Famous Shakespeare Quotes

The Most Famous Shakespeare Quotes of All Time Organized by Genre and Play

Shakespeare QuotesImage source: PRI, from a performance of Henry VIII at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

Shakespeare is eminently quotable. He is, in fact, the most quoted author in the English language and perhaps in the entire history of literature. Shakespeare quotes are a world of inspiration, self-understanding, motivation, and beauty.

If you’ve ever used the phrases “Greek to me,” “fair play,” or “into thin air” then you’ve quoted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, King John, and The Tempest. respectively.

There are hundreds of other expressions, phrases, turns of phrases, and even words invented by the Bard. We call upon Shakespeare’s literary genius more often than we probably realize.

Some of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, mostly the histories, are brimming with soul-stirring quotes. Although not nearly as popular, these quotes are no less powerful than more famous ones.

Take, for example, this gem from Henry IV, Part I, (Act 5, Scene 4):

The better part of valor is discretion. 

Many of these Shakespearean quotations are standalone pearls of wisdom. They are, however, best understood within the historical and literary context in which they occur.

You’ve no doubt heard the quote “To be, or not to be.” In the immediate context of Hamlet, the phrase conveys Hamlet’s mixed feelings about committing suicide. Broadly, however, the quote touches on other thematic elements in the play — the possibility of an afterlife, the injustice of human suffering, the elusiveness of truth, and, directly after he speaks those words, Hamlet’s romantic (or otherwise) feelings towards Ophelia.

Every Shakespeare quote is brimming with meaning and not just the meaning that might occur at a first reading.

We’ve assembled some of the best-known, most-loved, and oft-quoted lines from Shakespeare, organized according to genre and the specific play in which they occur.

Shakespeare Quotes from the Comedies

Image source: All’s Well That Ends Well Performance, Wikipedia Commons

All’s Well That Ends Well

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

No legacy is so rich as honesty.

Good without evil is like light without darkness which in turn is like righteousness without hope.

The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.

Love is holy.

My friends were poor, but honest.

A young man married is a man that’s marr’d.

Many a man’s tongue shakes out his master’s undoing.

Excessive grief the enemy to the living.

Good alone, is good without a name, vileness is so

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.

Can one desire too much of a good thing?

I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.

How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!

Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.

True is it that we have seen better days.

Forever and a day.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Comedy of Errors

We came into the world like brother and brother,
And now let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.

If the skin were parchment and the blows you gave were ink,
Your own handwriting would tell you what I think.

Yet this my comfort: when your words are done,
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.

Love’s Labor’s Lost

Our court shall be a little academe,
Still and contemplative in living art.

As painfully to pore upon a book
To seek the light of truth, while truth the while
Doth falsely blind the eyesight of his look.

They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.

Measure for Measure

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.

The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.

Merchant of Venice

If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?.

The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind.

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano, A stage, where every man must play a part; And mine a sad one.

Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer.

I dote on his very absence.

The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

Mislike me not for my complexion, The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun.

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

But love is blind, and lovers cannot see The pretty follies that themselves commit.

All that glitters is not gold.

Merry Wives of Windsor

Why, then the world’s mine oyster.

This is the short and the long of it.

I cannot tell what the dickens his name is.

As good luck would have it.

Midsummer Night’s Dream

The course of true love never did run smooth.

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.

That would hang us, every mother’s son.

I’ll put a girdle round about the earth In forty minutes.

My heart is true as steel.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.

The true beginning of our end.

Much Ado about Nothing

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,=
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.

Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man. He that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man, I am not for him.

When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.

For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?

For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.

Taming of the Shrew

I’ll not budge an inch.

There’s small choice in rotten apples.

Nothing comes amiss; so money comes withal.
Tush! tush! fear boys with bugs.

Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure.

And thereby hangs a tale.

The Tempest

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

Where the bee sucks, there suck I, in a cowslip’s bell I lie.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep.

Twelfth Night

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better.

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound 1
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor!

Is it a world to hide virtues in?

We will draw the curtain and show you the picture.

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.

He does it with a better grace, but I do it more natural.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.

This is very midsummer madness.

Out of the jaws of death.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

They do not love that do not show their love.

That man that hath a tongue, I say is no man, if with his tongue he cannot win a woman.

To die, is to be banish’d from myself.

You, minion, are too saucy.

