(1564 – 1616)
William Shakespeare (Stratford-upn-Avon, Warwickshire, England, April 26, 1564 [baptised] – Stratford-upn-Avon, Warwickshire, England, April 23, 1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. His extant works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, two epitaphs on a man named John Combe, one epitaph on Elias James, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613 at age 49, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the 16th century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
Shakespeare combined poetic genius with a practical sense of the theatre. Like all playwrights of the time, he dramatised stories from sources such as Plutarch and Holinshed. He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and to show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama. As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however. In Shakespeare’s late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.
Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two friends and fellow actors of Shakespeare, published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s. It was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Shakespeare is hailed, presciently, as “not of an age, but for all time.”
Shakespeare’s work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of characterisation, plot, language, and genre. Shakespeare influenced novelists such as Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner and Charles Dickens. The American novelist Herman Melville’s soliloquies owe much to Shakespeare; his Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick is a classic tragic hero, inspired by King Lear. Scholars have identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare’s works. These include two operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Otello and Falstaff, whose critical standing compares with that of the source plays. Shakespeare has also inspired many painters, including the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelites. The Swiss Romantic artist Henry Fuseli, a friend of William Blake, even translated Macbeth into German. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud drew on Shakespearean psychology, in particular that of Hamlet, for his theories of human nature.
In Shakespeare’s day, English grammar, spelling and pronunciation were less standardised than they are now, and his use of language helped shape modern English. Samuel Johnson quoted him more often than any other author in his Dictionary of the English Language, the first serious work of its type. Expressions such as “with bated breath” (Merchant of Venice) and “a foregone conclusion” (Othello) have found their way into everyday English speech.
Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the 19th century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare’s genius, and the Victorians worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called “bardolatry”. In the 20th century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed, and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.
Read more about William Shakespeare on Wikipedia.
– As listed in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, gen. eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1986 / 2005).
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1589-1591)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1590-1591)
- The Second Part of Henry the Sixth (1590-1591)
A/K/A: The First Part of the Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster
- The Third Part of Henry the Sixth (1590-1591)
A/K/A: The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth
- The First Part of Henry the Sixth (1592)
– Possibly with Thomas Nashe and others.
- The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus (1592)
– Possibly with George Peele.
- The Tragedy of King Richard the Third (1592-1593)
- The Reign of King Edward the Third (1594)
– Probably contributions; principal authorship uncertain.
- The Comedy of Errors (1594)
- Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594-1595)
- Love’s Labour’s Won (1595-1596)
– Lost; attribution somewhat uncertain.
- The Tragedy of King Richard the Second (1595)
- The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (1595)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595)
- The Life and Death of King John (1596)
- The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice, or Otherwise Called the Jew of Venice (1596-1597)
- The History of Henry the Fourth (1596-1597)
- The Second Part of Henry the Fourth (1597-1598)
- The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597-1598)
- Much Ado About Nothing (1598-1599)
- The Life of Henry the Fifth (1598-1599)
- The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1599)
- The Book of Sir Thomas More (late 1590s)
– Revised 1603-1604. Principally by Henry Chettle and (probably) Anthony Munday, revised by Chettle in cooperation with Thomas Dekker, (probably) Thomas Heywood and William Shakespeare.
- As You Like It (1599-1600)
- The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1600-1601)
- Twelfth Night, or What You Will (1601)
- Troilus and Cressida (1602)
- Measure for Measure (1603-1604)
- The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (1603-1604)
- The History of King Lear (1605-1606)
– Revised ca. 1610.
- The Life of Timon of Athens (1606)
– Probably with Thomas Middleton.
- The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606)
– Adapted 1616 by Thomas Middleton.
- The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra (1606)
- All’s Well That Ends Well (1606-1607)
- Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1607)
– Probably with George Wilkins.
- The Tragedy of Coriolanus (1608)
- The Winter’s Tale (1609-1610)
- Cymbeline, King of Britain (1610-1611)
- The Tempest (1610-1611)
- Cardenio (1612-1613)
– Lost; possibly with John Fletcher, but attribution uncertain.
- The Life of King Henry the Eighth (1613)
A/K/A: All Is True
– With John Fletcher.
- The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613)
– With John Fletcher.
