25 Short Shakespeare Quotes on Life and Death

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William Shakespeare was one of the greatest writers in English history. Known in his lifetime as a poet, actor, and playwright, his work is still highly revered and honored today. Known as “the Bard” of English literature, his work had a profound impact on the English canon and the future of storytelling. 

While Shakespeare is best known for his plays about star-crossed lovers and revenge, there were no topics out of reach for the Bard. From his plays to his sonnets, much of his work includes metaphors for death, life, and everything in between. One might even say he is the creator of many of the metaphors we hear and see often.

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These passages not only expand one’s literary horizons, but they can also help us reflect on life itself. There’s a reason Shakespeare is still seen as a master of language. His work may not be easy to understand on the first read, but his words speak to the shared human experience. 

Let’s take a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to pick out the best short Shakespeare quotes on life and death. Some of these can make the perfect readings for a non-religious funeral, journal prompts, or just words to live by. What do you make of the Bard’s words?

Shakespeare Quotes on Death for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Shakespeare does not shy away from quotes about death. The great poet understands that death isn’t necessarily an ending, and death is one of the most common topics in his many works. 

1. “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” (Julius Caesar)

According to the Bard of Avon, those who let their cowardice get the best of them lose a bit of strength every time. It is only those who hold their heads high stay strong until the end. 

2. “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!” (Macbeth)

Shakespeare frequently creates a metaphor around death. In this passage from Macbeth, he compares life to a “brief candle.” Though it might shine bright, it’s only temporary. 

3. “Death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” (Julius Caesar)

Death is inescapable. As Caesar explains in Julius Caesar, there is no use worrying about it. We can only live our lives to the fullest until then. 

4. “To die, to sleep; To sleep, perchance to dream.” (Hamlet)

To many, death is compared to sleep. If one is facing a lot of struggles in their life, death might not be something to be afraid of. Prince Hamlet longs for a dreamless sleep or death. 

5. “By medicine life may be prolonged, yet death will seize the doctor too.” (Cymbeline)

Though medicine can keep someone alive for longer, there is no escaping death. Even the doctor will face death as well. The personification of death is a common trope in Shakespeare’s story. 

6. “The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” (Hamlet)

There are many ways to think about death, and in Hamlet, it’s seen as an “undiscovered country.” Though many travelers go to this plan, nobody returns. 

7. “Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.” (Cymbeline)

Death doesn’t discriminate. From the “golden” lads and girls to the lowly workers, everyone faces death in the end. As the saying goes, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

8. “When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night.” (Romeo and Juliet)

This quote can be interpreted in multiple ways. In a literal sense, Juliet is begging the gods to turn Romeo into a constellation when he dies so everyone can admire his beauty. 

9. “Nothing in his life became him like leaving it.” (Macbeth)

For someone for living a life without honor, death can bring peace. This Macbeth passage refers to the death of Thane of Cawdor, who died with more dignity than he lived. 

10. “I care not, a man can die but once; we owe God and death.” (Henry IV)

You only die once, and your fate is in your own hands. We only die once, so we have to live life to the fullest and worry about what we can control. 

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Shakespeare Quotes on Life for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Though many of Shakespeare’s characters face tragic ends, he often uses their lives to create a metaphor about living life free of regrets. Though not always uplifting, he paints a broad picture of shared experience. 

11. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” (As You Like It)

In one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes, he compares life to a theater production. The world is really nothing but a stage, and it’s the humans who are the actors. We are all assigned roles that we play every day. 

12. “We are such stuff, As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” (The Tempest)

Though our lives feel like an eternity, they’re really only a drop in the ocean of time. How “real” are our lives truly? Because our lives are just made of “dreams,” our life is just a short interlude of consciousness that will soon end. 

13. “The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)

Similar to a work of patchwork, we are neither good nor evil. Life is full of shades of gray. Nothing is so transparent, and we are both “good and ill” put together. 

14. “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” (Hamlet)

In this famous soliloquy from Prince Hamlet, he contemplates death and suicide. Is it better to be alive or to be dead? What role does Hamlet play in his own fate?

15. “The wheel is come full circle: I am here.” (King Lear)

Edmund alludes to Greek mythology with this passage. The goddess Fortuna spins the wheel of fortune to determine the fate of mortals. 

16. “Love all, trust a few, Do wrong to none.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)

This quote from All’s Well That Ends Well sums up the importance of life and death. In life, we have to do our best to love everyone, trust those who prove they can be trusted, and do wrong to none. 

17. “I love long life better than figs.” (Antony and Cleopatra)

This humorous quote was meant to break the tension between Charmain and a fortune teller. When asked how long he will live, the fortuneteller insists he’ll outlive the queen he serves. He replies that he loves living more than he loves any sweet treat. 

18. “But shall I live in hope? All men, I hope, live so.” (King Richard III)

King Richard asks if he can have any hope for the future, and Anne tells him she believes all men have some hope. Hope truly is what keeps us afloat in the good and bad times.  

19. “To be wise, and love, Exceeds man’s might.” (Troilus & Cressida)

Humans are simple creatures. Is it possible for men to both be wise and love at the same time? Certainly, he can do one or the other, but it’s physically impossible to do both since falling in love is a fool’s errand. 

20. “Why, what should be the fear? I do not set my life at a pin’s fee.” (Hamlet)

Is there such a thing as fear if you don’t fear death? In Hamlet, the prince wonders if real danger can exist without fear. Because he doesn’t fear death, there is no such thing as danger. 

Shakespeare Quotes on Tragedy for a Funeral or Memorial Service

Tragedy and irony are strong themes at play in Shakespeare’s work. These quotes about tragedy are perfect for a funeral or memorial service, and they’re also a good way to start thinking about what matters most to you. 

21. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a power player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” (Macbeth)

Just as an actor who plays a role on the stage for only a moment before they’re forgotten, life is fleeting and brief. Once gone, who will remember you? 

22. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

A fairy pokes fun at humans he sees wandering dangerously through the woods. Mortals truly can be fools in both life and death. 

23. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar)

We can’t blame fate for our failings. We are slaves to our faults, and it is these faults that lead us down the wrong path. 

24. “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” (Henry IV)

Grief is one of our most powerful emotions. When we give in to grief, we actually lessen its power over us. 

35. “These violent delights have violent ends.” (Romeo and Juliet)

In this famous Romeo and Juliet passage, Friar Lawrence warns Romeo that sudden joys can have sudden, unhappy endings. Like fire and gunpowder, they can consume. 

To Be Or Not to Be: Powerful Shakespeare Quotes

William Shakespeare was before his time when it comes to capturing the variety and complexity of human experience. He is one of the few people who died on their own birthday, and he seemed to live a life full of irony, contradictions, and mystery. All of this makes his work all the more appealing to readers around the globe. 

Though his works might be hundreds of years old, they still ring true in the 21st century. They make the perfect reading for any funeral service, celebration of life, or quotes to live by. 

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