Not By Shakespeare

Duane Morin

Not by Shakespeare

Few things1 upset a lover of Shakespeare more than to see a quote fly by on Twitter or Facebook attributed our great poet, when we know very well that he wrote no such thing. In research for my upcoming book “Shakespeare for Weddings,” I was deeply saddened to see just how far and wide this incorrect information has spread. Most of the quote listings and databases I found contain at least one of these incorrect quotes. It’s my job to recognize and verify them, and I’ve got the tools at my disposal to do it. Unfortunately most people will run into these quotes because they happen to see it on a Facebook status or an email signature. They like it, they forward it along, never realizing the mistake2 .

Well, this and the Authorship question. Shakespeare may not have written these lines but the Earl of Oxford most certainly didn’t, either! 2 To celebrate the 30th anniversary of their iconic “Billy” bookcase, furniture giant IKEA produced a limited edition version covered in Shakespeare quotes. I’m told, though I’ve yet to confirm it, that a number of not-by-Shakespeare quotes made it onto the final product.

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare In an effort to turn the tide I’m releasing this excerpt from my book for free. Circulate at will. When you see somebody forward a quote from this list and call it Shakespeare, send them a copy of this book and say, “Wonderful quote, I really enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s by Shakespeare, though.” They are all very nice quotes in their own right, and there’s no reason why people should continue to associate them with Shakespeare and not give credit to the original authors.

Expectation is the root of all heartache. The origin of this quote, in this form at least, is unknown - but it is not Shakespeare. No one has been able to find a reference in Shakespeare’s works to these words, though it is a matter of opinion whether you might find something similar that Shakespeare said, that has evolved into the above. Actually this quote closely resembles the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism, which is often expressed as “Desire is the root of all suffering.” What is expectation but desiring a certain outcome?

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This is William Congreve in The Mourning Bride (1697). Shakespeare did say "Come not between the dragon and his wrath," and "How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child" (both King Lear), which both seem to be of a similar spirit.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday’s

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with a passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death. Elizabeth Barrett Browning gives Shakespeare a run for his money with this one, which comes from Sonnets from the Portuguese (#43). One wonders whether Shakespeare’s religious beliefs would have been offended by the “love thee better after death” line, or if he would have stolen it and used it himself!

If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet at least teach it to dance. This is another one of those quotes that makes Shakespeare people scratch their heads at the mis-attribution. It sounds nothing like Shakespeare! It’s actuallyGeorge Bernard Shaw, nearly four hundred years later.

I love thee, I love but thee With a love that shall not die Till the sun grows cold And the stars grow old. This is by Bayard Taylor, from the Bedouin Song. An excellent quote indeed, and by all means use it. It even sounds more like Shakespeare than many of

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare the other quotes on this list. Unfortunately it was written over 200 years after Shakespeare was gone.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. This popular wedding reading is often confused with Sonnet 116, described earlier, and ends up lumped in the Shakespeare pile. This one is actually from the Bible3 , specifically 1 Corinthians 13. There are many references in Shakespeare’s work to the book of Corinthians, so it is very likely that he knew this passage. Perhaps it was inspiration?

Love of heaven makes one heavenly. This quote by Sir Philip Sidney, a contemporary of Shakespeare, is a fascinating addition to the list. Sidney, like Shakespeare, was a master of the sonnet form. His Astrophil and Stella sonnets are credited with popularizing the form, and Sidney might well have been one of Shakespeare’s role models. If that’s not interesting enough, there is actually a theory that Shakespeare’s works were authored by none other than Philip’s sister Mary!

Love to faults is always blind, Always is to joy inclin’d, Lawless, wing’d & unconfin’d, And breaks all chains from every mind.

No link to the Bible? No offense. Actually trying to avoid offense, since I realized that picking a specific version of the Bible to link might imply something about my own beliefs, which I did not intend.

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare William Blake, who lived about a hundred and fifty years after Shakespeare, penned this one.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. Most people who will reference this quote and call it Shakespeare have never heard of the original source : Walter Scott, Marmion.

The object of art is to give life a shape. This one is cited as Midsummer Night’s Dream all over the place, but that is incorrect. This quote comes from French dramatist Jean Anouilh in The Rehearsal.

’Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all. I admit to using this quote and calling it Shakespeare, before learning my mistake. It comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850).

When I saw you I fell in love. And you smiled because you knew. Although often attributed to Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare aficionados the world over can assure you that neither this line, nor anything like it, appears in that play. It doesn’t even sound like Shakespeare. It is by Arrigo Boito, who does at least have a Shakespeare connection in that he’s written a number of operas based on Shakespeare’s work including Othello and Falstaff.

