Books of Quotations from Shakespeare


Bard quotation booksA good book of selected quotations from Shakespeare is a nice complement to the collected works. Properly arranged, it lets you find relevant aphorisms, and speeches on a wide variety of topics; bon mots you can drop into conversations, emails, and blog posts. As is my wont, I have collected several of these books, and herein are my opinions of them. Note that there may be later editions than those noted here.

First, I classify them as four different types of quotation books:

  1. Dictionary style (arranged alphabetically by topic such as politics, love, loyalty, fear, etc.;
  2. Topic or specialty style (a particular type of Shakespearean quotation e.g. insults, or specific focus such as language or sexual allusions);
  3. General (lines, phrases, or speeches from plays and poems, often arranged by source rather than topic);
  4. Novelty style (often meant as a gift, joke, or souvenir).

The best sources for reference are the dictionary-style collections because they follow the precedent of other standard quotation sources such as Oxford, Bartleby, Columbus, and Colombo. The alphabetical arrangement of topics makes it easy to look for relevant quotations and provides a reference to where it can be found in the source (preferably act, scene, and line for plays; lines for poems). Line numbers will sometimes differ depending on the source used (i.e. Riverside or Oxford editions).

And I caution against depending on the general online quote collections, most of which allow any user to post a “quotation” without citing a proper source, or having anyone confirm it later. Far too many of the online quotation sites are responsible for thousands of misattributed quotations shared on social media.  And the alleged quotation may be miswritten as well. These sites are not authoritative: they are generally just clickbait for their advertisers. Avoid them. There are, however, dedicated Shakespeare sites that are credible sources for quotations. But I still recommend owning at least one of the dictionary-style collections referred to below. Nothing beats a book.

I have four books in the dictionary format and these are my best sources. There is, as might be expected, some overlap in selections in any topic, but each offers a different selection, sometimes wildly different. Only the Arden and Columbia collections include The Two Noble Kinsmen. None have Edward III or Sir Thomas More.

All four have proven useful to me when looking for a relevant quotation or aphorism, but I tend to rely mostly on the Arden edition, followed by the Columbia, the Miner/Rawson, and finally the Wordsworth. All except the Wordsworth edition offer suggested terms for cross-reference in their topics.

  1. The Arden Dictionary of Shakespeare Quotations, edited by Jane Armstrong (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010; 396 pages). Shows act, scene, line number, speaker, and the person spoken to. Sometimes includes explanation or reason for speech. Includes a glossary, keyword index, and index arranged by play or poem.
  2. The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare, selected by Mary & Reginald Foakes (Columbia University Press, 1998; 516 pages). Includes act, scene, line number, speaker and a small note explaining speech or to whom the speech is made. Includes indexes by character speaking, play, and keyword. Includes The Two Noble Kinsmen. This is my only hardcover of the four.
  3. A Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare, selected by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson, subtitled A Topical Guide to Over 3,000 Great Passages From the Plays, Sonnets, and Narrative Poems (Meridian, 1996; 368 pages). Shows act, scene, and line number, and sometimes explanation or commentary on speech. Includes a keyword index. Does not include The Two Noble Kinsmen.
  4. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Shakespeare Quotations, compiled by G.F. Lamb, subtitled A thesaurus of insight and wisdom from the Bard of Avon (Wordsworth Reference, 1995; also sold as Chambers Shakespeare Quotations and other titles; 352 pages). Shows act and scene, but no line numbers. Also has a dictionary of characters from the plays, and other supporting material, and an index ordered by play and poem, then by topic within that source. Does not include The Two Noble Kinsmen. Offers no suggestions or cross-references to other topics.

As an example of the differences in selections, I looked up the following topics in all of the above. First, fear:

  • Arden: 10 selections; one from Hamlet (also says to see anxiety, foreboding, imagination, misgivings);
  • Columbia: 16 selections; two from Hamlet (no cross-references).
  • Miner/Rawson: 19 selections; four from Hamlet (also says to see self-doubt);
  • Wordsworth: 10 selections; none from Hamlet (no cross-references).

Next, politics:

  • Arden: Under politics and politicians: 20 selections, four from Hamlet (no cross-references);
  • Columbia: 23 selections, two from Hamlet (says see also greatness, power).
  • Miner/Rawson: 22 selections, one from Hamlet (says see also bribery, government, high position, power, the public, taxes);
  • Wordsworth: no selections(no cross-references);

Then love:

  • Arden: 46 selections, plus 13 in being in love, five in cooling love, 19 in expressions of love, eight in falling in love, seven in lovers (47 additonal: 93 total); selections from Hamlet: one, none, one, one, none, none respectively (total three), says see also flirtation and seduction, sex and lust, and other love categories; under expressions of love and falling in love it says see also Romeo and Juliet;
  • Columbia: 111 selections, six from Hamlet, says see also adoration, courtship, devotion, kissing. 
  • Miner/Rawson: under love and lovers: 107 selections, two from Hamlet, under expressions of love: 31 (total 138), two from Hamlet (four total), says see also jealousy, marriage, men and women, passion, Romeo and Juliet, separation, sex, women;
  • Wordsworth: 33 selections, three from Hamlet (no cross-references);

I have three specialty books, all three of which are worth having in your library and will expand your knowledge and appreciation of Shakespeare:

