Today we’ve got 20 of the best of Shakespeare quotes for you to use in your ELA classroom.

If you haven’t heard about my first time teaching Shakespeare, you might not know that I made ALL the rookie mistakes.  I had absolutely no idea how to teach Shakespeare, let alone create an engaging introduction of Shakespeare.

Instead, I did a boring pre-load, info-dump introducing Shakespeare.  Complete with a never-ending slideshow about the Elizabethan age, important and interesting facts about William Shakespeare, and the context of the play we were studying.

I made students read the WHOLE play out loud.

And then I stopped them while they were reading to explain bits and pieces.

At the end of the unit, like a doofus, I wondered why my fifteen-year-old students HATED it.  


With the benefit of hindsight . . . 

I can tell you that it was not the right way to go about teaching Shakespeare.

The next year I had to switch it up.  And it was a ton more successful.

Using this lesson (a Shakespearean insults lesson plan), students were starting Shakespeare feeling excited, having fun, and while they may not have loved it, they certainly didn’t hate it.

But, not every teacher feels confident enough . . . 

Starting Shakespeare with an activity like that.  

I probably wouldn’t have done that in my first year with students I didn’t know and a play I was unfamiliar with.

If that’s you, another great way to introduce Shakespeare to your students is to show them some Shakespearean quotes.

This approach has a few benefits over the Shakespearean insults lesson (if you don’t feel up to that just yet, or if you are worried it’s not the best fit for your school community or culture).

Some of the benefits include:

  1. Students become familiar with the language in a low-risk setting
  2. The quotes you choose can be funny and insightful
  3. You can choose quotes related to the play you’ll study and discuss important themes they hint at
  4. You can choose quotes from a variety of plays and expose students to the diversity of Shakespeare’s ideas
  5. You can do many different activities using quotes, most of them low-to-no prep (winning!)

Using the best of Shakespeare quotes to introduce Shakespeare

There are so many great ways to use the best of Shakespeare quotes to introduce Shakespeare to your high school students. 

 We’ll do a rundown of a few today, but know that this list is not exhaustive.

And there are a ton of ideas for teaching Shakespeare floating around in the ether that you could use.

  1. Get students to translate the quotes into modern English.  You could even let them use an online “Shakespeare dictionary” such as this one or this one.  You could then get students to translate other famous quotes into Shakespearean English using this translator.
  2. Students pick a quote and investigate the context.  Which play was it from? Who said it? What is it about? What does it mean? How does it relate to the themes of the play? Why was it said?  You get the idea.
  3. You pick a quote (or a few quotes) and find another quote that means the opposite. Then get students to choose a side and debate/discuss.
  4. Get students to illustrate a quote, create a coloring page for the quote, create a comic about the quote, or create a meme with the quote.
  5. Use the quote as a writing prompt (a few of the ideas listed here are writing prompts).
  6. Use the quote to explore grammar skills, as discussed in this blog post.
  7. Connect the quote to the real world – how does the quote relate to students’ lives?
  8. Use the quote as a debate topic
  9. Get students to do a silent discussion (as mentioned in this blog post) about the quote
  10. Get students to find opposing quotes and then write a compare/contrast paragraph about the two opinions expressed in the quote and explain what they think.

You promised me 20 of the best of Shakespeare quotes!

Now you have a few ideas of how you could use them, here are 20 of the best of Shakespeare quotes.  

    1. I do desire we may be better strangers (AS YOU LIKE IT, Act 3 Scene 2)
    2. The course of true love never did run smooth (A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Act 1 Scene 1)
    3. Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot/That it do singe yourself (HENRY VII, Act 1 Scene 1)
    4. All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players (AS YOU LIKE IT, Ace 2 Scene 7
    5. Out, out brief candle!/Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage (MACBETH, Act 5 Scene 5)
    6. The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together (ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, Act 4 Scene 2)
    7. The time of life is short!/To spend that shortness basely were too long (HENRY IV PART 1, Act 5 Scene 2)
    8. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown (HENRY IV PART 2, Act 3 Scene 1)
    9. What’s done can’t be undone. (MACBETH, Act 5 Scene 1)
    10. The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. (THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Act 1 Scene 3)
    11. What is past is prologue. (THE TEMPEST, Act 2 Scene 1)
    12. Better three hours too soon than a minute too late. (THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, Act 2 Scene 2)
    13. Boldness be my friend!/Arm me, audacity. (CYMBELINE, Act 1 Scene 6) 
    14. Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind. (HENRY VI PART 3, Act 5 Scene 6) 
    15. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (HAMLET, Act 3 Scene 2)
    16. I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another. (HAMLET, Act 3 Scene 1)
    17. Mislike me not for my complexion. (THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Act 2 Scene 1) 
    18. O! that way madness lies; let me shun that. (KING LEAR, Act 3 Scene 4) 
    19. There’s many a man has more hair than wit. (A COMEDY OF ERRORS, Act 2 Scene 2)
    20. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child! (KING LEAR, Act 1 Scene 4)

There you have it

You’ve got 20 great quotes by Shakespeare.  Do you have a quote you want to be included in the list?  Let us know on Facebook or Instagram.

Used the quotes in your lesson on Shakespeare?  Let us know how it went.  We want to know all the fun Shakespeare activities you did and what worked best.  

Want more Shakespeare?

Need more ideas to teach Shakespeare in your ELA class?  Check out the blog posts below for loads of Shakespeare teaching resources, fun activities, and more.