Aphorisms by William Shakespeare

It’s always amazing to be reminded of the extent to which Shakespeare (Geary’s Guide, pp. 213-214) is the source of so many proverbial phrases that have entered English. Having recently read Julius Caesar, and watched the riveting 1953 film version with James Mason, John Gielgud and Marlon Brando, I noticed two famous phrases in particular: “let loose the dogs of war” and “the evil that men do lives after them.” Like everything Shakespeare wrote, Julius Caesar is replete with wondrous aphorisms. Here are a few:

The fault … is not in our stars but in our selves that we are underlings.

Rudeness is sauce to his good wit, which gives men stomach to digest his words with better appetite.

The eye sees not itself but by reflection by some other things.

Lowliness is young ambition’s ladder, where to the climber upward turns his face: But when he once attains the upmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend.

Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasm or a hideous dream: The genius and the mortal instruments are then in council and the state of a man, like to a little kingdom, suffers then the nature of an insurrection.

When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to Fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.