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Shakespeare & Beyond

14 Shakespeare Quotes About New Beginnings

The Folger reopens on Friday, June 21, after a four-year long renovation. The Folger’s public spaces have been totally reimagined, with new exhibition galleries, gardens, and much more. As we look forward to a new beginning for the Folger, we thought we’d turn to Shakespeare’s plays to see what he has to say about fresh starts and transformations.

One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes declares a new beginning for England:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.

– Richard III, 1.1.1 – 2

The “glorious summer” in question is the reign of Edward IV, and, unfortunately, the speaker here is Shakespearean supervillain Richard III. Here at the Folger, we’re hoping that summer 2024 goes better than summer 1461.

Conversions and Transformations

Isn’t there a new beginning in Shakespeare more cheerful that the one that begins Richard III? Two of Shakespeare’s greatest transformations can be found in Much Ado About Nothing, in which Beatrice and Benedick provide an enemies-to-lovers plot for the ages. At the beginning of Act 2, scene 3, confirmed bachelor Benedick, reflecting on how love has transformed his friend Claudio, says, “May I be so converted to see with these eyes? I think not so.” At the end of the scene, the situation has changed, and he tells the audience: “I will be horribly in love with her! I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me because I have railed so long against marriage…”

But doth not the appetite alter? A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No!

– Much Ado About Nothing, 2.3.240 – 244

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another play focused on the transformative effects of love, Demetrius uses similar language to describe his renewed love for an old flame:

… the faith, the virtue of my heart,
The object and the pleasure of mine eye,
Is only Helena. To her, my lord,
Was I betrothed ere I saw Hermia.
But like a sickness did I loathe this food.
But, as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,
And will forevermore be true to it.

– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 4.1.176 – 183

Take it from Benedick and Demetrius: don’t be afraid to change your mind when new information comes along, and don’t be cowed if people make fun of you for your perceived inconsistency. As Jaques says at the end of As You Like It:

Out of these convertites
There is much matter to be heard and learn’d.

As You Like It, 5.4.190 – 191

Paul Konewka. From A series of silhouettes illustrating Midsummer Night's Dream. Printmaker: A. Vogel. Folger ART File S528m5 no.80 part 12 (size M).

Embracing Change

New beginnings mean change, and, sometimes, that can be disorienting. For example, before our renovation, there was a floor at the Folger that we called the “basement.” Now, it’s the “mezzanine.” Until last week, I didn’t even know what “mezzanine” meant! We still haven’t had a chance to change the buttons on our old elevator, which still has a “B” where there should be an “M.” I’m not complaining, but I thought about that elevator when I read this scene in Henry VIII:

You must no more call it York-place, that’s past;
For, since the cardinal fell, that title’s lost:
‘Tis now the king’s, and call’d Whitehall.

I know it;
But ’tis so lately alter’d, that the old name
Is fresh about me.

– Henry VIII, 4.1.113 – 118

In The Winter’s Tale, the character Time tells us:

It is in my power
To o’erthrow law and in one self-born hour
To plant and o’erwhelm custom.

– The Winter’s Tale, 4.1.7 – 9

The Winter’s Tale features a sixteen year time-jump between Acts 3 and 4, and Time itself comes onstage to explain what’s happening. Here, Time refers to the Unity of Time, a principle of classical playwrighting that dictated that all the events of a play should occur over the course of twenty-four hours. But, Time also means that the passage of time will erode even laws and customs that seem immutable to us. You might think that it will always be the basement, but impute it not a crime to Time or its swift passage when it slides o’er four years and, suddenly, you’re on the mezzanine.

Entering the Green World

The reimagined Folger features new entry gardens on each side of the building. In a new podcast episode, Folger Director Michael Witmore tells us that the gardens “let people transition from the official world we’re looking at to the west to this beautiful green other world.”

I think of Shakespeare’s comedies, you know? They start out with people in a knot… People can’t connect. They have to leave the official world, go somewhere else, like the woods or a garden, and the knot becomes untied. By the end, they come out, and it’s a happy ending.

– Michael Witmore

The “Green Worlds” of Shakespeare’s comedies offer his characters a chance at a new beginning. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia says that she and Lysander will escape Athens…

To seek new friends and stranger companies.

– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.1.224

When Celia and Rosalind escape to the forest of Arden in As You Like It, Celia says:

I like this place,
And willingly could waste my time in it.

– As You Like It,2.4.97 – 98

Photo by Lloyd Wolf

We hope you feel the same way as you walk down the garden path on your first visit to the new Folger Shakespeare Library.

More Shakespeare Quotes About New Beginnings

What’s your favorite line from Shakespeare about transformation, change, or starting anew? Tell us in the comments!

We will begin these rites,
As we do trust they’ll end, in true delights.

– As You Like It, 5.4. 207 – 208

I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, be more myself.

– 1 Henry IV, 3.2.94

Thou mettest with things dying, I with things newborn.

The Winter’s Tale, 3.3 119-120

That time offer’d sorrow;
This, general joy.

– Henry VIII, 4.1.7 – 8

I will tell you the beginning, and if it please your Ladyships, you may see the end, for the best is yet to do, and here, where you are, they are coming to perform it.

– As You Like It, 1.2.109

Ay, that I will; and I’ll be wise hereafter
And seek for grace.

– The Tempest, 5.1.351 – 352


“Time’s glory is to calm contending kings, To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light . . .”
– The Rape of Lucrece

Joella Werlin — June 19, 2024


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