How to Use Shakespeare Quotes

Rare Shakespeare Plays
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You can make your essays interesting by adding a famous quote, and there is no source more illustrious than Shakespeare to quote! However, many students feel intimidated at the thought of quoting Shakespeare. Some fear that they may use the quote in the wrong context; others may worry about using the quote verbatim and missing the precise meaning, owing to the archaic Shakespearean expressions. Navigating these difficulties is possible, and your writing may be greatly enhanced if you use quotes from Shakespeare with skill and attribute the quotes correctly. 

Find the Right Shakespeare Quote

You can refer to your favorite resources, found in your school library, a public library, or your favorite content destinations on the Internet. With all theater quotations, make sure that you use a reliable source that gives you complete attribution, which includes the name of the author, the play title, the act, and the scene number.

Using the Quote

You will find that the language used in Shakespeare plays have archaic expressions that were used during the Elizabethan era. If you are unfamiliar with this language, you run the risk of not using the quote correctly. To avoid making mistakes, be sure to use the quote verbatim—in exactly the same words as in the original source.

Quoting From Verses and Passages

Shakespeare plays have many beautiful verses; it's up to you to find an appropriate verse for your essay. One way to ensure an impactful quote is to ensure that the verse you choose does not leave the idea unfinished. Here are some tips for quoting Shakespeare:

  • If you are quoting verse and it runs longer than four lines, you must write the lines one below the other as you do when you write poetry. However, if the verse is one to four lines long, you should use the line division symbol (/) to indicate the beginning of the next line. Here is an example: Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, / Too rude, too boisterous; and it pricks like thorn (Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Sc. 5, line 25).
  • If you are quoting prose, then there is no need for line divisions. However, to effectively represent the quote, it is beneficial to first provide the contextual relevance of the quote and then proceed to quote the passage. Context helps your reader to understand the quote and to better grasp the message that you wish to convey by using that quote, but you should exercise caution when deciding how much information to supply. Sometimes students give a brief synopsis of the play to make their Shakespeare quote sound relevant to their essay, but it is better to provide short, focused background information. Here is a writing example in which a small amount of context, provided before a quote, improves its impact:

Miranda, daughter of Prospero, and the King of Naples' son, Ferdinand, are to get married. While Prospero is not optimistic about the arrangement, the couple, Miranda and Ferdinand, are looking forward to their union. In this quote, we see the exchange of viewpoints between Miranda and Prospero: "Miranda: How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in't!
Prospero: 'Tis new to thee."
(The Tempest, Act V, Sc. 1, lines 183–184)

Attribution

No formal Shakespeare quote is complete without its attribution. For a Shakespeare quote, you need to provide the play title, followed by act, scene, and, often, line numbers. It is a good practice to italicize the title of the play.

In order to ensure that the quote is used in the right context, it is important to reference the quote appropriately. That means you must mention the character's name who made the statement. Here is an example:

In the play Julius Caesar, the relationship of the husband-wife duo (Brutus and Portia), brings out the conniving nature of Portia, in startling contrast to Brutus' gentleness: "You are my true and honourable wife;/As dear to me as are the ruddy drops/That visit my sad heart."
(Julius Caesar, Act II, Sc. 1)

Length of the Quote

Avoid using long quotes. Long quotes dilute the essence of the point. In case you have to use a specific long passage, it is better to paraphrase the quote.