  1. Shakespeare’s Bawdy, by Eric Partridge, subtitled A scholarly, fully documented examination of Shakespeare’s sexual allusions (revised edition, Dutton, 1996; 224 pages). Includes essays on Shakespeare’s sexual allusions, a glossary that references the source by play or poem, act, scene, and line, as well as cross-references to related terms. Very entertaining and often eye-opening for readers who don’t realize how much sex and sexual innuendo was in the plays. Not a great source for quotations, however, because you need to refer to the source material to see the context.
  2. Shakespeare’s Words, by David & Ben Crystal, subtitled A Glossary & Language Companion (Penguin Books, 2002; 650 pages). This a dictionary of individual words arranged alphabetically rather than quotations, but includes the source line or sometimes multiple lines that contain that word, with act, scene and line cited. Indispensable for readers of Shakespeare who want to understand the language. But not a great source for quotation hunters.
  3. Shakespeare’s Insults, by Wayne Hill & Cynthia J Õtthcen, subtitled Educating Your Wit (Mainsail Press, 1991; 308 pages). Arranged by play, with act, scene, and line number cited. Includes an introduction on insults, expletives, and name-calling, and a section of “ready insults for particular occasions. Includes The Two Noble Kinsmen. Fun reading, but would be better arranged by topic than play, because hunting for a particular type of insult or expletive becomes tedious. And it really should have had the name of the speaker included with the source (a major oversight)!

I have three general collections, which usually offer highlighted selections without providing context or explanations. The Collins Gem anthology has been a welcome pocket companion to me for the past 25 years.

  1. Collins Gem Shakespeare Anthology (Harper Collins, 1994; 286 pages). Does not include The Two Noble Kinsmen. Just a pocket-sized selection of phrases, speeches, and lines. I have carried this with me for decades, including on vacations, and mine is a well-thumbed, somewhat battered book that has provided me reading material at times when I have had to wait for people or events. No context or explanatory notes are provided.
  2. The Complete Dictionary of Shakespeare Quotations, complied by D.C. Browning (New Orchard Editions, 1991; 560 pages). Includes keyword index. Does not include The Two Noble Kinsmen. Arranged by play in First Folio order, with act, scene, line numbers, and speaker. This is little more than lines and speeches from the plays cut-and-pasted into chapters, which takes everything out of context. No notes or explanations, no topics or categories. You are better off with an edition of the complete works.
  3. Brush Up Your Shakespeare, by Michael Macrone, subtitled An infectious tour through the most famous and quotable words and phrases from the Bard (HarperPerennial, 1990; 235 pages). Includes index by keyword and by play, does not include The Two Noble Kinsmen. Lengthy and often humourous explanations of many popular phrases, neologisms, and aphorisms that originated with The Bard. A fun, informative read, and a modest source of quotations. Great for learning how The Bard influenced speech even today.

And three novelty collections. None of these are necessary for any library, but may make nice gift items:

  1. Shakespeare: The Bard’s Guide to Abuses and Affronts, compiled and edited by Nancy Armstrong, Catherine Sweeney, and Joelle Herr (Running Press Miniature Editions, 2014; 176 pages). Single line per page, play cited but not act, scene, line, or speaker. Illustrated. The tiny size makes it somewhat impractical, but it’s a fun collection and has some small value for quotations.
  2. William Shakespeare: Quotations, edited by David Notley (Jarrold Publishing, 1997; unnumbered but approx.  80 pages). Brief selections, from speech to single line, one to three per page. Play, act, and scene cited but not line or speaker. Illustrated. A small book suitable as a gift or token for a Bard aficionado, but there is no context cited for the selections.
  3. The Little Book of Shakespeare (HarperCollins, 1999; 160 pages). A small, pocket-sized collection of lines and aphorisms, identified by play, act, and scene. One to three selections per page, arranged in chapters of eleven topics. Taken from the Alexander text, so The Two Noble Kinsmen is not included. Best suited as a gift or novelty item.

I welcome and recommendations and suggestions for additional titles, as well as comments on these books.

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  1. This week, I added several books about The Bard to my collection, including Bardisms: Shakespeare for All Occasions, by Barry Edelstein (Harper Perennial, 2009 ). It is formatted somewhat like Brush Up Your Shakespeare with longer explanations, and includes lines, sonnets, speeches, and quips arranged (and explained) in chapters according to the “Seven Ages of Man” (from Act 2 Sc.7 of As You Like It). Lots of fascinating information in it about Shakespeare, editions of his works, his language, history, as well as notes on how to use and speak the words (would that my memory served me better to memorize so many lines!). Has an index of subjects and another of keywords. 274 pages.

    I also received six other books about The Bard and his works, but I’ll save them for another post.

  2. Bartlett’s Shakespeare Quotations, selected by John Bartlett, foreword by Justin Kaplan, Little Brown, 2005, small hardcover, 276 pages. Organized by play, with act, scene, and line but not speaker or who is spoken to. Includes quotes from major poems and sonnets, but not The Two Noble Kinsmen or later additions to the canon. No notes, no index, nothing arranged by subject or anything to identify context. No illustrations.

    Reprinted from the compilation first published in the 19th century, this is from the 17th (2002) edition. You can get these online at Overall not very useful when looking for a quotation about a particular issue. More a gift item than a reference book. Stick to the Arden or Columbia for searchable content.

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