Category Archives: Quotations

How Many Hamlets Are There in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsHow many Hamlets are there in the world with intellectual power for large usefulness, who wait day by day and year by year in hope to do more perfectly what they live to do: die, therefore, and leave their lives unused, while men of lower power, prompt for action, are content and ready to do what they can, well knowing that at the best they can only rough-hew, but in humble trust that leaves to God the issues of the little service that they bring. It is a last touch to the significance of this whole play that at its close the man whose fault is the reverse of Hamlet’s — the man of ready action, though it be with little thought, the stir of whose energies was felt in the opening scene — re-enters from his victory over [Poland], and the curtain falls on Fortinbras, King.

From the introduction to Hamlet (Cassell’s National Library Edition, 1899) by Henry Morley (1822-1894), one of Great Britain’s earliest professors of English literature. Morley contrasts Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most well-known characters whose tragic flaw is his indecisiveness, his inability to act (specifically, to avenge his father’s death) with Fortinbras, a Norwegian prince who is a warrior (he leads an army to attack Poland), a true man of action. As you may recall, at the conclusion of the play, Fortinbras is crowned King and, after hearing the tragic story of Prince Hamlet, orders that he be given a funeral befitting of a soldier. But the key point that Morley is asking is: what use is critical thinking by intelligent individuals without action, without contribution? A question that is so relevant to the many problems we face in modern times.

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People Will Hate You If You Make Them Think

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIf you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.

From Archy and Mehitabel by American journalist and humorist Don Marquis (1878-1937), best known for the humorous verses and short stories created by his fictional characters Archy (a cockroach) and Mehitabel (an alley cat). Marquis wrote a daily column, “The Sun Dial,” for many years for New York City’s The Evening Sun.


The Monument of Language on the Menacing Shore of the Ocean of Gibberish

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Rousseau made the point that writing becomes necessary when speech fails to protect our identity. The written word may be a weak second best to lived experience, but it’s still pretty powerful—our only path to meaning and inner order. I keep being haunted by this phrase of [French poet and philosopher, Paul] Valéry’s: ‘I thought to erect a minor monument of language on the menacing shore of the ocean of gibberish.'”

Polish-Born American journalist, writer and literary critic Francine du Plessix Gray (1930-2019) responding to a question from Regina Weinreich, an interviewer from The Paris Review, about French semiologists who see writing as absence rather than presence. Gray began her career as a reporter, then moved to editing, and finally freelance writing. She became a staff writer for The New Yorker in the late 1960s. Subsequently she began her teaching career in the mid 1970s at City College of New York, followed by Yale University, Columbia University, and Princeton University. She won awards for several books, including Divine Disobedience: Profiles in Catholic Radicalism, Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress, andThem: A Memoir of Parents.

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Fo further reading: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2642/francine-du-plessix-gray-the-art-of-fiction-no-96-francine-du-plessix-gray


A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives Before He Dies

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

From George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the sprawling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the source of HBO’s highly acclaimed series, Game of Thrones. The quotation appears in chapter 34, when Jojen Reed is talking to Bran Strark. Jojen, a member of the House Reed, possesses greensight, the power of prophetic green dreams. Although Jojen has greensight, he is not a greenseer, as he explains to Bran: “No, [I am not a greenseer] only a boy who dreams. The greenseers were more than that. They were wargs [a skinchanger, a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions] as well, as you are, and the greatest of them could wear the skins of any beast that flies or swims or crawls, and could look through the eyes of the weirwoods [deciduous trees of Westerns that have blood red leaves and bone white trunks] as well, and see the truth that lies beneath the world.”

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Life Belongs to the Whole Community; It Is A Sort of Splendid Torch

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. “

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatsoever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

The first paragraph is from the play Man and Superman (1903) by Irish playwright, critic, and political activist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). It appears in the eloquent, thought-provoking (and lengthy: more than 11,400 words!) dedication, “Epistle Dedicatory to Arthur Bingham Walkley,” of the play. The second paragraph comes from one of his speeches (found in George Bernard Shaw: His Life and His Works by Archibald Henderson). Interestingly, as the Internet has a tendency to do, the first and second paragraphs are erroneously combined, as if they were one thought written by Shaw. This cobbled-together quotation, taken from two completely separate works, appears in dozens of books, all — of course — without proper attribution. American actor Jeff Goldblum is quite fond of this quote and often recites it (most recently, for example, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, February 15, 2019) as if it were one long paragraph, perpetuating the mistake.