Ay, but hearken, sir; though the chameleon Love can feed on the air, I am one that am nourished by my victuals, and would fain have meat.

Wilt thou reach stars because they shine on thee?

For what I will, I will, and there an end.

Winter’s Tale

What ‘s gone and what’s past help should be past grief.

You pay a great deal too dear for what’s given freely.

A snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.

I love a ballad in print o’ life, for then we are sure they are true.
To unpathed waters, undreamed shores.

Shakespeare’s Quotes from The Histories

Shakespeare Quotes from Histories

Image source:  BloggingShakespeare, from a performance of Henry VI

Henry IV, Part I

He will give the devil his due.

The better part of valor is discretion.

So shaken as we are, so wan with care.

In those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d
For our advantage on the bitter cross.

Old father antic the law.

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work.

I know a trick worth two of that.

Play out the play.

Exceedingly well read.

Henry IV, Part II

He hath eaten me out of house and home.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

A man can die but once.

I do now remember the poor creature, small beer.

We have heard the chimes at midnight.

Henry V

Men of few words are the best men.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention!

Even at the turning o’ the tide.

As cold as any stone.

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:
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start.

Men of few words are the best men.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Henry VI, Part I

No, no, I am but shadow of myself:
You are deceived, my substance is not here.

Fight till the last gasp.

My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel; I know not where I am, nor what I do.

When a world of men
Could not prevail with all their oratory,
Yet hath a woman’s kindness overrul’d.

Unbidden guests are often welcomest when they are gone.

Henry VI, Part II

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

Small things make base men proud.

True nobility is exempt from fear.

Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man?

Henry VI, Part III

Having nothing, nothing can he lose.

And many strokes, though with a little axe, Hew down and fell the hardest-timbered oak.

The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.

Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind; The thief doth fear each bush an officer.

Henry VIII

Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water.

We all are men, in our own natures frail, and capable of our flesh; few are angels.

My drops of tears I’ll turn to sparks of fire.

I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels.

King John

For courage mounteth with occasion.

For new-made honor doth forget men’s names.

I will instruct my sorrows to be proud;
For grief is proud, and makes his owner stoop.

Here I and sorrows sit;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it.

Be great in act, as you have been in thought.

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty look, repeats his words,
Remembers me of his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form


Few love to hear the sins they love to act.

For death remembered should be like a mirror,
Who tells us life’s but breath, to trust it error

Opinion’s but a fool, that makes us scan the outward habit by the inward man.

Who makes the fairest show means the most deceit.

Tis time to fear when tyrants seem to kiss.

Richard II

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.

You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.

Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death and death will have his day.

No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth

Keep time! How sour sweet music is when time is broke and no proportion kept! So is it in the music of men’s lives. I wasted time and now doth time waste me.

For sorrow ends not, when it seemeth done.

Mine honor is my life; both grow in one.
Take honor from me, and my life is done.

Each substance of a grief has twenty shadows.

I hate the murderer, love him murdered.

Richard III

Now is the winter of our discontent.

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe.

So wise so young, they say, do never live long.

Off with his head!

An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.

The king’s name is a tower of strength.

The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.

Quotes from Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Shakespeare Quotes from Tragedies

Image source:  Performance of Hamlet from Wikipedia Commons

Antony and Cleopatra

My salad days, when I was green in judgment.

There ’s beggary in the love that can be reckon’d.
This grief is crowned with consolation.


Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.

Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.

That it shall hold companionship in peace With honor, as in war.

If you have writ your annals true, ’t is there That, like an eagle in a dove-cote, I flutter’d your Volscians in Corioli: Alone I did it. Boy!


The game is up.

I have not slept one wink.

As chaste as unsunn’d snow.

It is no act of common passage, but a strain of rareness.

Triumphs for nothing and lamenting toys Is jollity for apes and grief for boys.

Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.


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

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine own self be true.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.

That it should come to this!

That he is mad, ’tis true. Tis true, ’tis pity,
And pity ’tis ’tis true—a foolish figure,

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

In my mind’s eye.

A little more than kin, and less than kind.

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

This is the very ecstasy of love.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.

Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?

I will speak daggers to her, but use none.

When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.

Julius Caesar

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.

A dish fit for the gods.

Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.

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.

Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.

Beware the ides of March.

This was the noblest Roman of them all.

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous

For Brutus is an honorable man; So are they all, all honorable men.

As he was valiant, I honor him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.

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.

King Lear

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!

