Shakespeare is the most quoted author of all time. Most English-speakers regularly quote Shakespeare without even knowing it, because lots of his phrases have become everyday expressions, like “break the ice,” “faint hearted,” “foregone conclusion,” “in my mind’s eye,” “laughing stock,” and “the world’s my oyster.” Generations of writers have interwoven Shakespeare’s language with their own, in many different ways. For instance, the titles of hundreds of novels, plays, movies, musicals and albums are based on Shakespeare quotes, including William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (from Macbeth), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (The Tempest) and Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (Hamlet). Politicians and other public figures have also drawn on Shakespeare’s writing. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, his brother Robert commemorated him at the 1964 Democratic Convention by paraphrasing Juliet’s image of her doomed husband Romeo: "When he shall die take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun." Here are the ten of Shakespeare’s most famous lines:
There are more things in heaven and earth…
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet’s reaction to learning that his father’s ghost has been seen by his friend Horatio is often quoted as a way of saying that the world is more mysterious than we give it credit for.
If you prick us…
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
The Merchant of Venice, III.i.
This line, in which Shylock insists that Jews are no less human than Christians, has become a standard response to prejudice of all kinds.
The course of true love…
The course of true love never did run smooth.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I.i.
Lysander’s attempt to reassure his beloved Hermia that they’ll find a way to be together has become a proverb.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen…
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Julius Caesar, III.ii.
The opening of Mark Anthony’s eulogy for Julius Caesar is often quoted as an example of cunning and persuasive speechmaking.
Life's but a walking shadow…
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,
Macbeth gives this speech when he learns that his wife, Lady Macbeth, has died. It’s a famous and powerful statement of nihilism and despair.
All the world's a stage…
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
As You Like It, II.vii.
Shakespeare’s characters often compare the world to a theater (as in the Macbeth quote above). This speech, given by Jaques, is the best-known example.
What's in a name?
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.
Juliet protests that Romeo’s name isn’t part of who he is. This quote is often used to suggest that words don’t matter, but readers of Romeo and Juliet know that in fact Romeo’s name matters a great deal to the play’s story.
Shall I compare thee…
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
This is the opening line of Shakespeare’s best-known sonnet. It’s the most iconic line of love poetry ever written.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on…
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep
The Tempest, IV.i.
Near the end of his career, Shakespeare put these lines in the mouth of his character Prospero. They’re a moving reflection on the brevity and wonder of life.
To be or not to be…
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.
These words are the most famous words in literary history. Hamlet’s soliloquy about the merits of suicide has been quoted countless times in many different contexts.