Many of us still use some of the most famous Shakespeare quotes to this day. But are we using them with the meaning he intended?
Let’s take a look at our top 18 inspirational Shakespeare quotes, including ones that are used within everyday life, to vital phrases that are essential for students to learn about in the classroom.
1. “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”
Our first quote is from one of Shakespeare’s plays that many of us may not have heard of, The Merry Wives Of Windsor.
This quote provides many different emotions and opinions in just one sentence, for instance, “3 hours early” means when you have the chance to change something or to make it right, where “a minute too late” refers to something you have done that can’t be taken back.
When looking at this quote as a whole, this reflects on how we all have to face the fact that nothing is ever perfect and that we all make mistakes from time to time, but we also do in certain circumstances, have the right to change it.
2. “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
Originating from one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Hamlet. You will see this quote used when Hamlet knows his father was killed when he was sleeping, and when he leaves, Claudius says these lines “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
Effectively, what Claudius is trying to say here is that he has not been praying in earnest, and therefore God will not hear his words.
3. “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Another one from Hamlet. This quote provides a multiplicity of meaning. In one sense, it can mean that a good piece of writing or a speech, should remain brief and concise. However, in another sense, it could imply that a speech with humour should be short, otherwise it will lose its “flavour”.
To wrap this quote up in one definition “brevity is the soul of wit” implies that keeping something succinct sounds wiser, wittier and even funnier, than a long, drawn-out statement.
4. “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind”
From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this extract is saying that you should not fall in love just with a person’s beauty, but rather their personality, mind, heart, and soul.
5. “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”
This expression comes from a scene in Hamlet in which a troupe of people arrives to present a play to the king and queen.
But in context for the reader, this quote defines how people follow through with actions that one talks about or intends to do.
6. “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”
This quotation is from one of Shakespeare’s less heard of plays, “All’s Well That Ends Well”. Where these words are spoken by the character, Mariana.
In this scene, Shakespeare is providing a meaning that it is best to be known concerning honesty and truthfulness, rather than other traits.
7. “All that glitters is not gold.”
Originating from the 16th century, the quote “All that glitters is not gold.” is from the play, The Merchant Of Venice.
In particular, this proverb expresses the idea that shiny/glittering things aren’t necessarily precious or valuable.
8. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
Another quote from the play, All’s Well That Ends Well.
This extract from the play is said in the first act and scene, and is one of the most powerful quotes, due to its variety of meanings.
Let’s break this quote down and see the different techniques and emotions Shakespeare has included.
“Love All” – Don’t restrict your love to just certain people. Open your heart to the right people.
“Trust A Few” – The realisation that certain people will do evil to others, so don’t place your trust in everyone, only the ones whose intention is pure.
“Do Wrong To None” – Never do bad things because no one deserves it. The stronger person will always do the right thing.
9. “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Thought to have been written in 1603/4, this quote originates from the play, Measure For Measure, which was listed as a comedy in its time.
This quote provides the meaning that when we start to second guess ourselves or when you don’t do something because you are fearful, then that can be a loss of opportunity to something that could have been great.
In particular, the extract “our doubts are traitors” is saying that our inner voice can betray ourselves.
10. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”
This line is from the famous play of Twelfth Night, which is a quote that is still used to this day to help describe the greatness of certain people and how they have achieved their successes on their own.
This quote is most commonly used to describe military leaders, but we can probably also think of someone in your life who fits into each of these three categories.
11. “To be or not to be: that is the question”
One of the most famous Shakespeare quotes of all time, the sentence “To be or not to be: that is the question” originates from the play, Hamlet.
This is the “great” question that Hamlet asks about human existence in general towards his existence in particular – A reflection as to whether it is better to be alive or dead.
12. “All the world’s a stage”
From the pastoral comedy, As You Like It. This strong quote “All the world’s a stage” provides a meaning that the world is like a stage show, and all human beings are actors who take part in different roles in everyday life.
13. “What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?”
This quote is said in the first act and scene of the play, Much Ado About Nothing.
This extract is said with much sarcasm by the intentional nickname and the question provides a show on how their relationship is based on quick-witted arguments.
14. “If music be the food of love, play on”
This quote from Twelfth night uses a magnificent play on words, as it describes music being the “food” of love, as food is a vital thing that fuels the body, as can music as it feeds the burgeoning love that is felt in someone’s heart.
15. “I cannot tell what the dickens his name is”
To answer your question – No, it is not to do with Charles Dickens.
This quote (originating from Merry Wives Of Windsor) includes the euphemism “Dickens” as a representation of the “devil”, but this common expression was used for centuries before Charles Dickens was born.
16. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Sonnet 18 is one of the best-known of the 154 sonnets written by Shakespeare. But when focusing in particular on the famous phrase “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The speaker describes whether he should compare a young man to a summer’s day but also notes that the young man has qualities that surpass the beauty and warming of a summer’s day.
This quote is still commonly used to this day, whether that be in everyday life, or students learning more about the famous quotes of Shakespeare.
17. “What’s in a name? A rose by any name would smell as sweet”
Said in Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says this phrase about family and the family name of Romeo, implying that his family name has nothing to do with their love and that they should be together.
18. “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” is one of Shakespeare’s best-known lines which is said in the play Richard III, after losing his horse in battle.
The meaning of the expression is that the speaker is in high need of a particular item and is willing to trade something of great value to get it.
Do you find any of these quotes inspirational? Do you use them in your everyday life?