I am a man more sinned against than sinning.

My love’s more richer than my tongue.

Nothing will come of nothing.

Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest.

The worst is not, So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’


There’s daggers in men’s smiles.

What’s done is done.

I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.

I bear a charmed life.

Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness.

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Out, damned spot! out, I say!

All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

More Shakespeare Quotes Resources

The Top 87 Shakespeare Insults of All Time

Have you ever really wanted to insult someone? Usually, we revert to the usual jabs—“idiot,” “dummy,” or other less polite terms. How boring. But Shakespeare? He knew how to craft the perfect insult. The Shakespeare insults list you’re about to read is the result of collecting and collating the best of these burns.

The List of Shakespeare Insults

Shakespeare had an insult for every occasion. The eight categories of insults below give you a sense of how wide-ranging and creative his insults could be. Some insults reference donkeys. Others cast aspersions on one’s mother.  One insult even brings mustard into the picture. Whatever the category or occasion, each insult is both clever and cutting.

Insults about Intelligence

Shakespeare’s characters knew how to call someone a “moron” or “idiot” without ever stooping to such simplistic terms. Who but Shakespeare could create insults out of elbow, biscuit, and mustard metaphors?

  1. Four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature. (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 1)
  2. They have a plentiful lack of wit. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
  3. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5)
  4. His wit’s as thick as a Tewkesbury mustard. (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4)
  5. Your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone. (Coriolanus, Act 2, Scene 1)
  6. If thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. (Shakespeare insult 10: Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1)
  7. More of your conversation would infect my brain. (Coriolanus, Act 2, Scene 1)
  8. Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows! (Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 1)
  9. Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage. (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7)
  10. If you spend word for word with me, I shall make your wit bankrupt. (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, Scene 4)
  11. He has not so much brain as ear-wax. (Troilus and Cressida Act 5, Scene 1)
  12. Thou art the cap of all the fools. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)

Insults about Character

One catch-all category of Shakespearean insults is the character category. Many insults are in some way attacks on a person’s virtue or character, but these insults bring character assault to a whole new level.

  1. There’s small choice in rotten apples. (Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene 1)
  2. Away thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant. (The Taming of the Shrew, Act 4, Scene 3)
  3. Foul spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dares perform. (Titus Andronicus, Act 2, Scene 1)
  4. Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver’d boy. (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 3)
  5. You, minion, are too saucy. (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 1, Scene 2)
  6. I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all markets. (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 5)
  7. I scorn you, scurvy companion. (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4)
  8. Was the Duke a flesh-monger, a fool and a coward? (Measure For Measure, Act 5, Scene 1)
  9. You are not worth another word, else I’d call you knave. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 2, Scene 3)
  10. Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter! (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2)
  11. Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade. (Measure For Measure, Act 3, Scene 1)
  12. A fool, an empty purse. There was no money in’t. (Cymbeline, Act 4, Scene 2)
  13. Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile. (Cymbeline, Act 3, Scene 4)
  14. Away, you mouldy rogue, away! (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4)
  15. Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)
  16. I do desire that we may be better strangers. (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2)
  17. You are as a candle, the better burnt out. (Henry IV Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2)
  18. Drunkenness is his best virtue, for he will be swine drunk, and in his sleep he does little harm, save to his bedclothes about him. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 4, Scene 3)
  19. You are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion, where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard. (Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 2)
  20. Threadbare juggler! (The Comedy of Errors, Act 5, Scene 1)
  21. Eater of broken meats! (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2)
  22. Saucy lackey! (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2)

Insults about Honesty

Calling someone a “liar” is always an insult. Shakespeare took the liar insult to new heights with these attacks on one’s honesty.

  1. Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell. (Othello, Act 4, Scene 2)
  2. Thou subtle, perjur’d, false, disloyal man! (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 4, Scene 2)
  3. Thine forward voice, now, is to speak well of thine friend; thine backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract. (The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 2)
  4. Dissembling harlot, thou art false in all. (The Comedy of Errors, Act 4, Scene 4)
  5. There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune. (Henry IV Part 1, Act 3, Scene 3)
  6. A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 3, Scene 6)

Insults that Include Animals

To make an insult really sting, you might have to invoke the animal kingdom. Shakespeare’s myriad animal insults include references to dogs, donkeys, toads, loons, spiders, parrots, worms, weasels, pigeons, and many more.

