Although they were written more than 400 years ago, the words of William Shakespeare remain timeless. Thanks in large part to the Bard of Avon's ability to poetically capture universal human emotions with overarching themes that continue to remain relevant, many continue to find his writing highly relatable.
In fact, whether one knows it or not, many lines of his work live far outside high school English classrooms. Shakespeare has been credited with either coining or at least popularizing myriad phrases that have become so ingrained into the everyday lexicon that many aren't even aware of their origins. Just a few examples: "love is blind" (The Merchant of Venice), "break the ice" (The Taming of the Shrew), "be-all, end-all" (Macbeth), and "wild-goose chase" (Romeo and Juliet).
Aside from the pages of his tragedies and comedies, some of Shakespeare's longer phrases and quotes continue to live on, frequently referenced throughout pop culture, emblazoned on posters, and even in tattoos. (Actress Megan Fox, for example, has a line from King Lear — "We will all laugh at gilded butterflies" — inked on her shoulder.)
Here are 10 of the poet's most famous quotes:
1. "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. To die: to sleep...”
-Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
Prince Hamlet's soliloquy in the Danish-set tragedy — particularly the first line — has been widely referenced in modern pop culture. Of course, "the question" can be broadly applied to many different situations, but at its inception, the speech was part of a deeply philosophical internal debate about the pros and cons of human existence.
2. “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.”
-Hamlet, Act I, Scene III
Also taken from the seminal tragedy, the line, which was spoken by Polonius as a pep talk of sorts, has resonated throughout the generations for its universal theme of sticking to one's values when faced with a dilemma.
3. “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”
-Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II
Using death as a metaphor, the Roman ruler minimizes his wife Calpurnia's fears that he may soon die, in the play. Many identify with the call to bravery in the present moment versus "dying inside," so to speak, while wasting one's life in fear of an inevitable end.
4. “Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
-Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II
Cassius uses this speech to convince Brutus to join the assassination conspiracy against his friend Caesar. What he intended to convey is that people can control their destinies and that they're not necessarily pre-determined by some divine power. "Et tu, Brute?" a Latin phrase meaning "even you, Brutus?" has also come to signify an unexpected betrayal by a loved one.
5. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet..."
-Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
In Shakespeare's tragedy about the titular "star-crossed lovers," Juliet's line references her and Romeo's warring families and that their last names — Montague and Capulet — shouldn't define who they are or negate their romance. Instead, she's saying that a name given to an object is nothing more than a collection of letters, and changing what something is called doesn't change what it inherently is.
6. "Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”
-Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
Taken from Romeo and Juliet's iconic balcony scene, Juliet speaks these words as she is saying goodbye to Romeo. The highly relatable — though seemingly paradoxical — sentiment notes the sadness of saying goodbye to a loved one, while also pointing to the "sweet" excitement of thinking about the next time they will see each other.
7. "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."
-As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
Spoken by Jaques in the 17th-century comedy, the frequently quoted passage contends that life essentially follows a script and that people play roles, as in a theater production, during its various stages.
8. "The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief."
-Othello, Act I, Scene III
Much like the phrase "grin and bear it," the Duke of Venice's words act as a piece of advice to follow when one is wronged. His claim is that when one doesn't show that he or she is upset, it removes a sense of satisfaction for the wrongdoer.
9. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
-King Henry IV, Act III, Scene I
Sometimes rewritten with the phrase "heavy is" in place of "uneasy lies," the dialogue of King Henry IV conveys the great difficulties of leaders who are tasked with great responsibilities and difficult decisions.
10. "All that glitters is not gold."
-The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VII
In essence, the quote written on a scroll in the 16th-century play means that appearances can sometimes be deceiving. Shakespeare originally used the word "glisters," an antiquated synonym of "glitters."