Expectation is the root of all heartache. Or is it?

Or so I saw quoted on Twitter today, attributed to one Mr. William Shakespeare.  I was excited, as this almost directly reflects the First Noble Truth of Buddhism which, roughly paraphrased, says “Desire is the root of all suffering.” I’m thrilled when interests of mine cross like that.
But…it doesn’t sound like Shakespeare.  I don’t know if I’m developing the golden ear or what, but I’m finding that when I hear a Shakespeare quote that I’ve not heard before, I have pretty good luck in determining whether it’s misattributed.
And thus far, I cannot find a single piece of evidence that this is indeed Shakespeare.  It’s attributed all over the place, but always just to “William Shakespeare”, never with an associated work – even in lists where they otherwise do specify the work.
Anybody got the scoop?  Surely if it’s in the plays (or sonnets or long poems) then it would pop up in a search, wouldn’t it?

Don’t forget to check out Not By Shakespeare where we track down the source of this and many more quotes mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare.

8 thoughts on “Expectation is the root of all heartache. Or is it?

  1. Well, we can't prove he _didn't_ say that…but I'm pretty confident it's not in his surviving works. Check out this excellent Shakespeare search tool:


    I use it all the time. "Heartache" doesn't appear in the corpus at all. I could check the dictionary later tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised if it dates to the 19th century.

  2. Thanks Craig. I used http://shakespeare.clusty.com myself.

    I guess we can add this one to the list that already includes "oh what a tangled web we weave", "how do I love thee let me count the ways" and a couple others :).

  3. Well, there is the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Perhaps "expectation is the root of all heartache" is a paraphrase of that line.


    The OED cites "heartache" from 1000 (though it was equivalent to "heartburn" at that point). But Hamlet's use of the word is the first recorded use of "heart-ache" to mean "Pain or anguish of mind, esp. that arising from disappointed hope or affection."


  4. Willshill says:

    Truly a case of heart-burn(s). They were very literal in their descriptions weren't they? The emotional was almost inextricably tethered to the physical. Considering the time it took for modern science to re-connect the two, maybe they weren't so far removed at all.
    I've always thought that's it's why the vocalization can't be ignored. It's kind of like absorbing the words, digesting them, and then spitting out more than just a psychological knowledge; it's almost a tangible physical communication to the auditor. There's a list of those expressions naming the heart alone–heart on his sleeve–my heart jumped into my mouth–they really do mean something more I think.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The language sounds too modern to be Shakespeare.

  6. Susan Pohlers says:

    "Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
    Where most it promises."

    All's Well That Ends Well, act II, i, 145

    I think it's a paraphrase of this line.

  7. Alfia Wallace says:

    Actually it isn't a paraphrase of that line. A paraphrase of that line would be "Expectation fails most when we have the greatest expectations." This is very different from saying it's the root of all heartaches. I, too, thought the quote sounded wrong, and so went on a search about it. It's more classic interwebz misattribution.

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