Shakespeare's Most Popular Quotes
Prolific writer of thirty-eight plays and more than one hundred and sixty poems, William Shakespeare has long been established as the most influential writer in the history of English literature. His works have been translated into every major language and are required study in schools all over the world. It is not surprising that Shakespeare also holds the title of the most quoted author in English literature. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary gives Shakespeare credit for adding over three thousand words and phrases to the English language.
As a dramatist, Shakespeare was able to write stories that appealed to people of all classes beyond the literate elite. This enabled him to develop authentic characters from every walk of life. Experts agree that Shakespeare had something to say about almost every aspect of humanity; from human nature to success and failure, to the motivations and conflicts that are still common among people today. With this arsenal of well written, popular material, it is no wonder that the Bard has contributed so many different types of quotations to our culture.
Some of Shakespeare's most frequently repeated quotations are now offered as advice to the young. Who hasn't heard the phrase "to thine own self be true" as they navigate the peer pressure of early adulthood? The oft cited "neither a borrower nor a lender be" is one of the few bits of financial advice that has been consistently true for five hundred years.
Some more great advice handed down from William Shakespeare:
"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool"
"But love is blind, and lovers cannot see".
"Having nothing, nothing can he lose".
"Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once."
Describe Human Nature
Shakespeare was an expert at putting words together to describe human nature so well that his quotes can convey an immediate understanding of a situation. When someone says "The lady doth protest too much", we understand that someone is having a strong case of denial and attempting to distance themselves from the truth. We immediately know the family dynamic of someone who says "A little more than kin, and less than kind". Shakespeare's works are full of quotable descriptions of human nature.
Some of his best quotations on humanity are:
"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."
"Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast"
"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall"
"The better part of valour is discretion"
"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them"
Very few authors can turn a phrase like Shakespeare. Many of his quotations have survived to become part of our shared language simply because they are clever or beautiful metaphors. His most famous metaphor, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts", perfectly sums up the melancholy outlook of the character Jacques from As You Like It but also lends itself to the cynicism of modern readers.
Other popular metaphors by Shakespeare are:
"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
"I will speak daggers to her, but use none"
"Now is the winter of our discontent"
"It is the east, and Juliet is the sun"
"Why, then the world's mine oyster"
"This is the short and the long of it"
"The miserable have no other medicine but only hope"
Quotes that Paint a Bigger Picture
Some quotes have become part of the popular vernacular simply because they carry the meaning of an entire story, providing a kind of shorthand for all the experiences that led to the quotation. The phrase "Et tu, Brute!" would be nonsense if uttered outside the realm of Shakespeare's influence. But within the culture of our literary heritage it is a powerful phrase that conveys duplicity, shock and betrayal.
Similar popular quotations are:
"A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!"
"Beware the ides of March"
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."
Quotes that Have Become Everyday Phrases
It is only fitting that the term "household word" was first used by Shakespeare. People say phrases every day without realizing that they are quoting the Bard. If you haven't slept a wink or budged an inch then you can thank Shakespeare. Here are some other popular quotes that have made their way into everyday speech:
"He hath eaten me out of house and home".
"As good luck would have it"
"We have seen better days."
"What's done is done."
"'T'is neither here nor there."
"Wear my heart upon my sleeve."