Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Best Unfamous Shakespeare Lines, Subjectively Chosen

"Shakespeare gets me; I can say the things I'm trying to say with him. He says it in that funky way or whatever, but what he shows people is what I'm tryng to say. I can take some words from Shakespeare and I can be like, yeah, this is how I feel, I might not have been able to put it into words myself for a long time and he's like there, there's the words you need."
                     -- Roger, prison inmate, participant in Shakespeare program

 Whenever you can't say what you mean about life, you can always just quote Shakespeare. He's like the Grateful Dead (though somewhat better), who have a song for every occasion. Shakespeare not only has a line for every occasion, he invents new occasions with his lines. Or maybe it's better to say that he brings our occasions into focus. 

So, on this September day, rather than get into whom Shakespeare would have voted for in the upcoming election (Biden), or which tragic Shakespearean tyrant Trump is most like (none of them, because they're all smart and articulate), or what sort of car Shakespeare would have driven (a Subaru), I'm simply going to list some

of my favorite relatively unfamous lines from Shakespeare, which are among my favorites because when they are spoken, or when I read them, I think, "Yes! That's it!" I will offer a little contextual commentary, but no analysis. Or, hardly any. These lines speak for themselves, and are useful for many occasions.

1. Othello, speaking of his wife's alleged dishonesty: "She was false as water." (Okay, a little commentary. Ever been swimming in the ocean or a lake and you think you're not in over your head and you put your foot down and there is nothing there but water, and you have no firm ground to stand on?)

2. Othello, when he realizes he's killed an innocent woman, been wrong about everything that matters, and ruined his life: "Let it go, all."

3. Iago, plotting to get his enemies drunk: "Now 'mongst this flock of drunkards / Am I to put our Cassio in some action / That may offend the isle."

4. Hero, of Beatrice: "Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes, / Misprising what they look on."

4. Don Pedro to Benedick: "You have a February face, / ... full of frost, of storm, of cloudiness."

5. Sir Toby to Sir Andrew: "Let me see thee caper. Ha, higher! Ha, ha, excellent!" (Good for parties.)

6. Patroclus to Thersites: "Why, thou damnable box of envy!"

7. Henry VI to Suffolk: "Hide not thy poison with such sugar'd words."

8. Jack Cade: "Up Fish Street! Down Saint Magnus' Corner! Kill and knock down! Throw them into Thames!" (Good for riots.)

9. Prince Hal to Falstaff: "Why, thou globe of sinful continents ...." (A little commentary here, as well. Shakespeare likes to make references to his theater, the Globe, and Prince Hal likes to call attention to Falstaff's rotundity. With sinful "continents," there's a play on "continence," of which Falstaff has none, and is therefore sinful. So, this is an insult crammed with meaning.)

10. Hamlet (dying) to Horatio: "And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain / To tell my story."

11. Kent to Cornwall: "I have seen better faces in my time / Than stands on any shoulder that I see / Before me at this instant."

12. Macbeth to Lennox: "'Twas a rough night."

13. Macduff: "Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight / With a new Gorgon."

14. Cleopatra, on Caesar: "He words me, girls, he words me."

15. Timon of Athens, on seeing people approaching: "More man? Plague, plague!" (A timely phrase.)

I could go on, and on, and on! But fifteen makes a good starter Shakespeare kit. Go forth not with a February but with a September face, and read Shakespeare when your vocabulary flags.

1 comment:

  1. Love all these! My favorite: Miranda’s “Your tale, sir, could cure deafness.”