The “brief candle” that appears in the second paragraph is an allusion to the famous soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) spoken by Macbeth: “Out, out, brief candle! / Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, /  and is heard no more. It is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.”

Incidentally, the complete paragraph, from which the first sentence is taken, reads as follows: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. And also the only real tragedy in life is the being used by personally minded men for purposes which you recognize to be base. All the rest is at worst mere misfortune or mortality: this alone is misery, slavery, hell on earth; and the revolt against it is the only force that offers a man’s work to the poor artist, whom our personally minded rich people would so willingly employ as pander, buffoon, beauty monger, sentimentalizer and the like.”

Shaw wrote Man and Superman because Arthur Bingham Walkley, who was the respected theatre critic for The Times, suggested that he write a play based on the theme of Don Juan/Don Giovanni, the archetypical womanizer. Shaw wrote: “My dear Walkley: You once asked me why I did not write a Don Juan play. The levity with which you assumed this frightful responsibility has probably by this time enabled you to forget it; but the day of reckoning has arrived: here is your play! I say your play, because qui facit per alium facit per se [from Latin: “He who acts through another does the act himself”]. Its profits, like its labor, belong to me: its morals, its manners, its philosophy, its influence on the young, are for you to justify. You were of mature age when you made the suggestion; and you knew your man. It is hardly fifteen years since, as twin pioneers of the New Journalism of that time, we two, cradled in the same new sheets, made an epoch in the criticism of the theatre and the opera house by making it a pretext for a propaganda of our own views of life. So you cannot plead ignorance of the character of the force you set in motion. You meant me to épater le bourgeois [from French, “to shock the bourgeoisie”, a rallying cry for French Decadent poets of the late 19th century]; and if he protests, I hereby refer him to you as the accountable party.” The dedication continues for 31 more paragraphs.

Shaw was a prolific playwright — he wrote 60 plays during his lifetime. His best-known works in addition to Man and Superman (1903) are Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925. Some literary critics believe that Shaw was the second most important playwright after Shakespeare in the British theatrical tradition. Shaw created the “intelligent” theatre that required theatergoers to think deeply about the meaning of a play, setting the stage, as it were, for modern playwrights like David Mamet and Harold Pinter.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What if Shakespeare Wrote the Hits: Don’t Stop Believin
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The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio
Who Are the Greatest Characters in Shakespeare?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
Shakespeare and Uranus
Best Editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

For further reading: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Man_and_Superman/Dedicatory
https://books.google.com/books?id=g6dEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA512#v=onepage&q&f=false


The Struggle for Verbal Consciousness is a Great Part of Life

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Man struggles with his unborn needs and fulfillment. New unfoldings struggle up in torment in him, as buds struggle forth the midst of a plant. Any man of real individuality tries to know and to understand what is happening, even in him­self, as he goes along. This struggle for verbal consciousness should not be left out in art. It is a very great part of life. It is not superimposition of a theory. It is the passionate struggle into conscious being.”

From Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence. In the novel, an introspective school inspector, Rupert Birkin, based on the author himself, attempts to achieve authentic selfhood by reconciling the dualistic struggle for fulfilling his passions and the struggle for self-knowledge (passion vs intellect). Lawrence had written Women in Love as part of a larger novel; however the publisher, Thomas Seltzer, decided to publish them as two separate novels. The first, The Rainbow, was published in 1915; the second, Women in Love, was published in 1920. Due to the sexual content of the novels that upset the delicate sensibilities of the time, both were considered very controversial and banned for several years. Despite that controversy, legendary literary critic Harold Bloom believes that Women in Love is one of the most important and influential in Western culture.


The Secret to a Great Life: Amor Fati

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe great Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus believed that philosophy was not just a theoretical discipline but a way of life. During his life (55 – 135 AD), he endured and saw more than his share of adversity. He was born a slave and was crippled (there are conflicting accounts: he was either born that way or one of his masters crushed his leg). Eventually, after the death of Nero in 68 AD, Epictetus obtained his freedom and traveled to Epirus, Greece to teach philosophy. Fortunately for us, his wisdom and teachings are preserved in the Discourses and Enchiridion. The secret to a great life, according to Epictetus, was what Nietzsche called amor fati, a Latin term meaning “a love of fate” or “love of one’s fate.” Specifically, Epictetus wrote: “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” In other words, don’t curse your fate: accept it — furthermore: love it. Epictetus and the stoics believed that everything that happens in one’s life — whether good or bad — is fate’s way of reaching its ultimate purpose: shaping you into the person you should be.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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