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The Best Shakespeare Quotes about Life

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

William Shakespeare plays are not just dramatic works, they've shaped how the world sees British culture. Considered to be the greatest British playwright of all time, Shakespeare plays are loved world over, with his social commentary continuing to influence and impact communities today. So much so, Shakespeare quotes about life are used in present-day conversation.

Here's some of our top quotes about life found in Shakespeare plays.

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All's Well That Ends Well

"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."
All's Well That Ends Well, Act 4, Scene 3

Life is complicated at the best of times. Some moments are like we're floating on air, other times we want the ground to swallow us whole. This Shakespeare quote expresses life's complications perfectly, suggesting that the good and bad amalgamate into one.

Antony and Cleopatra

"O excellent! I love long life better than figs."
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, Scene 2

Figs may seem like a nonsensical item to compare life to, but did you know that figs are an aphrodisiac? Yes, consuming enough figs will get you in the mood for love. Charmian says this teasing line in Antony and Cleopatra, but suggests that a fulfilling life and making the most of every moment is better than the love-fuelled decisions.

As You Like It

"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 2, Scene 7

This Shakespeare quote summarises how individuals go about their daily lives, interacting with one another. People will cross over one another's paths and see each other at different times, but will never truly understand one another. Even though we all go through the same phases of life, we experience them differently.

Hamlet

"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 3, Scene 1

We recognised this Hamlet passage in our top quotes from Shakespeare tragedies, but it's definitely earned its spot in our top Shakespearean quotes on life. This excerpt sees Hamlet wonder how life gets its meaning, and whether death should be something that's seen as scary.

Henry IV

"O gentlemen, the time of life is short!
To spend that shortness basely were too long,
If life did ride upon a dial's point,
Still ending at the arrival of an hour."

Henry IV, Act 5, Scene 2

Life passes us by quickly. In order to make the most of it, you should behave in a way that you'll look back on fondly, rather than regretting past decisions. That's what Hotspur's saying in Henry IV; if you live frivolously, then life is too long. Instead, fill your days with meaning to find happiness.

Henry V

"Let life be short: else shame will be too long."
Henry V, Act 4, Scene 5

We've all been so stubborn that anyone saying something that goes against our values will be met with intolerance. When Bourbon goes back into battle in Henry V, he's defying what others want him to do. But, valuing his country and life is more important than listening to his acquaintances.

Henry VI

The sands are number'd that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end."
Henry VI, Act 1, Scene 4

Likening his life to a sandtimer that's dropping the final grains, the Duke of Gloucester speaks of his time on Earth in Henry VI. Proud of his men's efforts, he speaks of his personal battle, leaving his life on the field.

Julius Caesar

"I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but, for my single self,
I had as lief not be as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I myself."
Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2

Right from the start of Julius Caesar, conspirators to assassinate the Roman general are already circulating. In this scene between Cassius and Brutus, Cassius states he'd rather die than live under a man like Caesar, who does not deserve the attention he is receiving.

"Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."
Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2

Those who shy away from doing something metaphorically die multiple times, as they're unable to face their life. On the contrary, those who are brave will never die emotionally.

King John

"There where my fortune lives, there my life dies."
King John, Act 3, Scene 1

When you lose everything, do you stop existing? That's what a materialist would say in present-day society, but in King John, a fortune refers to ruling loyalty. Caught between the English and the French, Blanche wonders if her decision will see her life end. Whatever happens, it's a lose-lose situation.

King Lear

"Thy life's a miracle."
King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6

Although it may seem life is a struggle at times, just getting by and surviving is cause for celebration. Finding things you enjoy shouldn't be taken for granted, it's a miracle.

Macbeth

"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, signifying nothing."
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

At the end of Macbeth, the titular character is a changed man. Emotionally bruised by prophecies and murders, a bloody life has taken its toll. Reflecting on his life, he suggests that life is farcical, full of disturbances that affect our mental capacities.

Much Ado About Nothing

"Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me."
Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 3

In this passage, Don John speaks of how he'd like to live his life. Even though his behaviour may rub some people the wrong way, he doesn't want anyone to change him. Instead, he just wants to be himself, irregardless of others.

Othello

"It is silliness to live when to live is torment; and then have we a prescription to die when death is our physician."
Othello, Act 1, Scene 3

Can you truly live when you're emotionally troubled? Instead of just going through the motions of daily life, living in torment is deeply disturbing. Can stopping your life be the ultimate cure? That's what Roderigo asks in Othello, to which Iago quickly comments how silly this is.

The Tempest

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1

Questions about the existence of humanity have plagued philosophers for centuries. This quote from The Tempest alludes to the theoretical debates. Are our lives futile that they're just as valuable as dreams?

Photo credit: Mountain landscape (Photo by Fabio Comparelli on Unsplash)

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