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William Shakespeare

Life and career details ▽ Life and career details △

Stratford-upon-Avon, England, 1564

Stratford-upon-Avon, England, 1616

Plays, poetry

Literary, tragedy, comedy, historical, romance

Writing language


On greatest lists ▽ On greatest lists △
Greatest Literature

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594)

Romeo and Juliet (c.1596)

Henry IV, Part 1 (1597)

The Merchant of Venice (c.1597)

Julius Caesar (1599)

Hamlet (1601)

Othello (1604)

Macbeth (c.1606)

King Lear (c.1606)

Sonnets (c.1609)

The Tempest (1611)

Greatest Plays

The Taming of the Shrew (1591)

Richard III (1592)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594)

Richard II (1597)

Romeo and Juliet (c.1596)

Love's Labour's Lost (1597)

Henry IV, Part 1 (1597)

Henry IV, Part 2 (1597)

The Merchant of Venice (c.1597)

Much Ado About Nothing (1598–1599)

As You Like It (1599)

Henry V (1599)

Julius Caesar (1599)

Hamlet (1601)

Twelfth Night (1601–1602)

Measure for Measure (1604)

Othello (1604)

Macbeth (c.1606)

King Lear (c.1606)

Coriolanus (c.1603)

The Winter's Tale (1611)

The Tempest (1611)

Henry VIII (1613)

Fantasy Fiction

The Tempest (1611)

William Shakespeare


The sometimes surprising things said about him

Despite his current reputation as the greatest writer in the English language, perhaps in any language, William Shakespeare has also had his critics—in both earlier and modern times.

Here's a selection of quotations from writers, rivals, critics and other commentators with varying assessments of the Bard's work.


For there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.

Robert Greene, Groats-worth of Witte, 1592

He was not of an age, but for all time!

Ben Jonson, First Folio of Shakespeare's collected works, 1623

I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, “Would he had blotted a thousand,” which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this but for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to commend their friend by wherein he most faulted; and to justify mine own candor, for I loved the man, and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stopped.

Ben Jonson, in Timber: or Discoveries, published in 1641

He was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets had the largest and most comprehensive soul.... He is many times flat, insipid; his comic wit degenerating into clenches; his serious swelling into Bombast. But he is always great, when some great occasion is presented to him: no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of the poets.

John Dryden, "Essay of Dramatic Poesy", 1668

One of the greatest geniuses that ever existed, Shakespeare, undoubtedly wanted taste.

Horace Walpole, letter, 1764

Shakespeare's fault is not the greatest into which a poet may fall. It merely indicates a deficiency of taste.

Denis Diderot, "On Dramatic Poetry", 1758

He was a savage...who had some imagination. He has written many happy lines; but his pieces can please only at London and in Canada. It is not a good sign for the taste of a nation when that which it admires meets with favor only at home.

Voltaire, letter, 1765

Shakespeare never had six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion.

Samuel Johnson quoted in Life of Johnson by James Boswell, 1769

Shakespeare is a savage with sparks of genius which shine in a horrible night.

Voltaire, letter, 1776

Shakespeare's name, you may depend on it, stands absurdly too high and will go down.  He had no invention as to stories, none whatever. He took all his plots from old novels, and threw their stories into dramatic shape... That he threw over whatever he did write some flashes of genius, nobody can deny; but this was all.

George Gordon Noel Byron, letter, 1814

Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

The greatest genius that perhaps human nature has yet produced, our myriad-minded Shakespeare.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817

I have great reason to be content, for thank God I can read, and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths....

John Keats, letter, 1818

If I say therefore, that Shakspeare is the greatest of Intellects, I have said all concerning him. But there is more in Shakspeare's intellect than we have yet seen. It is what I call an unconscious intellect; there is more virtue in it than he himself is aware of.... Shakspeare's Art is not Artifice; the noblest worth of it is not there by plan or precontrivance. It grows-up from the deeps of Nature, through this noble sincere soul, who is a voice of Nature.

Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero-Worship, 1841

I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.

Charles Darwin

I keep saying, Shakspeare, Shakspeare, you are as obscure as life is.

Matthew Arnold, letter, 1847

With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his.... It would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.

George Bernard Shaw, Dramatic Opinions and Essays, 1907

Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.

James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922

When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder
That such trivial people should muse and thunder
In such lovely language.

D.H. Lawrence, "When I Read Shakespeare", Pansies, 1929

We can say of Shakespeare, that never has a man turned so little knowledge to such great account.

T.S. Eliot, lecture

I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.

Virginia Woolf,diary entry, 1930

Shakespeare—whetting, frustrating, surprising and gratifying.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, 1945

The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good—in spite of all the people who say he is very good.

Robert Graves, The Observer, "Sayings of the Week", 1964

Shakespeare was the great one before us. His place was between God and despair.

Eugène Ionesco, interview, International Herald Tribune, 1988

[He] has become a black hole. Light, insight, intelligence, matter—all pour ceaselessly into him, as critics are drawn into the densening vortex of his reputation; they add their own weight to his increasing mass. The light from other stars—other poets, other dramatists—is wrenched and bent as it passes by him on its way to us. He warps cultural space-time; he distorts our view of the universe around him.... But Shakespeare himself no longer transmits visible light; his stellar energies have been trapped within the gravity well of his own reputation. We find in Shakespeare only what we bring to him or what others have left behind; he gives us back our own values.

Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare, 1989

[The] Shakespearean cast of thought [is] a fine credulity about everything, kept in check by a lively skepticism about everything.

Robertson Davies, Murther and Walking Spirits, 1991