  1. I do wish thou were a dog, that I might love thee something. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 4)
  2. What an ass! (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
  3. What a thrice-double ass! (The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1)
  4. Poisonous bunch-backed toad! (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3)
  5. Here is the babe, as loathsome as a toad. (Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2)
  6. Like the toad; ugly and venomous. (As You Like It Act 2, Scene 1)
  7. Thou cream faced loon! (Macbeth. Act 5, Scene 3)
  8. Bottled spider! (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3)
  9. A rare parrot-teacher! (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 1)
  10. Come, come, you froward and unable worms! (The Taming Of The Shrew, Act 5, Scene 2)
  11. A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen as you are toss’d with. (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 3)
  12. Pigeon-liver’d and lack gall. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

Insults about Physical Characteristics

Shakespeare’s characters weren’t above calling each other “ugly,” but they did so with remarkable cleverness.

  1. She hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults.  (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 3, Scene 1)
  2. No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip, she is spherical, like a globe, I could find out countries in her. (The Comedy of Errors, Act 3, Scene 2)
  3. You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness. (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 5, Scene 4)
  4. I am sick when I do look on thee. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act 2, Scene 1)
  5. Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes. (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2)
  6. Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood. (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 4)
  7. The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril. (The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 3, Scene 5)
  8. The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes. (The Comedy of Errors Act 5, Scene 4)
  9. Her face is not worth sunburning. (Henry V, Act 5, Scene 2)
  10. Thou art as fat as butter. (Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
  11. Thou lump of foul deformity (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2)

Insults with Threats

Sometimes, an insult comes in the form of a threat. These insults combine a character assault with a menace to one’s well-being.

  1. O you beast! I’ll so maul you and your toasting-iron, That you shall think the devil is come from hell. (King John, Act 4, Scene 3)
  2. By mine honour, if I were but two hours younger, I’d beat thee. Methink’st thou art a general offence, and every man should beat thee. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 2, Scene 3)
  3. I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)
  4. Would thou wouldst burst! (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)

Insults about Gender

Insulting one’s masculinity, one’s mother, or one’s gender was just as common in Shakespeare’s time as it is in ours.

  1. Thou hateful wither’d hag! (Richard III, Act I, Scene 3)
  2. You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so. (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3)
  3. My wife’s a hobby horse! (The Winter’s Tale Act 1, Scene 2)
  4. You poor, base, rascally, cheating lack-linen mate! (Henry IV Part II, Act 2, Scene 4)
  5. Whoreson caterpillars, bacon-fed knaves! (Henry IV Part I, Act 2, Scene 2)
  6. This woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 5, Scene 3)
  7. Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 1)
  8. Villain, I have done thy mother. (Titus Andronicus Act 4, Scene 2)
  9. Away, you three-inch fool! (The Taming of the Shrew, Act 4, Scene 1)

Insults that Defy Categorization

The vituperations in this list are not single jabs; they are nonstop thrashings. Take a look at number nine in this list, where Shakespeare strings together twenty pejoratives in a row!

  1. That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years? (Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
  2. Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket thou! (The Taming of the Shrew, Act 3, Scene 3)
  3. Thou art unfit for any place but hell. (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2)
  4. Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch! (Henry IV Part 1. Act 2, Scene 4)
  5. Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat. (Henry V, Act 4, Scene 4)
  6. Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog! (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3)
  7. Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch! (Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
  8. Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.  (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2)
  9. You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe! (Henry IV Part 2, Act 2, Scene 1)
  10. Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
  11. Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish! You tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck! (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)

Shakespeare Insults – Ultimate Resource List

To round out this blog post, we’ve assembled a list of some of the best links, articles, insult generators, and quizzes on the subject. If you want to deepen your knowledge of funny Shakespeare insults, consider this the beginning of your research.

Shakespeare Insults Lists

  • 15 Shakespearean Insults To Replace Your Boring Ones – Because lists with gifs are better than lists without, here’s Buzzfeed’s take on the topic.
  • 15 Great Insults Which Are Better Than Swearing. I love this piece from The Telegraph. They feature a Shakespeare insults list of only fifteen, but their commentary is spot-on: “These are all far more cutting and verbose than swearing, and won’t make you known for having a potty mouth.” Indeed!
  • Insults Kitsch – If you’re really into insults, then you may want to stock up on some Shakespeare insult merch. There are spiral-bound insult generator books, Shakespeare insult socks, create-your-own Shakespeare kits, Shakespeare insult coffee mugs, Shakespeare insults calendar, and, yes, even Shakespeare insults bandages. Who knew that a Shakespearean insult could cover a wound? Amazon isn’t giving us any affiliate income for that link, by the way.

