To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Brief Intro

🎬 To Be or Not to Be is a 1942 classic film directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Set in Warsaw during World War II, the movie masterfully blends comedy and drama, focusing on a troupe of actors who become embroiled in a plot to stop Nazi spies. Through witty dialogue and clever plot twists, the film provides both entertainment and a poignant commentary on war and identity.

Literary Devices Used in To Be or Not to Be

1. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
The actors impersonating Nazis to outsmart themThe use of actors to deceive real Nazis highlights situational irony, as the fakes outwit the real villains.
The title itself, referencing HamletThe title “To Be or Not to Be” is ironic in a comedic setting, contrasting Shakespearean tragedy with wartime farce.

2. Satire

Movie SceneDevice Example
The depiction of Nazi officersThe exaggerated portrayal of Nazi officers highlights the absurdity of their ideology.
The theater troupe’s performancesThe plays within the movie mock the propagandist nature of the Nazis’ own spectacles.

3. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
The theater as a battlegroundThe theater represents a microcosm of the larger conflict, with performances mirroring real-life deception and strategy.
The disguises worn by charactersDisguises symbolize the fluidity of identity and the masks people wear to survive.

4. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
Introduction of the spyEarly mentions of the spy hint at future complications and intrigue.
The discussions about HamletReferences to Hamlet foreshadow the play’s thematic resonance with life-and-death decisions.

5. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
The character’s mustacheThe false mustache symbolizes deception and the ease with which appearances can be altered.
The theater’s stageThe stage represents the thin boundary between reality and performance.

6. Parody

Movie SceneDevice Example
The Nazi uniform disguisesThe actors’ portrayal of Nazis parodies the real menace, reducing them to comic figures.
The over-the-top dramatic performancesThe exaggerated acting style parodies both theatrical drama and real-life propaganda.

7. Hyperbole

Movie SceneDevice Example
The dramatic monologuesCharacters’ overblown speeches emphasize the ridiculousness of their situations.
The exaggerated reactions of charactersHyperbolic reactions highlight the absurdity of the circumstances.

8. Allusion

Movie SceneDevice Example
References to HamletThe constant references to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” create a parallel between the play and the characters’ dilemmas.
The film’s dialogueDialogues allude to contemporary political events, enhancing the film’s satirical tone.

9. Juxtaposition

Movie SceneDevice Example
Comedy scenes amid wartime settingsThe juxtaposition of humor with the grim reality of war underscores the resilience of the human spirit.
Romantic subplots within the espionage plotThe blending of romance and spy thriller elements highlights contrasting aspects of the characters’ lives.

10. Dramatic Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
Audience knowing the actors’ true identitiesThe audience is aware of the actors’ disguises, creating tension as real Nazis are fooled.
Characters unknowingly interacting with spiesDramatic irony is used when characters unknowingly interact with those plotting against them.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

Joseph Tura

Literary DeviceExplanation
IronyJoseph’s serious demeanor contrasts with the comedic situations he finds himself in.
SatireHis exaggerated portrayal of a vain actor satirizes the ego of performers and their desire for fame.

Maria Tura

Literary DeviceExplanation
MetaphorMaria’s dual roles on stage and in life symbolize the fluid nature of identity and reality.
HyperboleHer dramatic reactions and performances highlight the absurdity and exaggeration inherent in theater.

Colonel Ehrhardt

Literary DeviceExplanation
ParodyHis character parodies the stereotypical bumbling Nazi officer, making him a figure of ridicule.
Dramatic IronyHis interactions with the disguised actors create dramatic irony, as the audience knows more than he does.

Character Dynamics

The dynamics between Joseph and Maria Tura drive much of the film’s humor and tension. Their relationship, full of wit and rivalry, is a testament to the resilience and adaptability needed in times of crisis. The ensemble cast’s interactions also reflect the themes of deception and performance, as each character plays multiple roles both on and off the stage.

Thematic Analysis

Identity and Performance

SymbolismThe use of costumes and disguises highlights themes of identity and the fluid nature of self.
MetaphorThe theater serves as a metaphor for the deceptive nature of wartime espionage and survival.

War and Resistance

IronyThe absurdity of actors successfully deceiving Nazis underscores the chaos and unpredictability of war.
SatireThe film satirizes the Nazis, diminishing their power through humor and ridicule.

Love and Loyalty

JuxtapositionThe romantic subplots juxtaposed with the espionage plot emphasize the persistence of human connections.
HyperboleThe exaggerated displays of affection and jealousy add a comedic layer to the narrative.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
IronyCinematic CompositionThe framing of comedic scenes within serious settings enhances the ironic tone.
SatireCostumingThe exaggerated Nazi uniforms and mannerisms amplify the satirical portrayal of the officers.
MetaphorLightingThe use of light and shadow in the theater scenes underscores the theme of appearance vs. reality.
Dramatic IronyEditingCross-cutting between the actors and the Nazis creates tension and humor through dramatic irony.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene Selection

  1. The “Hamlet” Monologue Scene
  2. The Disguise Scene
    • Link: YouTube – Disguise Scene
    • Breakdown: The actors’ use of disguises to fool the Nazis is a masterclass in dramatic irony and satire, highlighting the absurdity of the situation and the cleverness of the characters.


To engage readers and test their understanding, here’s an interactive multiple-choice quiz!

Quiz: Test Your Knowledge on ‘To Be or Not to Be’ (1942)

  1. Which literary device is used when the actors successfully deceive the Nazis?
  2. What does the theater symbolize in the film?
    • a) The fragility of life
    • b) The deception of war
    • c) Both a and b
  3. Who directed ‘To Be or Not to Be’?
    • a) Charlie Chaplin
    • b) Ernst Lubitsch
    • c) Alfred Hitchcock
  4. Which character parodies the stereotypical Nazi officer?
    • a) Joseph Tura
    • b) Maria Tura
    • c) Colonel Ehr