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‘Words, words, words’: 11 great quotes from William Shakespeare

400 years after his death, the Bard is as relevant as ever. Concordia students, staff and faculty share their favourite bons mots
April 19, 2016
By Tom Peacock


This April 23 the world — from Stratford-upon-Avon in England to Jaipur, Chicago and Mexico City — marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death.

We asked students, staff, faculty and grads from across the Concordia community to share the lines they can't forget.

If your favourite is on this list, please tweet it directly from the story. Or share another Bard quote with the hashtag #Shakespeare400. We'd love to hear from you!


Charles Draimin

Chair of the Department of Accountancy

From Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3

First Witch:
All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!

Second Witch:
All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch:
All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter! [...]

Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more:
By Sinel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis;
But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives

I first read Macbeth when I was a teenager in high school. I loved the play and especially this scene. It started out with the three witches mouthing all sorts of nastiness before moving on to the prophecies above.

This was all a real eye-opener for an impressionable teenager and it stuck in my mind. How things have changed.

I have grown up and teach accounting at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB). If Macbeth were my text, I’d ask my students why Macbeth takes such an interest in the predictions of these “fantastical creatures.” Doesn’t he want to know who they are, how they know all these things, by what authority they speak? I would impress upon them that they must not let their emotions and ambitions undermine their judgment as Macbeth has.

Look what happened to him …


Jen Cressey

Master’s candidate / INDI Program
Department assistant in the Faculty of Fine Arts

From King Lear, Act 4, Scene 2

If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come,
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.


This quote and interchange feels timely. I think it speaks to the need to cultivate our best impulses, and the dire consequence of succumbing to our worst ones.

It’s a pitch-dark statement, a startling image and a stark warning.


Kate Bligh

Part-time instructor
School of Canadian Irish Studies
Departments of Theatre and English

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 2

The human mortals want their winter cheer:
No night is now with hymn or carol blest.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And through this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown,
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set; the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

Titania, Queen of the Faeries, is confronting King Oberon, her husband, with the many consequences of a toxic dispute that they have been having for some time.

There are so many things about these lines that astonish me: the poetic images; the delicious juicy, expressivity of the words (try saying them out loud!); and most of all, the fact that Shakespeare, who knew everything, seems to have predicted both the effects of global warming, and the fact that this would be a by-product of arrogant self-concern, a failure of communication and a collective neglect of our responsibility for the earth.


Amanda Kellock

BFA (drama for human development) 03
Full-time faculty in the Department of Theatre
Artistic director of Repercussion Theatre

From Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, 

It seems to me most strange that men should fear; 

Seeing that death, a necessary end, 

Will come when it will come.

This is one of my favourites not only because it expresses something quite thought provoking in itself, but because in the play it is being spoken by someone (Caesar) who is pretty sure his death is coming soon, so it's got to be complicated for him.

Is he saying it because he's not afraid? To comfort his wife? Or because he's trying to steel himself against what is surely coming? Like most of Shakespeare's quotes, what excites me is imagining them in context. Ideas are simple and straightforward in a vacuum, but when spoken by a human being in a challenging situation, they become wonderfully complex. 

This summer, Repercussion Theatre will present an all-female version of Julius Caesar during the company’s Shakespeare-in-the-Park tour.


Thomas Walker

Interim director of the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise

Elisabeth Faure

Communications advisor, Faculty of Arts and Science

“Sonnet 29”

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Thomas Walker: This sonnet stands out for me because it beautifully describes one's worst and best emotions and shows that ultimately, love is triumphant. Also, it makes my wife cry happy tears every time she reads it.

Elisabeth Faure: The Sonnets offer an autobiographical peek at Shakespeare’s time in Queen Elizabeth I’s court, during which he was involved in two tumultuous love affairs. One was with his “Fair Youth” (believed to be a young nobleman), the other with his “Dark Lady,” a seductive brunette.

Shakespeare’s sonnets suggest both relationships had their ups and downs, and the plot thickens when Shakespeare seems to discover his Youth and his Lady have been stepping out — with each other. Of course, the fact that this whole time Shakespeare also had a wife back in Stratford-upon-Avon would not have simplified things!

