet is experiencing due to his situation. Now we really need to continue. Remember: We will be performing the play for a human audience. They will understand even if the words and concepts seem incomprehensible to us.”

The would-be thespian fluttered his tentacles, his people’s equivalent to a nod of the head, and resumed his lines.

“…The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to– Say, what does–”

“They lose consciousness! They call it ‘sleep’! Keep going!”

“Wait, why do they lose consciousness? Is it some kind of illness?”

“No, they spend about one-third of their lives asleep. Now we’ve only got a few more days to rehearse this before–”

“One-third of their lives?! Unconscious?! No wonder they took so long to become an interstellar species. That, and the fact that they have way too few arms.”

The red alien glared at his companion.

“…a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and–”

The tentacled alien said nothing but looked at the theatrical producer.

“It’s a muscular organ that pumps blood,” he said angrily.

“Okay,” replied the actor. “So ‘heart-ache’ means Hamlet is experiencing myocardial ischemia, right? Should I clutch my thorax when I say that line?”

The producer gripped the datapad which contained the Bard’s words with such fury that the device seemed on the verge of snapping in two. “He’s sad. That’s what ‘heart-ache’ means. Humans regard their blood-pumping organ as the seat of their emotions. Don’t try to understand it. Just keep reading.”

“… end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream.” The actor fell silent.

The starfish trembled. “Don’t ask it.”

“But I just–”

“It doesn’t matter!”


The producer hurled the datapad to the floor. “Don’t you even think of doing it!”

The tentacled being remained silent. His stellate-arm associate calmly crawled over to where he had thrown the datapad and picked it up.

“Alright,” said the producer, “let’s pick up from where we left off.”

“Okay. But what’s a ‘dream’?”

Shortly thereafter, the actor finally understood what unconsciousness was.

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