Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: ‘To be or not to be’: an answer to this and other famous literary questions

Spectator competition winners: ‘To be or not to be’: an answer to this and other famous literary questions
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‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’; ‘What porridge had John Keats?’; ‘And is there honey still for tea?’ Your answers to these, and a host of other literary questions, were skilful and ingenious, so congratulations all round. Two admirably pithy responses to Hamlet’s famous dilemma came courtesy of Carolyn Beckingham:

‘To be, or not to be: that is the question.’

‘If you’re not certain, wait,’ is my suggestion.

The choice to live can be reversed at will;

You can’t say that about the choice to kill.

And Dr Bob Turvey:

When Hamlet first posed his old question,

Suicide was not worth a suggestion.

Because, at the time,

’Twas considered a crime;

Dignitas now allows its selection.

And there was much to enjoy elsewhere in a large, lively and varied entry. Bill Greenwell takes the bonus fiver, the rest earn £25.

Bill Greenwell

Silvia’s a familiar fraud,

Perpetual to men —

Idealised, and much adored,

And worshipped if she’s from abroad,

When subject to man’s pen:

As firm of curve as avocado!

As fresh as ripening peach!

To any swell, she’s El Dorado —

Deneuve, Moreau, Loren and Bardot —

Perfected, out of reach.

Nary need to know Verona

To mansplain her domains:

The dream of every careless owner,

To every dog a constant boner —

Thus Silvia to swains.

John Whitworth

When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning or in rain

Or wait until the weather’s better?

When shall we three meet again?

Shall we catch the stopping train?

Or communicate by letter?

When shall we three meet again?

Shall we take an aeroplane

To Vienna or Valletta?

When shall we three meet again?

Shall we go to Dunsinane

Or would Basingstoke be better?

When shall we three meet again?

People think we’re quite insane.

Thunder, lightning, bloody rain,

And the weather’s getting wetter.

Chris O’Carroll

‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’

You ask. Start slow, know planters from their plants.

Ask and hear back no answer from the ants.

Distinguish chanting monks from games of chance,

A cantor from the wine that he decants.

Observe your dog, a panter with no pants.

Tell how un-elfin are the elephants.

Enter some portal that does not entrance.

What do we know of Romans and romance?

How can french windows not look out on France?

When might we see a cancer look askance?

Which fineries are finer than finance?

You fancy an extravagant expanse

Of thought experiments, a circumstance

At odds with mental habits that enhance

A skill for sorting dancers out from dance.

W.J. Webster

Indifferently, the wheel-man binds and breaks:

Whatever life is brought to him he takes.

With title to the instrument he wields

He deals in agony for what it yields.

That is his trade, he’s versed in all its skills:

It’s not his part to question what he kills.

He works the wheel his duties to fulfil

For doing so he does another’s will.

So, should he fail to bring the end desired

He is dismissed and sees another hired.

For strength is hard to have and not to use,

And greater strength gives more power to abuse.

Consider, now, that power need not mean might:

Some aim to crush with words they speak or write.

Well-armed with fame, a poet, if he will,

May spike a butterfly upon a quill.

Alan Millard

‘And who are you?’ the caterpillar asks.

No wonder little Alice is confused.

The question any sage’s wisdom tasks

And on the answer many minds have mused.

Some say we’re merely matter, some say mind,

While others think we’re stardust from afar;

By looking in a mirror can we find

In our reflections who we really are

Or is it only through another’s eyes

Our quintessential essence is revealed?

Is who we think we are a web of lies,

A fantasy that keeps the truth concealed?

No, nothing is insoluble, and should

A caterpillar ask who I might be

I’d give the answer anybody would

And say without a second thought, ‘I’m me.’

Ray Kelley

Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?

You’re only a small boy who likes to talk tough.

You must win every deal; less than that’s not


You’ve not learnt your predisposition to boast

Is all due to the spur that excites you the most:

A longing to gain universal approval.

Protesters who call for your speedy removal

Are either fake news or a witch hunt unfair —

Uniquely — to you. And you seem unaware

When you speak off the cuff, as you frequently do,

That what you are saying now quashes your view

Of a moment before. You are good; foes are bad

Or they’re mad, or (you say with a heavy heart)


A simple vocab serves your reasoning simplistic.

You need to grow up, but to be realistic

That’s not at all likely. You’re too narcissistic.

Your next challenge is to submit clerihews about a contemporary politician. Please email up to four each to by midday on 14 June.