1. My favourite line from Shakespeare

Transcript item

David: 'Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.' That's one of my favourite lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth, where Shakespeare is comparing our lives with the very short moment of glory that an actor has upon the stage in front of the audience. It always makes me think about how we should make the most of our brief lives on this planet.

Joanne: 'Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.' That's from Shakespeare's play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, which I haven't actually read, but I really like the line because I hate being late, especially when I'm travelling. So for example, if you arrive at the airport and you're three hours too soon, well, that's OK. You can just wait. But if you're even one minute too late, then you miss your flight. I guess Shakespeare must have been talking about something different though, because there were no aeroplanes in his day.

Jo: A Shakespeare phrase that I like is 'What's done cannot be undone'. And that's from Macbeth. It's very similar to one that a colleague of ours uses a lot – 'It is what it is' .What's happened has happened, and look forward. She always looks forward with positivity to get on with what you need to do. So, the Shakespeare phrase is 'What's done cannot…', I nearly forgot it, 'What's done cannot be undone'. But you could also say 'it is what it is'.

Matt: When I think about Shakespeare, the first quote that comes to mind is 'To be, or not to be, that is the question'. And it ... I think is, like a lot of Shakespeare, very memorable because it's very brief and has repetition. Actually, in the context of the play, Hamlet, the lead character, Hamlet says it when he's at a kind of crossroads. He's having a bad time. He's just discovered that his uncle killed his father and married his mother, and the love of his life, Ophelia, is not accepting his advances. So, he's feeling pretty down, it's fair to say, and this line, 'to be, or not to be, that is the question', is actually him sort of weighing up the merits of life and death. So pretty heavy there, Will. But glad to say he decides on life, partly because he's ... kind of, he weighs it up with himself, has a conversation with himself and decides that it's better the devil you know. That might even be another Shakespeare phrase. I don't know. But anyway, the death, the unknown, is too scary, not going to go there. So he's going to stick it out and see if he can sort it out. You'll have to watch the play to find out what happens.

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

This is probably the best-known quote from Shakespeare and it's spoken by the character Hamlet in the play Hamlet. Listen to some of our colleagues talking about this and other favourite lines from Shakespeare. Which one do you like best?

Over to you

  • Have you heard any of the quotes from the video before? Which was your favourite?
  • Do you know another Shakespeare quote? Which play is it from? Write about it in the comments.
  • You can also record yourself saying a line from Shakespeare and post it in the comments!

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Average: 4.8 (8 votes)

Submitted by MailyRoxana on Thu, 04/04/2024 - 05:15


 My favorite phrase mentioned in the video is 'What is done cannot be undone'

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Submitted by 81Joy on Thu, 04/04/2024 - 05:04


I visited the Shakespeare Theatre in Lodon, and I usually watch his plays. I am learning English ,and I hope that one day I can read Shakespeare in English.

Hi 81Joy,

I've also visited the Globe Theatre and really enjoyed it. I saw Macbeth there last year. If you want to read Shakespeare in English, I'd recommend starting with adapted versions, as the orginal versions can be hard to understand - for both learners of English and native speakers! Then, if you have a favourite part of the play, you could reading some passages in the original version.

Good luck!
Jo (LearnEnglish team)

Submitted by Paulitamonna on Wed, 03/04/2024 - 18:36


My favourite quote is from King Lear. It's spoken by the Fool, to the King: 

That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm,
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,

Submitted by LA TIEN on Tue, 02/04/2024 - 04:03


When I think about Shakespeare, the quote that comes to my mind is "I always feel happy. You know why? Because I don't expect anything from anyone. Expectations always hurt. Life is short, so love your life. Be happy and keep smiling. Just live for yourself. Before you speak - Listen. Before you write - Think. Before you spend - Earn. Before you pray - Forgive. Before you hurt - Feel. Before you hate - Love. Before you quit - Try. And before you die - Live" . 

This short passage give me great motivation and inspiration for me. 

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Submitted by RRogick on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 21:57


I have never heard the first three first quotes from the video. My favorite was 'What's done cannot be undone'. Definitely a good reminder for the anxious days we live in, either to think carefully before taking any action, or to not dwell on things from the past and move forward. The fourth and most famous quote was on a sketch performed by The Royal Shakespeare Company and aired by BBC, Shakespeare Live! in 2016. I've just watched it on Instagram, and find it so funny. Here it is the clip and the director's comment

I know another Shakespeare quote: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions." (Claudius in Hamlet). For me, it implies that we must be prepared for challenges, because when troubles arise in life, they often come all at once. 

Hi RRogick,
Thanks for sharing the video of the different actors and famous people saying the 'To be or not to be' quote. I found it really amusing, and also interesting as it really illustrates how intonation can subtly change the meaning of what we say.
I also like the quote you've chosen from Hamlet. Unfortunately it's very true, isn't it?

Best wishes,
Jo (LearnEnglish Team)

Hi Muqtadirul,
Thanks for your comment. I agree that 'cruel to be kind' is an excellent quote. This expressions is now used so much in everyday life, we're not even aware that Shakespeare invented it.

Best wishes,

Jo (LearnEnglish team)

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Submitted by Muqtadirul on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 21:24


"To be, or not to be" Quote from the video I heard before. Listen to some of my friends and siblings talking about this and other favorite lines from Shakespeare.

I must be cruel only to be kind.
This is my favorite quote from Shakespeare's play Hamlet. It was spoken by the central character Hamlet. 
In our practical life, we fall into such type of situations, where we have to behave cruelly to help others.

Submitted by bumi20 on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 20:53


I haven't read a Shakespeare's book on purpose yet. I just read Romeo and Juliet when I was back in high school, but I'm planning to pick another title in the future for pleasure. 

Hi Adane,

Thanks for recording your quote - it makes a real difference to hear an actor speaking the lines! I really enjoyed listening to it.

Best wishes,

Jo (LearnEnglish team)

Submitted by mina_00 on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 13:58


1. Yes, I have heard those quotes before. I am big into books. I have read a couple of plays from William Shakespeare. And, my favourite quote is 'Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.' Because I hate being late like Joanne. I can wait, that's okay for me. 
2. "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, 
Who is already sick and pale with grief,"
That's my favourite quote. That's from Shakespeare play, Othello. This quotation describes about jealousy and the pain it brings. 

Hi Mina_00,
I'm glad to read that you liked the quote I chose!
Thanks for sharing your quote with us too :-)

Best wishes,

Jo (LearnEnglish team)

Submitted by maryflh23 on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 12:25


My favorite line from Shakespeare is "Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.," from Much Ado about Nothing!

Submitted by Deliya. on Mon, 01/04/2024 - 12:24


Sometimes too hot 

The eye of heaven shines

And often is his gold complexion 


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Submitted by Diana_Lizeth. on Thu, 28/03/2024 - 06:08


Shakespeare it's a great inspiration! "To be, or not to be" 

Hello shakespeareindabed,

Wow! You did a great job explaining the context for the quote and reflecting on it. 

Just wanted to congratulate you on your efforts!

Best wishes,
LearnEnglish team