Friday, March 1, 2013

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Shakespeare: 50 Lessons from the Bard

Having worked in many classrooms, I’m quite familiar with the teenage notion that Shakespeare is some guy who wrote plays with big words that sometimes rhyme, and has been dead for a long time (since “like, 1950 or something” as I was once told). When confronted with this disdain, I’m always a bit baffled because that perspective is so foreign to me. From the moment I was introduced to Shakespeare, I was hooked. I might as well confess it once and for all: I’m a Shakespeare nerd, and have been since I was a kid.

Now, I’m not the type of Shakespeare nerd that enjoys Renaissance fairs or Medieval TimesI'm not judging those who do, I just haven't yet found the perfect doublet. I’m a Shakespeare nerd because his work has been one of my greatest teachers. While I have studied, taught, performed, designed and directed Shakespeare’s canon, it is not the rich characters or beautiful poetry or compound conflict that draw me back again and again. Rather, I believe his words contain an immense amount of sound advice and sage wisdom.

To my memory, I was introduced to Shakespeare in the sixth grade when I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had desperately wanted to play Puck (honestly, who doesn’t?) but wound up wearing a huge donkey head and loving every minute of it. While specifics of that production in a fluorescent classroom have faded, I can still recite passages of text that resonated with 12-year-old me. To this day, I can recall discussing what it meant that “the lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact” and at times in my life, I’d like to think I’ve been all three; and if I could, I would thank Shakespeare personally for sparking my imagination every time I return to his work.

Below are 50 lessons I’ve learned from Shakespeare. What have you learned? Share your ideas in the comments!

 1. “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” (As You Like It, 2.1)

 2. “To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” (Hamlet, 2.2)

 3. “The course of true love never did run smooth.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.1)

 4. “Men of few words are the best men.” (Henry V, 3.2)

 5. “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar, 2.2)

 6. “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” (All’s Well That Ends Well, 4.3)

 7. “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest.” (King Lear, 1.4)

 8. “They do not love that do not show their love.” (The Two Gentleman of Verona, 1.2)

 9.“To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on.” (Othello, 1.3)

10. “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” (Measure for Measure, 3.1)

11. “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” (Hamlet, 4.5)

12. “I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” (Twelfth Night, 4.2)

13. “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.” (Romeo and Juliet, 2.3)

14. “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” (The Merchant of Venice, 5.1)

15. “Kindness, nobler ever than revenge.” (As You Like It, 4.3)

16. “What's done cannot be undone.” (Macbeth, 5.1)

17. “Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge.” (Titus Andronicus, 1.1)

18. “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1.1)

19. “Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful.” (Measure for Measure, 3.1)

20. “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” (All’s Well That Ends Well, 3.5)

21. “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.” (Twelfth Night, 3.1)

22. “How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?” (Othello, 2.3)

23. “In time we hate that which we often fear.” (Antony and Cleopatra, 1.3)

24. “Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed.” (Henry VI, Part 1, 5.2)

25. “All that glitters is not gold.” (The Merchant of Venice, 2.7)

26. “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” (The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2.2)

27. “Nothing will come of nothing.” (King Lear, 1.1)

28. “This above all: to thine own self be true.” (Hamlet, 1.3)

29. “What's past is prologue.” (The Tempest, 2.1)

30. “Make a virtue of necessity.” (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 4.1)

31. “No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en.” (Taming of the Shrew, 1.1)

32. “Ill deeds are doubled with an evil word.” (The Comedy of Errors, 3.2)

33. “The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief.” (Othello, 1.3)

34. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” (All’s Well That Ends Well, 1.1)

35. If I lose mine honor I lose myself.” (Antony and Cleopatra, 3.4)

36. “’Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall.” (Measure for Measure, 2.1)

37. “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” (Twelfth Night, 2.5)

38. “It’s not enough to speak, but to speak true.” (A Midsummer's Night Dream, 5.1)

39. “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” (Richard II, 5.5)

40. “Action is Eloquence.” (Coriolanus, 3.2)

41. “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” (Hamlet, 1.3)

42. “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition: oft got without merit and lost without deserving.” (Othello, 2.3)

43. “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” (Measure for Measure, 1.4)

44. “Tis a kind of good deed to say well; and yet words are no deeds.” (Henry VIII, 3.2)

45. “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.” (All’s Well That Ends Well, 1.1)

46. “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” (The Merchant of Venice, 1.3)

47. “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (As You like It, 5.1)

48. “Men at some time are masters of their fates.” (Julius Caesar, 1.2)

49. “Tempt not a desperate man.” (Romeo and Juliet 5.3)

50. “What's gone and what's past help should be past grief.” (The Winter's Tale, 3.2)

Blake McCarty is the Media Manager for The New 42nd Street. In his first four seasons with The New Victory Theater, Blake was part of the Education Department, where he managed the New Vic Studio Program. He currently creates and manages the online content for the New Vic’s social platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and this blog. Prior to joining the Digital Services team, Blake collaborated with many other organizations including Invisible Children, Tribeca Film Festival, New Museum and MCC Theater. He holds a BFA in Film Production and an MA in Educational Theatre, both from New York University. Sweetums is Blake’s favorite muppet and his favorite color is plaid. @NewVictory  @BCBMcCarty

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your insights and lessons learned from such a variety of Shakespeares work. My first encounter with Shakespeare was at an outdoor stage where my family spent plenty of summer weekends enjoying free live shows. Sometimes plays, sometimes music, sometimes poetry readings. We were broke, but this place hosted live art for free, and sometimes I'm convinced it's the one family choice my parents didn't screw up. That's where I saw Hamlet roughly around age 10, and mostly I was lost, but the language and the rhythm--the beautiful cadence of Shakespeare's dialogue--enthralled me. I've been a fan ever since. I'm so glad you shared this; it's inspired me and I've been reading and rereading my favorite scenes and sonnets for the last several hours.