Collectively, the Sonnets cover the many facets of love and human emotion, from transcendent highs to the depths of despair. In the sonnet I chose, Shakespeare explores both.


Martin Pugh

Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

From Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger…


I studied it at school 40 years ago and it is one of the few things that stuck. (Along with clints and grikes in limestone erosion!)


Norberts Muncs

Director of Performance Production
Department of Theatre

Alison Bowie

PhD candidate in Humanities

From Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

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.


Norberts Muncs: These lines are spoken by Polonius to his son Laertes, who is departing for France. There is a direct link to my association with Loyola College and Concordia. Ever since I appeared in Hamlet (as Guildenstern) here at Loyola in 1972, under the direction of Marc Gervais, I have tried to live my life with this adage in mind. 

Alison Bowie: I was in the first semester of my first year in undergrad, studying history at Queen's University. This is where my parents went to school, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents — the whole family. My birthday is mid-December, so right in the middle of the exam period. We had a small dinner at home to celebrate.

My parents got me cross-country skis as my gift, along with a variety of Queen's paraphernalia: T-shirt, calendar, sweatpants, binder. They were so proud of me. Well, stress and 17-turning-18 angst kicked in. I started crying, a lot, and screaming that they didn't know me at all — and that I didn't even like skiing (which isn't the case, I actually do like it, more so now than 12 years ago when this happened).

They were shocked and didn't know how to respond. A few days later, after the fog had cleared and my exams were over, we went out for dinner. After dessert, my dad pushed a small envelope across the table at me.

In it was a card. My dad, a playwright and brilliant man, wrote an entire apology using lines of Shakespeare dialogue.

Next, my mother slid a small box across the table. In it was a necklace with "to thine own self me true" engraved on it. This time, tears of joy were streaming down my cheeks. I still have that necklace. 


Vince Graziano

Reference librarian at Concordia's libraries

From “Sonnet 18”

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, 

And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

I like this passage because it conveys the beauty of summer and the beauty of humanity. 


Catherine Bolton

Vice-provost of Teaching and Learning
Associate professor in the Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics

From Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

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.

Shakespeare has King Henry say this to his troops before the battle of Agincourt, when they were facing the almost insurmountable forces of the French. To me, this speech reaches far back in time to the battle of Troy and the epic heroes, who call upon the loyalty of their followers and their desire of establishing their reputation on the battlefield.

It is the creation of a private world within a public one, the world of male alliances, honour and dependency. It is also an example of the power and influence of words, which can affect how an individual thinks and acts.

Sheer words, by one individual, changed the anticipated outcome of a battle so that a relatively small force, weakened by disease and far from home, overcame and thoroughly defeated a force much larger in numbers. It just goes to show how powerful words can be in the voice of a leader. Simple words, with a powerful effect.  


Louis Patrick Leroux

Associate professor
Department of English
Département d'études françaises

From Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

To die, to sleep — No more


This line has always resonated with me, not only because of my natural lack of sleep, but because of the very idea that one can "die to idleness," one can refuse a life of dozy workaday comfort, and instead take on the responsibility of living fully, even if it means to die several symbolic deaths, transcending oneself, reinventing oneself.

There are so many quotable lines from Shakespeare that many of them are so common now that it seems like a cliché to cite them. It just goes to show how much of an impact he has had on the Western imagination. 


Ivana Djordjevic

Associate professor in the Liberal Arts College

From Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4, Scene 15 

The odds is gone
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.


These are Cleopatra's words just after Antony's death. Cleopatra ostensibly talks about Antony's stature as soldier — indeed as a yardstick for all soldiers.

With him gone, there will be no standards left for others to measure themselves against. But what comes across even more strongly is the sense that to lose Antony is to find herself all of a sudden — and forever — in a world that will never be more than banal and insipid, an endless succession of drab and tedious days.

I cannot think of a more succinct and more moving expression of crushing grief than these apparently so simple lines.


Tweet your favourite lines by William Shakespeare directly from this story. Or share another quote with the hashtag #Shakespeare400. We'd love to hear from you!

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