Insult Generators

For some reason, Shakespeare insult generators comprise a vast number of the Shakespeare insult resources available. One of the reasons for the appeal is probably the humor behind using Elizabethan English to trash talk someone. Here are some of the most popular insult generators.

  • Shakespearean Insults Generator from Literary Genius – Simply click “next insult!” to keep the opprobrium rolling.
  • Insult your friends, Shakespeare style – The literary folks at CNN have their own Shakespeare insult generator. This Insult-o-Meter is special. You get to select gender and severity to unleash a customized barb.Shakespeare Insult-o-meter
  • Mr. William Shakespeare’s Insult Generator – For a 16th-century look and feel, check out this generator. The interface features a casino-style spinner to hurl forth its vituperations. The page is a “prop” from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 2013, the RSC and Google teamed up to stream the play to an online audience.
  • The Shakespeare Insult Kit from MITThe most famous Shakespeare insult resource is called the “Shakespeare Insult Kit,” and was produced by some enterprising collegiates at MIT, way back in the day. There are many iterations of the Shakespeare insult generator, but this one is a true classic. Check out its bare-bones HTML page! Shakespeare Insult Kit from MIT

There are 124,950 permutations of Shakespeare insults available via MIT’s Insult Kit alone, so you should have enough ammunition for the next time you have a political conversation over Thanksgiving dinner or a civil conversation with the neighbor who owns the demon-possessed dog. You can, of course, use the automatic Shakespearean insults generator from MIT as well.

Shakespeare Insults Definitions

What do Shakespeare’s insults mean? What was he really saying? Here are some resources to better understand the meaning behind many of Shakespeare’s most famous insults.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3, Scene 2)

The 422 Words That Shakespeare Invented

Inventors get a lot of love. Thomas Edison is held up as a tinkering genius. Steve Jobs is considered a saint in Silicon Valley. Hedy Lamar, meanwhile, may have been a Hollywood star but a new book makes clear her real legacy is in inventing the foundations of encryption. But while all these people invented things, it’s possible to invent something even more fundamental. Take Shakespeare: he invented words. And he invented more words—words that continue to shape the English language—than anyone else. By a long shot.

But what does it mean to “invent” words? How many words did Shakespeare invent? What kind of words? And which words are those exactly? Rather than just listing all the words Shakespeare invented, this post digs deeper into the how and the why (or “wherefore”) of Shakespeare’s literary creations.

How Many Words Did Shakespeare Invent?

1700! My, what a perfectly round number! Such a large and perfectly round number is misleading at best, and is more likely just wrong—there is in fact a bunch of debate about the accuracy of this number.

So who’s to blame for the uncertainty around the number of words Shakespeare invented? For starters, we can blame the Oxford English Dictionary. This famous dictionary (often called the OED for short) is famous, in part, because it provides incredibly thorough definitions of words, but also because it identifies the first time each word actually appeared in written English. Shakespeare appears as the first documented user of more words than any other writer, making it convenient to assume that he was the creator of all of those words.

In reality, though, many of these words were probably part of everyday discourse in Elizabethan England. So it’s highly likely that Shakespeare didn’t invent all of these words; he just produced the first preserved record of some of them. Ryan Buda, a writer at Letterpile, explains it like this:

But most likely, the word was in use for some time before it is seen in the writings of Shakespeare. The fact that the word first appears there does not necessarily mean that he made it up himself, but rather, he could have borrowed it from his peers or from conversations he had with others.

However, while Shakespeare might have been just the first person to write down some words, he definitely did create many words himself, plenty of which we still use to this day. The list a ways down below contains the 422 words that almost certainly originated from Shakespeare himself.

But all this leads to another question. What does it even mean to “invent” a word?

How Did Shakespeare Invent Words?

Some writers invent words in the same way Thomas Edison invented light bulbs: they cobble together bits of sound and create entirely new words without any meaning or relation to existing words. Lewis Carroll does in the first stanza of his “Jabberwocky” poem:

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Carroll totally made up words like “brillig,” “slithy,” “toves,” and “mimsy”; the first stanza alone contains 11 of these made-up words, which are known as nonce words. Words like these aren’t just meaningless, they’re also disposable, intended to be used just once.