- Venus and Adonis (1592-1593)
- The Rape of Lucrece (1594)
- 154 Sonnets (1593-1603)
- A Lover’s Complaint (1603-1604)
- Various shorter poems and epitaphs (1593-1616)
– Attribution not in all cases certain.
- The Passionate Pilgrim (1599)
- 6 Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music (ca. 1599-1601)
- The Phoenix and the Turtle (1601)
Online editions of William Shakespeare’s works:
A Selection of Quotes
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
“What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more. Sure he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unused.”
“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.”
“Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”
“Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”
“Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty?”
As You Like It
“All the world’s a stage.”
“Love is merely a madness.”
“Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.”
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
Much Ado About Nothing
“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.”
“If [God] send me no husband, for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening …”
“Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.”
“LEONATO: Well, then, go you into hell?
BEATRICE: No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say ‘Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here’s no place for you maids:’ so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens; he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long.”
“LEONATO: Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband.
BEATRICE: Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a pierce of valiant dust? to make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none: Adam’s sons are my brethren; and, truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”
“DON PEDRO: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
BEATRICE: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
DON PEDRO: You have put him down, lady, you have put him down.
BEATRICE: So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools.”
“Yes, faith; it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please you.’ But yet for all that, cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsy and say ‘Father, as it please me.”
“Wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace: the first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig – and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance and with his bad legs falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.”
“Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites.”
“For it falls out
That what we have we prize not to the worth
Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
While it was ours.”
“To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
“Though she be but little, she is fierce!”
The Taming of the Shrew
“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”
“Let every man be master of his time.”
“Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.”
“What’s done cannot be undone.”
“Men of few words are the best men.”
“All things are ready, if our mind be so.”
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.”
“What infinite heart’s-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?
And what art thou, thou idle ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer’st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? what are thy comings in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul of adoration?
Art thou aught else but place, degree and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherein thou art less happy being fear’d
Than they in fearing.
What drink’st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison’d flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose;
I am a king that find thee, and I know
‘Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running ‘fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill’d and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm’d with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labour, to his grave:
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country’s peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.”
“WESTMORELAND: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words –
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester –
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
“If music be the food of love, play on.”
“What’s past is prologue.”
“Thought is free.”
The Winter’s Tale
“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance.”
“Exit pursued by a bear.”
[Stage direction (III, iii)]”
“I have drunk and seen the spider.”
Henry IV, Part 2
“Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues.”
[Stage direction, Induction]
“RUMOUR: Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.”
“Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.”
Henry VI, Part 3
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
The Merchant of Venice
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that follows his own instructions: I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”
“So may the outward shows be least themselves:
The world is still deceived with ornament.
In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt,
But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
Obscures the show of evil? In religion,
What damned error, but some sober brow
Will bless it and approve it with a text,
Hiding the grossness with fair ornament?
There is no vice so simple but assumes
Some mark of virtue on his outward parts.”
“Look on beauty,
And you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight;
Which therein works a miracle in nature,
Making them lightest that wear most of it:
So are those crisped snaky golden locks
Which make such wanton gambols with the wind,
Upon supposed fairness, often known
To be the dowry of a second head,
The skull that bred them in the sepulchre.
Thus ornament is but the guiled shore
To a most dangerous sea; the beauteous scarf
Veiling an Indian beauty; in a word,
The seeming truth which cunning times put on
To entrap the wisest.”
“All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.”
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”
Antony and Cleopatra
“In time we hate that which we often fear.”
“Fortune love you.”
Romeo and Juliet
“There is thy gold, worse poison to men’s souls,
Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.”
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Measure for Measure
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
“Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn
And broils roots out the work of masonry,
Nor mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till judgement that yourself arise,
You in this, and dwell in lovers eyes.”
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.”
The Rape of Lucrece
“Beauty itself doth of itself persuade
The eyes of men without orator.”
“Those that much covet are with gain so fond,
For what they have not, that which they possess
They scatter and unloose it from their bond,
And so, by hoping more, they have but less;
Or, gaining more, the profit of excess
Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain,
That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.”
- The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
- The Royal Shakespeare Company
- Shakespeare’s Globe (London)
- The Folger Shakespeare Library
- Open Source Shakespeare
- William Shakespeare’s biography at the Kirjasto Authors’ Calendar
- William Shakespeare at Britannica.com
- Reviews and blog posts related to William Shakespeare on this blog, Lioness at Large