Most Popular Shakespeare Tattoos

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and finally had the time to do it.  In a highly unscientific manner I punched “Shakespeare tattoo” into the Pinterest search engine, and started tracking what came up.  Although there were a variety of Shakespeare images, in this case I was looking purely at the quotes.

Unfortunately if more than one person finds the same image and pins it, all those instances will show up, and it would be near impossible for me to do anything about that. So instead I factored it into the equation.  The prevalence of a given Shakespeare tattoo doesn’t just mean “More people have this one” it also means “More people *like* this one.”

I learned that pictures of freshly done tattoos are pretty gross.  Many of these showed people all red and swollen which I assume means they took the picture immediately upon completion.  I also learned that people will tattoo pretty much anywhere on their body, and saw a fair share of nearly naked people with just a hand covering the bits that weren’t Shakespeare. (Though it’s not on pinterest and was not part of this study I remember seeing a picture of a woman in the bathtub whose Shakespeare tattoo was so high up her leg that I hope she married her tattoo artist afterward.)

In total I looked at 74 Shakespeare tattoos (or, as noted, re-pins of tattoos). I was surprised at how lopsided the distribution was.  Seventeen of those (almost 1/4th the total) were unique – I found only one tattoo like it. I think my favorite may have been this one:


Shakespeare tattoo: My love was my decay
“My love was my decay”

Because I saw a gazillion Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Tempest and Sonnet 116….but who goes to Sonnet 80?  You’ve got to really know and love your material to pull something that almost guarantees no one you ever meet in life will recognize it.  I’ll admit I even passed that one over at first as a not by Shakespeare until I read the note associated with it.

[ All images come from a Pinterest search on “shakespeare tattoo“.  I do not own the rights to any images. ]

Eight tattoos were in the category of “a few people have or like this one”.  Typically I spotted between 2-4 instances of each of these (in no particular order):

  • “What’s past is prologue”
  • “To sleep perchance to dream”
  • “If music be the food of love play on”
  • “Hell is empty and all the devils are here”
  • “Stars, hide your fires”
  • “These violent delights have violent ends.”
  • “All these woes shall serve for sweet discourse in our time to come.”

There were also a few variations on Sonnet 116, including one person with the entire sonnet but most with a portion of “Love is not love that alters…”  Though I like the person who went with “Looks on tempests and is never shaken.”  Two different things to focus on.

But then we get to the big winners.  Two stood out as clearly more popular than the others.  The runner-up, appearing 18 times in my list?

Shakespeare tattoo: To thine own self be true
“To thine own self be true.”

I saw Polonius’ advice on more body parts than I can count (such as the pictured foot).

But the winner (appearing 19 times in the list)?  Want to take a guess?

Shakespeare tattoo: Though she be but little she is fierce
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Everybody loves this quote.  Not only was it the most popular, I saw a number of people who pinned a different tattoo with the comment, “I like this style, only with the quote about she’s little and fierce.”

What do you think quote choice says about the person?  I found it fascinating to consider the different places people have to be in their lives to write of “violent ends” and “all these woes”, compared to those that write of music being the food of love (and bonus points to the creative soul who went with “the earth has music for those who listen” instead).  And how about all these “little but fierce” tattoos? Is that a motivational message to the bearer?  Or a warning to her enemies? Maybe a little of both.


One thought on “Most Popular Shakespeare Tattoos

  1. The "Stars, hide your fires" ones might be more Mumford & Sons tattoos than Shakespeare ones (depending how recent they are).

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