Shakespeare did not create nonce words. He took an entirely different approach. When he invented words, he did it by working with existing words and altering them in new ways. More specifically, he would create new words by:

  • Conjoining two words
  • Changing verbs into adjectives
  • Changing nouns into verbs
  • Adding prefixes to words
  • Adding suffixes to words

The most exhaustive take on Shakespeare’s invented words comes from a nice little 874-page book entitled The Shakespeare Key by Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke. Here’s how they explain Shakespeare’s literary innovations:

Shakespeare, with the right and might of a true poet, and with his peculiar royal privilege as king of all poets, has minted several words that deserve to become current in our language. He coined them for his own special use to express his own special meanings in his own special passages; but they are so expressive and so well framed to be exponents of certain particulars in meanings common to us all, that they deserve to become generally adopted and used.

We can call what Shakespeare did to create new words “minting,” “coining” or “inventing.” Whatever term we use to describe it, Shakespeare was doing things with words that no one had ever thought to do before, and that’s what matters.

Shakespeare Didn’t Invent Nonsense Words

Though today readers often need the help of modern English translations to fully grasp the nuance and meaning of Shakespeare’s language, Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have had a much easier go of it.  Why? Two main reasons.

First, Shakespeare was part of a movement in English literature that introduced more prose into plays. (Earlier plays were written primarily in rhyming verse.) Shakespeare’s prose was similar to the style and cadence of everyday conversation in Elizabethan England, making it natural for members of his audience to understand.

In addition, the words he created were comprehensible intuitively because, once again, they were often built on the foundations of already existing words, and were not just unintelligible combinations of sound. Take “congreeted” for example. The prefix “con” means withand “greet” means to receive or acknowledge someone.

It therefore wasn’t a huge stretch for people to understand this line:

That, face to face and royal eye to eye.
You have congreeted.

(Henry V, Act 5, Scene 2)

Shakespeare also made nouns into verbs. He was the first person to use friend as a verb, predating Mark Zuckerberg by about 395 years.

And what so poor a man as Hamlet is
May do, to express his love and friending to you

(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5)

Other times, despite his proclivity for making compound words, Shakespeare reached into his vast Latin vocabulary for loanwords.

His heart fracted and corroborate.

(Henry V, Act 2, Scene 1)

Here the Latin word fractus means “broken.” Take away the –us and add in the English suffixed, and a new English word is born.

New Words Are Nothing New

Shakespeare certainly wasn’t the first person to make up words. It’s actually entirely commonplace for new words to enter a language. We’re adding new words and terms to our “official” dictionaries every year. In the past few years, the Merriam-Webster dictionary has added several new words and phrases, like these:

  • bokeh
  • elderflower
  • fast fashion
  • first world problem
  • ginger
  • microaggression
  • mumblecore
  • pareidolia
  • ping
  • safe space
  • wayback
  • wayback machine
  • woo-woo

So inventing words wasn’t something unique to Shakespeare or Elizabethan England. It’s still going on all the time.

But Shakespeare Invented a Lot of New Words

So why did Shakespeare have to make up hundreds of new words? For starters, English was smaller in Shakespeare’s time. The language contained many fewer words, and not enough for a literary genius like Shakespeare. How many words? No one can be sure. One estimates, one from Encyclopedia Americana, puts the number at 50,000-60,000, likely not including medical and scientific terms.

During Shakespeare’s time, the number of words in the language began to grow. Edmund Weiner, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, explains it this way:

The vocabulary of English expanded greatly during the early modern period. Writers were well aware of this and argued about it. Some were in favour of loanwords to express new concepts, especially from Latin. Others advocated the use of existing English words, or new compounds of them, for this purpose. Others advocated the revival of obsolete words and the adoption of regional dialect.

In Shakespeare’s collected writings, he used a total of 31,534 different words. Whatever the size of the English lexicon at the time, Shakespeare was in command of a substantial portion of it. Jason Kottke estimates that Shakespeare knew around 66,534 words, which suggests Shakespeare was pushing the boundaries of English vocab as he knew it. He had to make up some new words.

