I admit that a long time ago I thought this was from Shakespeare, alongside “Tis better to have loved and lost…” Now I know better, but that doesn’t mean that word has spread.
No, this is not by William Shakespeare. It is in fact Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese – Sonnet 43, in fact:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
This is actually a nice reminder that the art of the sonnet neither began nor ended with Mr. Shakespeare. Others were pretty good at it, too.
When I spotted this “battle of wits” quote as attributed to Shakespeare I immediately thought of the closest thing I could remember, Beatrice’s zinger in Benedick’s general direction:
- Alas! he gets nothing by that. In our last
- conflict 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. Who is his
- companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother.
[Citation : Much Ado about Nothing – Act 1, Scene 1. Lines: 56-63. http://opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=muchado&Act=1&Scene=1&Scope=scene&LineHighlight=57#57]
This ends up pretty close. Roughly translated, “In our last battle of wits he lost most of his, and now he’s only left with one, so I’m going to let him keep it so people can tell the difference between him and his horse.”
Is it even possible to give proper attribution to the quote in question, though? It seems like the generic sort of thing that many people have thought of over the years.
The best answer , I think, came from the ChaCha board. Every now and then for one of these quotes I’ll see someone who has asked, “What play is that from?” Because, as a general rule, if the quote always says “Shakespeare” but never says the play? That means he never said it. Anyway, somebody asks what play this wits quote is from. And the answer that came back was, and I’m not making this up, “It’s not in a play. William Shakespeare the person said it.”
Oh. Dear ChaCha answerer, if you have access to documents written by Mr. Shakespeare that the rest of us don’t know about, please share! You could be a very very rich person.
You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
This is why I am afraid, you say that you love me too.
I must not be hanging out in the right circles, because I’d never heard this quote – but when I went googling for it, it’s all over the place. It should take about 2 seconds to realize that this isn’t Shakespeare, just another victim of “I don’t know who said it so I’ll make it sound better by attaching Shakespeare’s name.”
Here’s a tip – whenever you see one of these quotes attributed to Shakespeare that’s written in second person (in other words, says “you do this” and “you do that” a lot), ask yourself “Who was he talking to?” and “Where would this make sense in his work?” Shakespeare wasn’t in the business of writing Hallmark cards. Rarely does one character just stand there and go on and on about another, as in this quote.
The best I’ve been able to find is that this quote is a Turkish poem called “I Am Afraid (Korkuyorum)” which is attributed even in the original to William Shakespeare. The source material long since disappeared from the net, but with a little help from the Wayback Machine – here it is, I Am Afraid (Korkuyorum), in the original Turkish along with English translation. Enjoy. If anybody knows the actual author, please let us know. It’s just not Shakespeare.
UPDATED May 29, 2012
It appears that the original author’s name might very well be Qyazzirah Syeikh Ariffin. At least, there are a number of sources attributing the Turkish version of the poem to him.
This one happens to be going around Twitter at the moment. And, as someone on Yahoo! Answers said, “This is quoted 100s of times around the net, but no one ever says where it’s from.” I’ve found similar results in all my searches. Although Shakespeare used the word “meaning” frequently, I can find no combination of meaning along with “hear” and “word” that suggests where this quote might have come from.
I’m still looking for a real source, but like so many other of these Hallmark sentiments, it’s just too simple to ever hope to find evidence for someone who said it first.
I saw this one go by and thought, “Are you kidding me? Do we really want to think that the best Shakespeare could come up with is something like ‘scum of the heart’?” It didn’t help that there’s even places on the net where people asked “What play is this from?” and were told “Merchant of Venice.” Not true. Shakespeare does use the word “scum” four times in his work, but never in this context.
This one took me awhile to find. It is quoted often in the history books, and always with the word “Boston” next to it. For awhile I thought that had something to do with a collection of papers or a particular essay that was being cited. Then it dawned on me that this is an actual person — Thomas Boston, a Scottish church leader born in 1676 (so, not too long after Shakespeare). Here, from Google Books, is the man’s own words:
Observe your hearts all times but especially under temptation. Temptation is a fire that brings up the scum of the vile heart: Do you carefully mark the first risings of corruption.
Alternate / Original : The diminutive chains of habit are seldom heavy enough to be felt till they are too strong to be broken.
Saw this one go by on Twitter this morning, and it didn’t feel right. Seems too much like advice, and not the sort of Polonial (ha, I just made that up!) advice like “To thine own self be true,” where it’s directed from one character to another. As a general rule, most of what you’ll find in Shakespeare’s body of work is something that someone said, aloud, to someone else. (True there are soliloquies, and then there’s the sonnets and long poems, but the bulk of the canon is made up of conversation). So ask yourself whether it sounds like something that would have come up in normal conversation.
Turns out, in this case, it’s not. However it’s closer to Shakespeare than you might think.
This quote comes from our old friend Samuel Johnson, sometime in the late 1700’s. Though I cannot find an exact reference to Dr. Johnson’s work, others were quoting him as early as the 1880’s.
In case you missed the Shakespeare connection, you need to go here.
I’d never heard this one, and just saw it go by on Twitter. Didn’t sound like Shakespeare.
It’s not, it’s Oliver Wendell Holmes. Specifically, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.
Have a nice day!
I find no evidence that Shakespeare wrote this. I see no use of “ascertain” in his work, and only three unrelated uses of the word “resolutely.”
The question remains, however – who said it, if Shakespeare didn’t?
How about Aesop, the guy from all the fables?
This is the only reference I can find that suggests Aesop, and even then the context is a little weird – the quote in question stands out in the middle of the page, somewhat unrelated to the rest of the context.
The origin of this quote, in this form at least, is unknown – but it is not Shakespeare. No one has been able to ﬁnd a reference in Shakespeare’s works to these words, though it is a matter of opinion whether you might ﬁnd something similar that Shakespeare said, that has evolved into the above.
Actually this quote closely resembles the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism, which is often expressed as “Desire is the root of all suffering.” What is expectation but desiring a certain outcome?
If you’d like to pursue that thread some more, you wouldn’t be the first person to consider a Shakespeare/Buddhism connection.
You probably see it quoted all the time : “Shakespeare invented the words assassination and bump!”
It is…inaccurate. What does it mean to invent a word? Can history ever really trace the first person to string together a series of letters in a way that no one else ever did?
It is more correct to say that Shakespeare represents the first recorded use of the word. In that case, the statement is true : assassination appears in Macbeth, and bump (as a noun, not like to bump into somebody) appears in Romeo and Juliet.
For the curious, here’s one of many lists of words that Shakespeare is first credited with using. I choose this list because it attempts to clarify how Shakespeare used each word when he used it in a way differently than we do now. “Import”, for example, was just a different way for him to say “importance,” and that is not how we use it today.