Shakespeare might be the most quotable writer of all time — but he didn’t bat 1.000.
Whenever I find myself looking through Shakespeare quotes — and as a super cool guy, I find myself doing this regularly — I’m always amazed at just how many things he (or they) contributed to the public lexicon. I forget that even little things like “the world’s my oyster” and “jaws of death” are Shakespeare.
But look. He didn’t bat 1.000.
I may be the first person ever to acknowledge that. When I thought of this list idea and Googled things like “worst Shakespeare quotes,” I couldn’t find a single other person willing to speak ill of him.
And since last Friday’s July 4th post had the gun people gathering up pitchforks and torches to come to my house, I figured I’d see what I could do to make the English teachers of the world join them. (And not just with iffy comma splices.)
Here are my picks for 11 of the most overrated Shakespeare quotes. Get your slings and arrows ready.
1 | “Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.” – Romeo and Juliet
One of the corniest romantic lines he wrote. Plus, the sorrow/morrow rhyme just feels kind of cheap. For whatever reason it makes me think of Biz Markie rhyming “I went to the gate to ask ‘Where was her dorm?’ / The guy made me fill out a visitor’s form.”
2 | “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” – Macbeth
Shakespeare loves parallel construction, and usually nails it — but not here. This line doesn’t make a particularly strong or insightful statement; it feels like sound and fury signifying nothing. (Although, for what it’s worth, “fair is foul and foul is fair” describes how umpires call a game when a small market team is playing the Yankees.)
3 | “This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Hamlet
There might actually be some real value NOT being slavishly true to our own selves and taking a step back once in a while. I feel like society really got away from all of us when everyone really started being true to thine own selves. It’s the foundation of outsider art, college radio, the morality police and the endless supply of delusional reality show auditions.
4 | “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.” – Twelfth Night
Very few of Shakespeare’s insights venture into “fortune cookie” territory like this one.Another case where parallel construction got away from him. It’s nice wordsmithing but not that strong of a premise. (It would be like Richard Pryor doing a bit on airline peanuts.)
5 | “My salad days, when I was green in judgment.” – Antony and Cleopatra
It’s a famous line that smacks a bit of trying too hard. Put it this way: If you could picture a Ke$ha songwriter coming up with the metaphor, it’s not that tight.
6 | “Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.” – As You Like It
You can always tell when Shakespeare was writing tired when he reverts to his seasonal metaphors (especially meh ones like this). It’s like when I am too lazy to think of a real joke on my 11th point so I just drop in a Simpsons or South Park quote and call it a day.
7 | “Your tale, sir, would cure deafness.” – The Tempest
I actually think Shakespeare’s better when he’s being a dick. Like, I think he would’ve been much more comfortable with a character saying someone else’s story makes one crave deafness. He totally wasted that potential zing by blowing this whole “story/deafness” idea in an awkwardly hyperbolic compliment.
8 | “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” – Hamlet
I’ve never liked the whole play-within-a-play portion of Hamlet. It seems like an overly complex, Rube Goldberg-style attempt at getting Claudius to flinch. Plus… that’s the proof you need to believe your uncle killed your father? “My informant was a ghost” and “my uncle flinched during a play” really wouldn’t hold up in court.
9 | “Could I come near your beauty with my nails, I’d set my ten commandments in your face.” – Henry VI, Part II
I’m not sure why he felt the need to interject the ten commandments into a catfight. Kind of kills the mood. I’ve never seen any oil wrestling or foxy boxing match where the participants taunt each other about worshiping idols or bearing false witness. And certainly no one’s honoring their father and mother in the whole process.
10 | “The course of true love never did run smooth.” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Too obvious. I think the J. Geils Band arrived at the same conclusion.
11 | “Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.” – Venus and Adonis
I find a “sunshine after the rain” metaphor way too ordinary and easy. But at least he had the discipline not to follow this up by taking the metaphor further and talking about rainbows. I hate those friggin’ things. Always crawling up your leg.