The Complete List of Words Shakespeare Invented

Compiling a definitive list of every word that Shakespeare ever invented is impossible. But creating a list of the words that Shakespeare almost certainly invented can be done. We generated list of words below by starting with the words that Shakespeare was the first to use in written language, and then applying research that has identified which words were probably in everyday use during Shakespeare’s time. The result are 422 bona fide words minted, coined, and invented by Shakespeare, from “academe” to “zany”:

  1. academe
  2. accessible
  3. accommodation
  4. addiction
  5. admirable
  6. aerial
  7. airless
  8. amazement
  9. anchovy
  10. arch-villain
  11. auspicious
  12. bacheolorship
  13. barefaced
  14. baseless
  15. batty
  16. beachy
  17. bedroom
  18. belongings
  19. birthplace
  20. black-faced
  21. bloodstained
  22. bloodsucking
  23. blusterer
  24. bodikins
  25. braggartism
  26. brisky
  27. broomstaff
  28. budger
  29. bump
  30. buzzer
  31. candle holder
  32. catlike
  33. characterless
  34. cheap
  35. chimney-top
  36. chopped
  37. churchlike
  38. circumstantial
  39. clangor
  40. cold-blooded
  41. coldhearted
  42. compact
  43. consanguineous
  44. control
  45. coppernose
  46. countless
  47. courtship
  48. critical
  49. cruelhearted
  50. Dalmatian
  51. dauntless
  52. dawn
  53. day’s work
  54. deaths-head
  55. defeat
  56. depositary
  57. dewdrop
  58. dexterously
  59. disgraceful
  60. distasteful
  61. distrustful
  62. dog-weary
  63. doit (a Dutch coin: ‘a pittance’)
  64. domineering
  65. downstairs
  66. dwindle
  67. East Indies
  68. embrace
  69. employer
  70. employment
  71. enfranchisement
  72. engagement
  73. enrapt
  74. epileptic
  75. equivocal
  76. eventful
  77. excitement
  78. expedience
  79. expertness
  80. exposure
  81. eyedrop
  82. eyewink
  83. fair-faced
  84. fairyland
  85. fanged
  86. fap
  87. far-off
  88. farmhouse
  89. fashionable
  90. fashionmonger
  91. fat-witted
  92. fathomless
  93. featureless
  94. fiendlike
  95. fitful
  96. fixture
  97. fleshment
  98. flirt-gill
  99. flowery
  100. fly-bitten
  101. footfall
  102. foppish
  103. foregone
  104. fortune-teller
  105. foul mouthed
  106. Franciscan
  107. freezing
  108. fretful
  109. full-grown
  110. fullhearted
  111. futurity
  112. gallantry
  113. garden house
  114. generous
  115. gentlefolk
  116. glow
  117. go-between
  118. grass plot
  119. gravel-blind
  120. gray-eyed
  121. green-eyed
  122. grief-shot
  123. grime
  124. gust
  125. half-blooded
  126. heartsore
  127. hedge-pig
  128. hell-born
  129. hint
  130. hobnail
  131. homely
  132. honey-tongued
  133. hornbook
  134. hostile
  135. hot-blooded
  136. howl
  137. hunchbacked
  138. hurly
  139. idle-headed
  140. ill-tempered
  141. ill-used
  142. impartial
  143. imploratory
  144. import
  145. in question
  146. inauspicious
  147. indirection
  148. indistinguishable
  149. inducement
  150. informal
  151. inventorially
  152. investment
  153. invitation
  154. invulnerable
  155. jaded
  156. juiced
  157. keech
  158. kickie-wickie
  159. kitchen-wench
  160. lackluster
  161. ladybird
  162. lament
  163. land-rat
  164. laughable
  165. leaky
  166. leapfrog
  167. lewdster
  168. loggerhead
  169. lonely
  170. long-legged
  171. love letter
  172. lustihood
  173. lustrous
  174. madcap
  175. madwoman
  176. majestic
  177. malignancy
  178. manager
  179. marketable
  180. marriage bed
  181. militarist
  182. mimic
  183. misgiving
  184. misquote
  185. mockable
  186. money’s worth
  187. monumental
  188. moonbeam
  189. mortifying
  190. motionless
  191. mountaineer
  192. multitudinous
  193. neglect
  194. never-ending
  195. newsmonger
  196. nimble-footed
  197. noiseless
  198. nook-shotten
  199. obscene
  200. ode
  201. offenseful
  202. offenseless
  203. Olympian
