- All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts –As You Like It Act 2 Scene 7
Shakespeare knew theater perhaps better than any other person who has ever lived. He knew what it meant to treat the world like a stage, and just as his plays display many different facets of humanity, he intimately knew the range of experiences that an individual can endure. This quote reflects most naturally his understanding of the world.
- There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so –Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2
Our experience of the world is the world. Everything is in our heads, but that does not trivialize things, it magnifies them. This quote can be interpreted in a range of ways, but it seems what Shakespeare is implying is that our minds determine how we react and understand experiences, such that even terrible circumstances can be considered good and marvelous circumstances considered bad.
- Earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice –The Merchant of Venice Act 4 Scene 1
Humans come closest to the divine when we exhibit the qualities of God. Nothing more perfectly reflects God than the ability to merge His divine righteous justice with His loving mercy. All human justice ought to aim to reflect God in this way.
- We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep –The Tempest Act 4 Scene 1
A late romance, this story about forgiveness has a fairy-tale quality. Shakespeare once again emphasizes the centrality of the mind to humanity, for what is a dream but the pinnacle of imagination? And what part is the sleep–the dream, or our waking moments? This quote celebrates the wonder that can inhabit life.
- Men at some time are masters of their fates: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings –Julius Caesar Act 1 Scene 2
Here Shakespeare emphasizes the power the individual has in his or her own destiny. While other quotes emphasize how much is determined by our mind, this quote emphasizes how the mind can be turned to influence the outside world.
- Honorable Mention: Let’s kill all the lawyers –Henry VI Part 2 Act 4 Scene 2
Shakespeare wrote some incredible courtroom dramas, but this quote humorously points out the perpetual attitude people have about those who often seem to obscure the justice that he celebrates.
- Bottom: To thine ownself be true –Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3
The problem with this quote is that the character who says it is a joke. While the words themselves can still certainly have a positive sentiment, this specific quote is meant satirically, and therefore really shouldn’t be quoted positively.