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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!
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.

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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 Shake-
speare. 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

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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

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

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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 fascinat-

ing 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.

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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


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

’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

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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 attribu-
tion 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.

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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 mistak-
enly 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.

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a) You will get many matches, no doubt. Most of them will probably
say Shakespeare. If you’re lucky you’ll see the Shakespeare attri-
bution 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
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. Cer-
tainly 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

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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 prob-
ably 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!

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