You do not have to have read a lot of works by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) to be familiar with some of his most famous quotes. Many of the lines in Shakespeare's plays are among the most quoted in literature, and even the most misquoted. Shakespeare's works were filled with references to the highs and lows of everyday life, love and death, and are still highly relevant today, so you never know when a famous Shakespeare quote will be useful.
Quotes on Everyday Truths
William Shakespeare was a remarkable observer of human nature and he discusses everyday truths with candor. Below are some examples of his quotes on everyday truths. Each quote is followed by a modern English equivalent:
- "This above all: to thine own self be true." (Hamlet - Act 1, Scene 2)
Be true to yourself.
- "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (Hamlet - Act 2, Scene 2)
It is our mind that judges whether something is good or bad, but in truth there is no good or bad.
- "It's not enough to speak, but to speak true." (Midsummer Night’s Dream - Act 5, Scene 1)
Do not talk just to talk. It is more important that when you do speak you tell the truth.
- "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." (Twelfth Night - Act 2, Scene 5)
Even if you don't believe you are great, you can achieve great things.
- "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players." (As You Like It - Act 2, Scene 7)
Life is like a performance and people are like actors playing a role.
Shakespeare's plays are full of unrequited love and love lost and gained. Here are some of his most famous comments about love followed by a modern English equivalent:
- "The course of true love never did run smooth." (Midsummer Night’s Dream - Act 1, Scene 1)
There may be twists and turns in your path to true love.
- "Love looks not with eyes, but with the mind." (Midsummer Night’s Dream - Act 1, Scene 1)
It shouldn't matter what a person looks like, you should love them for what's on the inside.
- "Who could refrain that had a heart to love, and in that heart, courage, to make love known?"(Macbeth - Act 2, Scene 3)
If you love someone, how can you not have the courage to show that love?
- “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.” (Twelfth Night - Act 3, Scene 1)
Asking for love can be good but if you wait for love to find you, it is even better.
- “Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?“ (As You Like It - Act 3, Scene 5)
There is no greater love than love at first sight.
- “If music be the food of love, play on.” (Twelfth Night - Act 1, Scene 1)
If music feeds the feelings of love, give me more music.
- “Love is blind, and lovers cannot see, the pretty follies that themselves commit.” (Merchant of Venice - Act 2, Scene 6)
Lovers often overlook each other's faults.
- "When you depart from me sorrow abides, and happiness takes his leave." (Much Ado About Nothing - Act 1, Scene 1)
When you leave, so does my happiness and I feel sad.
- "They do not love that do not show their love." (The Two Gentlemen of Verona – Act 1, Scene 2)
If you love someone, show it to them so they know your true feelings.
- "Speak low if you speak love." (Much Ado About Nothing - Act 2, Scene 1)
When speaking about love, be sincere and speak gently with meaning.
Quotes on Family and Friendship
Family and friendship are also common themes of many of Shakespeare's works. Below are some quotes that are written about these relationships with a modern English equivalent:
- "There's daggers in men's smiles." (Macbeth - Act 2, Scene 3)
Not everyone who smiles at you is a friend.
- "Et tu, Brute?" (Julius Caesar - Act 3, Scene 1)
And you, Brutus? Julius Caesar said this to his 'friend' Brutus who played a role in Caesar's assassination.
- "Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend." (Hamlet - Act 1, Scene 3)
Avoid lending or borrowing money from friends as it could lead to trouble in the relationship.
- "It is a wise father that knows his own child." (The Merchant of Venice – Act 2, Scene 2)
It takes a wise man to know who his child really is.
Quotes on Death
References to death and dying can be found in many of Shakespeare's works. Below are some of his famous quotes on the subject of death along with a modern English equivalent:
- "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."(Julius Caesar- Act 2, Scene 2)
A person can lose strength in character, or die inside, every time he runs away from a challenge in life.
- "A man can die but once." (Henry IV, Part 2 - Act 3, Part 2)
You only die once.
- "Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity." (Hamlet - Act 1, Scene 2)
It happens all the time, everything that lives eventually dies.
- "Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of all the field." (Romeo and Juliet - Act 4, Scene 5)
Death has come too soon, like a summer flower killed by an unexpected frost.
- "Everyone can master a grief but he that has it." (Much Ado About Nothing - Act 3, Scene 2)
It is easy to tell someone how to deal with grief until you are the one who is grieving.
- "To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?" (Hamlet – Act 3, Scene 1)
Is it better to live or die, that's the question. Is it more noble to put up with an unbearable situation or to take a stand against those troubles by putting an end to everything?
Shakespeare was well known for his sharp tongue and witty word play. Some examples, and their modern English equivalent, include:
- "I was seeking for a fool when I found you." (As You Like It - Act 3, Scene 2)
I was looking for a fool and I found you, so I shouldn't be surprised.
- "Why, but there’s many a man hath more hair than wit." (Comedy of Errors – Act 2, Scene 2)
A lot of men have more hair than intelligence.
- "I do desire we may be better strangers." (As You Like It - Act 3, Scene 2)
I'd be happy if we never saw each other again.
- "More of your conversation would infect my brain." (Coriolanus – Act 2, Scene 1)
Listening to you talk makes me feel dumber.
Commonly Misquoted Shakespeare Lines
There are many lines from Shakespeare's works that are used in everyday language and unknowingly misquoted. These include the following:
- "All that glisters is not gold." (Merchant of Venice - Act 2, Scene 7)
This line is commonly misquoted as "All that glitters is not gold." Both versions mean the same thing: Do not judge everything by its appearance. What you see is not always true.
- "Double, double toil and trouble." (Macbeth – Act 4, Scene 1)
This line is commonly misquoted as "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble." The latter appeared in the Disney show Duck Tales and may be the reason for this common misquote. The original quote meant that the witches were asking for twice the trouble and toil.
- "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily… is wasteful and ridiculous excess." (King John – Act 4, Scene 2)
This line is misquoted as "Gild the lily." The original line meant that someone is overdoing it or over-embellishing something that is already beautiful.
- "Lay on, Macduff. (Macbeth – Act 5, Scene 8)
This line is often misquoted as "Lead on, Macduff." The original meaning of this line is start the fight or go attack. The misquoted meaning is after you or you go first.
Using Shakespeare Quotes
Many of Shakespeare's most famous quotes can inspire deep thought or strong feelings and be used in conversation or in writing. Whether you are looking for a witty comment or a thoughtful or loving line for a card or letter, quotes from Shakespeare are ideal to use as an expression from yourself to someone special.
And for more great Shakespeare quotes, visit YourDictionary's quotes pages, where you'll find a wide variety of lines from the bard.