William Shakespeare lived close to 400 years ago, yet still remains one of the most relevant writers in human memory. It’s no surprise then that we quote him on practically every medium of entertainment and news available in modern society and still find time to celebrate his accomplishments every year. Interestingly enough historians are not aware of when Shakespeare’s was actually born, but we do celebrate the occasion on April the 23rd. So without further ado, let’s jump right into some of his most famous and interesting quotes.
1. ” If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
This is probably the most popular quote from Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice. Although the character who recites these famous words, Shylock, is often denounced as the typical Elizabethan era example of antisemitism, others view him and this speech in particular as a plea for tolerance.
2. “This above all, to thine own self be true”
This particularly catchy phrase is from Hamlet, and is spoken by Polonius to his departing son, Laertes. It simply means we should act according to how we believe and not be swayed by the values and principles of others.
3. “To be, or not to be…”
Another favorite from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this is spoken by Hamlet while contemplating his father’s murder and whether he should take revenge. In the scene he is quite despondent and the line literally questions whether life is worth living or not.
4. “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun”
Even those among us, happily oblivious to most of William Shakespeare’s works, have heard of Romeo and Juliet. And so most of us are more than familiar with some of the plays most eloquent quotes. In this particular line Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun, which I’m assuming we all know rises in the east.
5. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”
This line from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, is not a request by Mark Antony to literally borrow his audiences ears. It is in fact a call to attention as he tries to turn a crowd of Romans against those who conspired against the late Caesar.
6. “Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war”
Another favorite quote from Julius Caesar, this is again spoken by Antony in the wake of Caesar’s death. Mark Antony is basically predicting war and chaos in the near future.
7. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
The protagonist, Malvolio, reads this from a letter in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Often used to inspire acts of leadership, the quote tries to convince the reader that “greatness” is achievable by anyone and not something to be feared.
8. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Romeo and Juliet is filled with so many memorable quotes it’s not hard to see why it’s a favorite of many. This line is spoken by Juliet while on her balcony and unaware that Romeo is in the bushes below. Juliet is mulling over the fact she is not supposed to love him because of his last name.
9. “All the world’s a stage”
This is a quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, spoken by the character Jacques. The line calls the world a stage and starts off a speech where Jacques goes through the seven stages of life, from infancy to old age.
10. “Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”
I’ll end this list of quotes appropriately enough with another line from Romeo and Juliet. Spoken by Juliet to Romeo, she expresses sadness that they must part company, but joy since tomorrow is their secret wedding.
Bevington, David M. Shakespeare. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2002. Print.
Gross, John. Shylock: A Legend and Its Legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. Print.
Shakespeare, William, and Harold Jenkins. Hamlet. London: Methuen, 1982. Print.
Wells, Stanley. Romeo and Juliet and Its Afterlife. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.