(1564 - 1616), English

William Shakespeare’s Top Ten Quotes

Throughout his literary works, Shakespeare penned numerous well-loved and commonly repeated quotes. Many of these have worked their way into everyday conversations, other literary works, and television/film.

Below are a few of Shakespeare’s best-known and most important quotes. These originate from works like Hamlet, Henry V, Measure for Measure, and Richard III. While this list is extensive, it certainly does not cover every quote readers might be interested in or aware of.

William Shakespeare's Top Ten Quotes


Nature of Good and Evil

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.


William Shakespeare explores the nature of good and evil with this thought-provoking line. Is he right? Are there good things? For what is good but a human social construct? For instance, killing an enemy soldier might be considered an act of goodness if one is an ally but an atrocity if one is the victim’s family. It is only human thought that adds these labels to actions.

All the world’s a stage

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.

One of Shakespeare’s most memorable phrases. This sounds very profound but ironically is delivered by a character who is a bit of a fool. Readers will never know if they were meant to be taken seriously or not. However, one can’t argue that it is a beautiful metaphor for life. Their entrances and exits represent births and deaths and the “playing parts,” potentially an allusion to the various stages of growth.

Mental Health

Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.

Mental health is one of the hot-button topics of the 21s century, but Shakespeare shows himself ahead of the curve once again. In a historical drama of all things. Henry V might be most renowned for the St. Crispin’s day speech, which in itself is terrific with its rousing, “We few, we happy few…” ending. But here, Shakespeare delves into toxic masculinity and highlights the importance of taking care of oneself. It is a line that resonates today perhaps more than it would have then.

Our doubts are traitors

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

Most readers have likely experienced imposter syndrome at some point. That feeling that one isn’t good enough. Sure, sometimes being cautious is important, but that nagging self-doubt can be destructive, and here, Shakespeare highlights that in such an eloquent way.

Love looks not with the eyes

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

Perhaps more so than any of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream looks at how fickle love can be. In this quote, Helena explores the idea of limerence. That strong attraction is fleeting and doesn’t last. It is often a shallow feeling based solely on first appearances without really delving any more profound.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

This comes soon after the infamous “wherefore art thou Romeo” which actually means why is he called Romeo, not where is Romeo, as many mistakenly assume. Here, Juliet is lamenting that Romeo bears the name Montague as that family is at war with Juliet’s own. She tries to reason out of her conundrum by pondering the importance of a name using a wonderful metaphor that has stood the test of time.

Now is the winter of our discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent

The wonderful opening to Richard III introduces us to Richard himself. Unlike some of Shakespeare’s more complex villains, Richard is an archetypal “bad guy.” Physically the character is deformed with a hunched back, and from the off, he presents in such a negative fashion that the audience would potentially take a dislike to him. In this opening monologue, Richard laments all the positive things that have happened because they are associated with the current king. This displays his jealous nature from the opening scene.

Cowards die many times before their deaths

Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.

Here, the character of Caesar suggests that acts of cowardice are synonymous with death. This quote really champions bravery in a very visceral, real way. The suggestion being that bravery is akin to immortality.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!

This is a lesson that should be passed on to the next generation about being grateful for what they have. There is nothing quite so galling as to have one of one’s own progeny reject a gift that costs a lot of money, and Shakespeare captures that emotion beautifully in this quote.

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

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 speech is so impactful and poignant and really highlights the complexity of Shylock’s character. Here is a man seeking vengeance because of the wrong-doings of the past. We even get to witness these first-hand as Antonio is rude to Shylock before later asking for his help.

FAQs

What did Shakespeare say about life?

A famous quote from Shakespeare about life is “life is as tedious as a twice-told tale, Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.”

What are five words that Shakespeare invented?

Shakespeare invented: generous, hint, invaluable, lonely, and lower, among around 1,700 others.

What is Shakespeare’s longest play?

Shakespeare’s longest play is Hamlet.

About Lee-James Bovey
Lee-James, a.k.a. LJ, has been a Book Analysis team member since it was first created. During the day, he's an English Teacher. During the night, he provides in-depth analysis and summary of books.
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