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.