What One Line Is Quintessential Shakespeare?

I’m posing this question because I saw it come through my search logs and felt like anchoring it in case anybody else comes around looking for it later. Definition is up to you, I’ll leave this one completely open.  Is it “To be or not to be”? Or is that more cliche than quintessential?

9 thoughts on “What One Line Is Quintessential Shakespeare?

  1. Bottom- "reason and love keep little company together nowadays." Truth from the mouth of the clown.

    Hamlet-"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will." The prince acknowledges that his earlier question ('To be or not to be") is not something we can answer ourselves, but something that destiny answers for us.

    Richard-"I will not rest until the white rose that I wear be dyed, even in the lukewarm blood of Henry's heart." Shakespeare brings history, both its characters and its symbols (the roses of Lancaster and York) to energetic and thrilling life.

    Falstaff-"To counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed." The abominable misleader of youth at his most gloriously irreverent.

  2. How about "Who's there?"
    Shakespeare forces each of us to look within, to confront ourselves, just as Hamlet had to do.

    I also love Bottom's "I have had a most rare vision," a wonderful way to describe each of our lives.

    Or "What's past is prologue."No one — person, nation, culture — escapes the past.

  3. Hamlet – "The time is out of joint; / O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right"

    Isn't there always something out of joint in Shakespeare? And there's always someone (predestined) to set it right.(Furthermore, it's a rhyme 😉 )

  4. I'm going with Twelfth Night's "If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction." It very nicely draws our attention to both the improbabilities and the intelligence of Shakespeare by hanging a lampshade on the ridiculous plots but making the characters aware of the ridiculousness. 🙂

  5. […..]Who would these Fardels beare,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscovered Countrey, from whose Borne
    No Traveller returns, Puzels the will,
    And makes us rather beare those illes we have,
    Then flye to others that we know not of.

    I agree with Katja. Time, the Great Arbiter, and everything influenced by it, is a recurring theme all through the plays.
    Life, Time, and Death. Shakespeare is fairly obsessed with them. But then, aren't we all?

  6. "Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun — it shines everywhere." – Feste in Twelfth Night

    Comedy is the greatest facet of humanity. Can you imagine us humans without laughter?

  7. "To be or not to be" may be quintessential, but you're right: it has become quite cliche. Two others come to mind that conjure up for me everything that is Shakespearean (therefore quintessential): "It shall be called Bottom's Dream, because it hath no bottom." and "Never, never, never, never, never."

  8. A little exchange from Troilus and Cressida nicely encapsulates the theme of Time:

    ULYSSES: …yonder walls that pertly front your town,/ yond towers whose wanton tops do buss the clouds,/ must kiss their own feet.

    HECTOR: I must not believe you./ Here they stand yet, and modestly I think, /The fall of every Phrygian stone will cost /A drop of Grecian blood: the end crowns all, /And that old common arbitrator, Time/
    Will one day end it.

    ULYSSES: So to him we leave it.

    The sentimentalist in me wants to point out a heartwarming moment from King Lear, also. Edgar, while tricking his blind father into attempting a suicide leap from flat ground, tells the audience "Why I do trifle thus with his despair is done to cure it." He returns to Gloucester's side and uses a different voice, convincing the old man that he had indeed leapt of a cliff and been supernaturally preserved from death. "Thy life's a miracle," says Edgar, which is one of those quotes both specific to its context and applicable to all human lives.

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