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare There are others, of course. It’s all too typical that in their desire to quote something meaningful, people will stick “Shakespeare” on the end to give it some credibility. Once done, it’s out there forever and others will just continue to forward and repeat it. Before long it shows up on Shakespeare Quotations lists, and no one during the whole process ever thought to look it up. Here’s the rule of thumb : If the quote just says “Shakespeare” and does not cite the play (or sonnet) that it supposedly comes from, assume it’s not Shakespeare until proven otherwise. If it does reference a certain play or poem, go look it up. You’ll only need to do that once, because next time you’ll know.

Still Unknown ... But NOT By Shakespeare!
Love is the most beautiful of dreams, the worst of nightmares. Love is the sweetest of dreams, the worst of nightmares. Both versions of this quote are all over the net, with no appropriate attribution in sight. It is easy to determine that they are not from Shakespeare. For one thing, Shakespeare only once uses the word “night-mare,” and that is during King Lear in a completely different context. His use of expressions like “most beautiful” is also rare. I have been unable to find any combination of what Shakespeare might have said that could represent where this quote came from. So where did it come from? As early as 1896, Will Marion Cook wrote “Love is the tend’rest of themes, Love is the sweetest of dreams.” But no mention of nightmares. Similarly in 1854, famed operatic composer Richard Wagner wrote to his friend Franz Liszt, “But since I have never in my life enjoyed the true happiness of love, I intend to erect a monument to this most beautiful of dreams...” He was referring at the time to his opera Tristan Und Isolde.

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare Chances are very good that somewhere along the line someone heard one (or both) of these quotes, and on their own gave it that Dickensian “best of times, worst of times” twist.

Think You’ve Found A Not-By-Shakespeare?
Several times while writing this book I stumbled across more quotes mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare, and I’m sure there’s an endless supply of more. I will continue to revise this book as I find them. How can you tell if a quote is not by Shakespeare? Here’s how I do it: 1. Visit 2. Enter the keywords from your quote. Do not cut and paste the exact quote! There is a difference between “This is not by Shakespeare” and “The user who forwarded this to me simply mistyped some words.” The Clusty engine is smart enough to find the most relevant matches, given enough words. a) So for instance to look up “Love is not love that alters when it finds” you might type in “love alters finds”. Do so and Sonnet 116 will pop right up. That’s a good one. b) Now search “love count ways” to compare the similar sonnet, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” Only two matches appear, and you’ll see that they’re not even close. This is very good evidence that the quote is not by Shakespeare. 3. Once you’re confident that it’s not by Shakespeare, it’s only reasonable to find out who really did say it. Prove it’s not Shakespeare, in other words. Time to head for google. You can try the exact quote, or just like with Clusty you may have been luck just typing some keywords.

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare a) You will get many matches, no doubt. Most of them will probably say Shakespeare. If you’re lucky you’ll see the Shakespeare attribution right there in the Google results, and know that you can skip those. b) Skim through the list looking for people’s names that might be a better candidate for author. For instance if we were trying to identify that “The object of art is to give life a shape” quote we might google “object art life shape”. At the time of this writing, the results that come back when you do that show two results credited as William Shakespeare, two with no acknowledgement, and then one for Jean Anouilh. c) Interesting! Now Google for “object art life shape Jean Anouilh”. Again, as of this writing, the second result tells us that Jean Anouilh is a French dramatist, and that this quote comes from his play The Rehearsal. d) In this particular case you could verify one level more by searching for “rehearsal jean anouilh script” and discovering that the text is available in One more search of the text itself for “object of art” tells us that the quote in question is on page 17. Sounds like proof to me. 4. When you find a good one, feel free to come by Shakespeare Geek and share your discovery. We’d all love to see this guide grow. As long as there are people misquoting Shakespeare, we’ll be there.

Do most people even care who said these things? I like to think so. Certainly anybody who tells you “Shakespeare said that” cares. So it’s only reasonable to offer them the correct information. Think of it this way - if

Copyright 2010


Not by Shakespeare you happen to like the quote, and would like to read more where that one came from, you can only do so if you know the source, no? For every “not by Shakespeare” quote on this list there are dozens that he did write that are just as good. How great would it be if everybody on the social networks spoke in Shakespeare quotes? OK, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with just not calling something Shakespeare when it’s not. If “more Shakespeare” sounds like a good idea to you, then you’ll probably enjoy hanging out with us over on Recently celebrating it’s five year anniversary, ours is the oldest Shakespeare blog on the net. It’s not academic, it’s not boring, we don’t discuss alternate theories about who wrote the plays and whether Shakespeare was gay. Well, sometimes. We’re just as likely to quote The Simpsons or Star Trek, review new movies and books, or just pass around funny comics. Come join us and see for yourself!

Copyright 2010


Related Interests