6 Tips from Shakespeare for Living Well
The Bard’s work is loaded with perennial lessons awaiting readers to collect and cultivate them.
The wisdom, and the almost implausible work, of William Shakespeare have fascinated the world for better than four centuries. The Bard speaks of an enormous range of human emotions, in plays exploring death, revenge, love and madness – and these are set in palaces, forests and on remote islands. He tried, through only words, to unravel the mysteries of time and love.
Through the voices of some of his best known characters, Shakespeare captured his own, particular and visionary way of seeing life, and human nature.
These are some quotes from the body of his work that could well provide a sort of polar star to guide us through life’s waters.
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief .”
(Henry VI, part 3)
In one of the most famous historical works, Richard, Duke of York, describes his feeling when he’s incapable of crying: his insides burn, and the very silence hurts him. The character’s dialogue assures us that tears lessen the pain, and this is certain. Crying, like letting go, can free us at least momentarily from emotional pain and suffering.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
After their surprise marriage, the corrupt King Claudius and Queen Gertrudis receive guests at the Danish court. In a moment of introspection, Polonius the advisor speaks of the habit of continually trying to define the world around us. This he calls a business with no purpose, a waste of time. In the context of the play, this phrase belies the profound frivolity of Polonius, but in everyday life, the brevity of our words becomes an exercise in clarity, an invitation to express ourselves more simply and directly.
“O teach me how I should forget to think!”
(Romeo and Juliet)
Near the beginning of our tragedy, Romeo suffers the contempt of his beloved Rosalinda, shortly before he meets Juliet. The young man describes his feelings to his cousin, Benvolio. He can’t stop thinking of this woman who’s despised him. He asks his cousin, desperate now, to teach him to stop thinking. Obsessive thoughts, especially at times of fear or anguish, can be lethal. To cease thinking, or to think only when we decide to do so, is one of the purposes of meditation, and implies the necessary and healthy training of the mind.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”
Julius Caesar has taken command of Rome, but he knows that powerful people desire his end and that conspiracies thrive among his closest subjects. In a scene with his wife Calpurnia, Caesar, frightened, speaks to her of cowardice and fear. These two emotions need to be worked out, or our own lives can seem a perpetual death.
“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”
Counselor to the Danish court, Polonius passes this advice to his son, Laertes, before departing for France at the beginning of the work. An essential key to maintaining coherent, effective communication, one needs to learn to address others wisely. An inability to listen is one of the primary causes of confusion and conflict. On the other hand, wisdom and discretion in speaking are also necessary, as is choosing the words that we’ll hear and consider.
“Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.”
(Romeo and Juliet)
Advice from Fray Lorenzo to Romeo when the cleric offers help in carrying out the marriage to Juliet. The brother speaks of the importance of patience when we’re in a hurry. Acting impulsively at any difficult time will be counterproductive.
*Image: Jaen Madrid
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