  204. on purpose
  205. oppugnancy
  206. outbreak
  207. overblown
  208. overcredulous
  209. overgrowth
  210. overview
  211. pageantry
  212. pale-faced
  213. passado
  214. paternal
  215. pebbled
  216. pedant
  217. pedantical
  218. pendulous
  219. pignut
  220. pious
  221. please-man
  222. plumpy
  223. posture
  224. prayerbook
  225. priceless
  226. profitless
  227. Promethean
  228. protester
  229. published
  230. puking (disputed)
  231. puppy-dog
  232. pushpin
  233. quarrelsome
  234. radiance
  235. rascally
  236. rawboned
  237. reclusive
  238. refractory
  239. reinforcement
  240. reliance
  241. remorseless
  242. reprieve
  243. resolve
  244. restoration
  245. restraint
  246. retirement
  247. revokement
  248. revolting
  249. ring carrier
  250. roadway
  251. roguery
  252. rose-cheeked
  253. rose-lipped
  254. rumination
  255. ruttish
  256. sanctimonious
  257. satisfying
  258. savage
  259. savagery
  260. schoolboy
  261. scrimer
  262. scrubbed
  263. scuffle
  264. seamy
  265. self-abuse
  266. shipwrecked
  267. shooting star
  268. shudder
  269. silk stocking
  270. silliness
  271. skim milk
  272. skimble-skamble
  273. slugabed
  274. soft-hearted
  275. spectacled
  276. spilth
  277. spleenful
  278. sportive
  279. stealthy
  280. stillborn
  281. successful
  282. suffocating
  283. tanling
  284. tardiness
  285. time-honored
  286. title page
  287. to arouse
  288. to barber
  289. to bedabble
  290. to belly
  291. to besmirch
  292. to bet
  293. to bethump
  294. to blanket
  295. to cake
  296. to canopy
  297. to castigate
  298. to cater
  299. to champion
  300. to comply
  301. to compromise
  302. to cow
  303. to cudgel
  304. to dapple
  305. to denote
  306. to dishearten
  307. to dislocate
  308. to educate
  309. to elbow
  310. to enmesh
  311. to enthrone
  312. to fishify
  313. to glutton
  314. to gnarl
  315. to gossip
  316. to grovel
  317. to happy
  318. to hinge
  319. to humor
  320. to impede
  321. to inhearse
  322. to inlay
  323. to instate
  324. to lapse
  325. to muddy
  326. to negotiate
  327. to numb
  328. to offcap
  329. to operate
  330. to out-Herod
  331. to out-talk
  332. to out-villain
  333. to outdare
  334. to outfrown
  335. to outscold
  336. to outsell
  337. to outweigh
  338. to overpay
  339. to overpower
  340. to overrate
  341. to palate
  342. to pander
  343. to perplex
  344. to petition
  345. to rant
  346. to reverb
  347. to reword
  348. to rival
  349. to sate
  350. to secure
  351. to sire
  352. to sneak
  353. to squabble
  354. to subcontract
  355. to sully
  356. to supervise
  357. to swagger
  358. to torture
  359. to un muzzle
  360. to unbosom
  361. to uncurl
  362. to undervalue
  363. to undress
  364. to unfool
  365. to unhappy
  366. to unsex
  367. to widen
  368. tortive
  369. traditional
  370. tranquil
  371. transcendence
  372. trippingly
  373. unaccommodated
  374. unappeased
  375. unchanging
  376. unclaimed
  377. unearthy
  378. uneducated
  379. unfrequented
  380. ungoverned
  381. ungrown
  382. unhelpful
  383. unhidden
  384. unlicensed
  385. unmitigated
  386. unmusical
  387. unpolluted
  388. unpublished
  389. unquestionable
  390. unquestioned
  391. unreal
  392. unrivaled
  393. unscarred
  394. unscratched
  395. unsolicited
  396. unsolicited
  397. unsullied
  398. unswayed
  399. untutored
  400. unvarnished
  401. unvarnished
  402. unwillingness
  403. upstairs
  404. useful
  405. useless
  406. valueless
  407. varied
  408. varletry
  409. vasty
  410. vulnerable
  411. watchdog
  412. water drop
  413. water fly
  414. well-behaved
  415. well-bred
  416. well-educated
  417. well-read
  418. wittolly
  419. worn out
  420. wry-necked
  421. yelping
  422. zany

Words That Shakespeare Invented – Resource List

Words, words, words.

(Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2)