The word “love” appears 2,146 times in Shakespeare’s collected works (including a handful of “loves” and “loved”). Add to that 59 instances of “beloved” and 133 uses of “loving” and you’ve got yourself a “whole lotta love.” So, what does Shakespeare have to say about the subject? Here are 20 quotations from the Bard about love.
⇒ Related: Read, search, and download all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems for free with The Folger Shakespeare.
“What is Love?”
What does Shakespeare have to say about love? Let’s start with the basics.
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
In an interview on Shakespeare Unlimited, Folger Director Emerita Gail Kern Paster noted that Sonnet 116 is a frequent choice for wedding toasts. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, editors of The Folger Shakespeare, wrote of this famous sonnet, “The poet here meditates on what he sees as the truest and strongest kind of love, that between minds. He defines such a union as unalterable and eternal.”
“A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind.
A lover’s ear will hear the lowest sound,
When the suspicious head of theft is stopped.
Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of cockled snails.
. . .
And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Make heaven drowsy with the harmony.”
– Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act 4, scene 3, lines 328 – 339
In Love’s Labor’s Lost, the King of Navarre and his three friends vow to spend three years cloistered from the world, studying, fasting, and seeing no women. But as soon as they’ve signed the contract, the Princess of France and her three pals show up to meet with the King. Of course, everyone immediately falls in love and the four men have to figure out how to extricate themselves from their solemn oaths. In Act 4, scene 3, Berowne, the wittiest of the four fellows, argues that love, not rigorous study, will make them better men. In fact, Berowne says, love is like a superpower that “gives to every power a double power.” The full speech is a beautiful testament to the gifts of love.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1, scene 1, lines 240 – 241
In Shakespeare’s time, Cupid was often depicted wearing a blindfold. In the Trevelyon Miscellany, a 1608 manuscript collection of patterns, notes, quotations, rhymes, and more from the Folger’s collection, compiler Thomas Trevelyon notes:
Venus the lady of love inflameth the heart. . . then Cupid her son shooteth his dart, and being blind, some times striketh with his arrow of love, and some time with his arrow of hatred, but at all times so shooteth that his arrows tend to love, in the beginning, though afterwards discords arise betwixt lovers.
Romeo, perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous lover, also describes Love this way: “Alas that love, whose view is muffled still, / Should without eyes see pathways to his will” (Romeo and Juliet, 1.1).
“Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.”
– Venus and Adonis, line 799
“There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned.”
– Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, scene 1, line 16
Cleopatra tells Antony she’ll “set a bourn”—a boundary or limit—”how far to be beloved.” Antony tells her, “Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new Earth.” This is a fun activity to do with your partner: ask them to describe the physical extent of their love for you, then build a fence there together.
“What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter:
Present mirth hath present laughter.”
– Twelfth Night, Act 2, scene 3, line 48
Seize the day! Love, Feste’s song suggests, is best enjoyed in the present: “What’s to come is still unsure. / in delay there lies no plenty, / Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty. / Youth’s a stuff will not endure.” (Playwright Noël Coward borrowed the phrase “present laughter” for the title of his play about an actor who has just turned 40). The idea is echoed in a song from the penultimate scene of As You Like It, in which the characters sing, “And therefore take the present time. . . / For love is crownéd with the prime” (5.3).
“Letters Full of Love”
So you’re in love: what kind of things are you supposed to say? Here are a few romantic quotations from Shakespeare to make your lover’s heart go pitter-patter.
“I do love nothing in the world so well as you—is not that strange?”
– Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, scene 1, line 281
Benedick and Beatrice, everybody’s favorite Shakespearean couple, provide us with a few of the most romantic lines in Shakespeare. See also: “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest” (4.1.300), and “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes” (5.2.101).
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
– Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, scene 2, lines 140 – 142
“Thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
“I kiss thee with a most constant heart.”
– Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, scene 4, line 274
“A heaven on earth I have won by wooing thee.”
– All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 4, scene 2, line 78
“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that. . .“
– The Winter’s Tale, Act 4, scene 4, line 166 – 168
“So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground.”
This sonnet isn’t quite so rapturous as its opening lines sound. We need food to live, but sometimes we eat too much. Things that grow in the earth need water, but too much rain will cause a flood. In Sonnet 75, the speaker finds that sometimes his passion can become unpleasantly overwhelming.
⇒ Related: the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Austin Tichenor reflects on Shakespeare’s complicated and equivocal expressions of love.
“I would not wish any companion in the world but you.”
– The Tempest, Act 3, scene 1, lines 65 – 66
“Thee will I love, and with thee lead my life.”
– The Comedy of Errors, Act 3, scene 2, line 72
⇒ Related: Download illustrated Shakespearean valentines that you can send to your friends, family, and significant others.
“Love is a Devil”
Anyone who has experienced “the pangs of despised love” (Hamlet, 3.1) knows that love doesn’t always end well. Shakespeare also wrote a lot about the challenges of being in love.
“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
– A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 1, scene 1, line 136
This line from Lysander might as well be Midsummer’s thesis statement; its central couples spend the whole play breaking up, making up, and, in Titania’s case, cuddling up with enchanted donkey-man Bottom.
“If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.”
– Twelfth Night, Act 1, scene 1, line 1 – 3
Twelfth Night’s opening line is one of Shakespeare’s most famous. But Duke Orsino goes on to say how miserable being in love makes him feel. “If music be the food of love,” he says, keep playing and fill me up so that I don’t feel this way any more!
“Love is a smoke rais’d with the fume of sighs;
Being purg’d, a fire sparkling in a lover’s eyes;
Being vex’d, a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears:
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet.”
– Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, scene 1, lines 197 – 201
“If thou rememb’rest not the slightest folly
That ever love did make thee run into,
Thou has not loved.”
– As You Like It, Act 2, scene 3, lines 33 – 35
As You Like It has a lot to say about what it’s like to be in love. In Act 3, Rosalind tells Orlando that a true lover has “a lean cheek. . . a blue eye and sunken. . . an unquestionable spirit. . . a beard neglected.” If you’re really in love, Rosalind says, “your hose should be ungartered, your bonnet unbanded, your sleeve unbuttoned, your shoe untied, and everything about you demonstrating a careless desolation” (3.2). But how do lovers keep from tripping over their shoelaces?
In Act 2, scene 1 of Hamlet, when Ophelia is telling her father Polonius about Hamlet’s recent behavior, her description sounds a lot like Rosalind’s description of a lover:
Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced,
No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled,
Ungartered, and down-gyvèd to his ankle,
Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
And with a look so piteous in purport
As if he had been loosèd out of hell
To speak of horrors—he comes before me.
It’s not surprising that Polonius immediately guesses that Hamlet is in “the very ecstasy of love.”
“When you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave.”
– Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, scene 1, lines 99 – 100
What’s your favorite quotation about love from Shakespeare’s works?
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