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It is a quotation of Hamlet in Act 5, Scene 2.

If it be now, ’tis not to come.

What will be the structure of this sentence in simple modern English?

I am going to explain why it seems odd to me.

If something is supposed to happen now, then it will happen now, so one might say "'tis to come." (It is about to happen). I don't understand why it is "’tis not to come." instead.

I am asking about the apparent meaning of this sentence, not why it was used in the play or any philosophical significance of it.

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    If what be now, what is not to come? Please provide the context of the quote, even if it is Hamlet. Some of us don't have the entire play committed to memory. Commented May 15, 2017 at 7:24
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    The context is not citing which line it is from, but citing what happened before and after. See Xanne's answer which cites a more complete excerpt. And it's Shakespeare, it's written in Early Modern English, native speakers don't speak like that nowadays, so it will sound odd to nearly everyone the first time. Studying Shakespeare means dealing with metre, verse, prose, etymology, and play on words... Sometimes, when you hear the lines being said, the meaning is clearer craftingshakespeare.blogspot.it/p/basics.html and cola.calpoly.edu/~dschwart/engl339/verseprose.html
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 8:37

3 Answers 3

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If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come

  • Shakespeare: If it be now, 'tis not to come;
  • Literal: If something will happen now, then it cannot happen later (it cannot be delayed).
  • Figurative: If my death is supposed to happen now, it will, and I cannot change my fate/destiny.

    '

  • Shakespeare: if it be not to come, it will be now;

  • Literal: If something cannot happen later, it must happen now.
  • Figurative: If my death is supposed to happen now, it will, and I cannot change my fate/destiny (same figurative meaning as the above, just said differently).

    '

  • Shakespeare: if it be not now, yet it will come:

  • Literal: If something doesn't happen now, it will still happen later.
  • Figurative: My death will happen, and even if I'm not supposed to die now, I will die when it my death is fated/destined to happen.
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HAMLET

Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.

In effect this says: if it happens now, it won't happen later; and if it doesn't happen now, it will happen later; so the important thing is to be prepared. "Readiness is all."

So the meaning is not really different from modern English.

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If it be now,

Means:

if it is meant to happen now.

’tis not to come

Means:

it is not left to happen in the future, the implicit meaning is important here which is that it has already happened (because it is not left to come).

The modern English translation (although in a different tense) on Spark Notes is reasonable:

If something is supposed to happen now, it will

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