Shakespeare Shorts

Quotes from the Bard you can use every day — in four words or less !


“Good night, mother.” — Hamlet III.iv.218

DraggingPolonius.gifHamlet says this while dragging the corpse of Polonius out of her bedroom. The line is delivered hilariously by Laurence Olivier in the 1948 movie.

Illustration: Unknown artist via


“Rudesby, be gone.” — Twelfth Night IV.i.50


This is Olivia rebuking her drunken Uncle Toby (left) with a made-up name. Sneaksby and Idlesby were similar zingers from the Elizabethan era. “Rudesby, be gone” is suitable also for siblings who dare enter your room, hoverers around your cube, and so many others.

Illustration: Unknown artist via Folger Digital Collection @,-IV,-1,-Olivia,-Sir-


“Twas a rough night.”Macbeth II.iii.58


These four words are presented as a comment on the weather, as Macbeth chats with Lennox the next morning, but Macbeth is remembering too how he had a major fight with his wife in the wee hours. There was a lot of confusion, and bad things happened.

Illustration: Posted on the National Education Network (UK)


“Myself myself confound!”Richard III (IV.iv.399)


Anytime you trip yourself up, being too clever, you can invoke Shakespeare’s Richard — the ultimate weaver of tangled webs (the queen calls him a “bottled spider”). Richard’s most famous line is “My kingdom for a horse!” (V.iv.7).

Photo: Actor Richard Mansfield as Richard III (1889). He became a star in the stage version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


“Kill Claudio.”Much Ado About Nothing IV.i.285

Beatrice and Benedick. Much Ado About Nothing - Act IV, Scene 1

When Benedick asks a question that lovers have asked since time immemorial — How can I prove how much I love you? — Beatrice gives an unusually specific answer. Claudio is Benedick’s best friend.

Illustration: Norman Mills Price (about 1925) via


“I’ll unhair thy head!”Antony and Cleopatra II.v.64


When a messenger delivers bad news, Cleopatra grabs him by the hair and gives him a good shake.

Photo: Theda Bara as Cleopatra (1917) via wikimedia


“You are — a Senator.”Othello I.i.119


Iago makes this snappy reply when Desdemona’s father calls him a villain.

Illustration: Thomas Nast cartoon (1872) depicting actor Carl Schurz in the role of Iago; via wikimedia


“I am your butt!”Henry VI Part Three I.iv.29


Queen Margaret rallies her commanders on the battlefield — with a line Shakespeare would probably edit if he were doing a remake today. In his time, “butt” could mean “target” or the brace that holds up a target. The target in this case is the rebel Duke of York and his followers, and she is saying: “Kill them. I as Queen uphold your cause.”

Margaret of Anjou was a durable and versatile character for Shakespeare, appearing in four of his plays. She’s a hot-blooded princess-bride in Henry VI Part One, a scheming politician with a too-churchy husband in Part Two, and a warrior queen in Part Three. She makes a comeback in Richard III as the acid-spitting embodiment of “I told you so.” The only other character to appear in four plays by the Bard is Bardolph, a sidekick of the cowardly Falstaff.

Illustration: Joan of Arc serves here as a stand-in for Queen Margaret. This copyright-free engraving of Joan is from The Stratford Gallery or the Shakespeare Sisterhood by Henrietta Lee Palmer (1866). You can see a portrayal of Queen Margaret in a similar pose in the following article from The Guardian, which shows Dame Peggy Ashcroft dressed for battle. Scroll down at:


“Die all, die merrily.”Henry IV Part One IV.i.134


For those who choose to go out in a blaze of glory — being true to their own flawed selves — the brilliant but short-lived Hotspur provides a cheerful exit line.

Painting: William Edmund Doyle (1864) via wikimedia


“Speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short, quick, snap.”

— The Merry Wives of Windsor IV.v.2


Illustration: The Droeshout portrait appeared in the first publication of Shakespeare’s collected plays, known as the First Folio (1623).

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