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Everyday Quotes from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

MEASURE FOR MEASURE by Shakespeare, , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - Declan Donnellan, Designer - Nick Ormerod, Lighting - Sergei Skornetsky, Paris, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

William Shakespeare is one of the most prolific playwrights of all time but did you also know he is the inventor of many English words and sayings we still use today? Everything from “eyeball” to “arch-villain” to “bedazzled” can be found in famous works by Shakespeare. Although it is one of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed plays, Measure for Measure is the source of several famous words and phrases.

To prepare for Cheek By Jowl and Pushkin Theatre’s upcoming production of Measure for Measure (OCT 24 – 28), we put together a list of some of the most well known quotes from this seventeenth-century masterpiece.

“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.” Act II, Scene I.

This is perhaps the most famous quote from the play but it is spoken by Escalus, a character who makes few appearances in the show. This jarring line reveals one of the themes in Measure for Measure, that power and authority often involves corruption. In the play, Angelo has assumed rule over Vienna, begins to implement strict rules over the population and shows no mercy to those who break them—although he himself has a weak moral compass. When Angelo is warned by Escalus that he is subject to certain vices as well, Angelo replies “‘Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus, / Another thing to fall,” to which Escalus retorts back this famous line about sin and virtue. 

“What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine.” Act V, Scene I.

This is offered by the Duke to Isabelle towards the end of the play, as he suggests wanting to marry her. This quote is still used today, especially in regards to sharing property and belongings after marriage. It is a romantic and unifying saying and it appears in a number of songs, films and books. You can also find wall decals with this quote on Amazon!



“Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure / Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure.” Act V, Scene I.

While this is not the most famous line, it is the only time in the play where the title appears. This quote is reminiscent of the old saying, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” In this case, the word “measure” refers to measuring out justice–the title of this play literally means “justice for justice.”

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?” Act II, Scene II.

The famous colloquialism “hate the sin love the sinner” is derived from this quote from Measure for Measure. It presents the moral question of whether or not we should be upset over a misdoing but forgive the person who did it. This quote places humanity, forgiveness and justice at the forefront.

“Thyself and thy belongings are not thine own so proper as to waste thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.” Act I, Scene I.

This quote is not quite as famous as one of the words in it; Measure for Measure is the first time the word “belongings” appeared in the English language. Before, people just referred to objects by their names. While it is only a three syllable word, it has certainly made the English language much simpler since we have the option to just say “belongings” instead of listing out all of one’s possessions.

“Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak.” Act II, Scene II.

Shakespeare is credited with inventing many words that are commonly used in the English language, including the word “gnarled,” which makes its first appearance in this play.

In order to understand these lines and the entire script more fully before the opening of the show, ArtsEmerson is offering a Play Reading Book Club (PRBC), where there will be group readings of Measure for Measure, followed by discussions about the play’s social and historical context, production elements and civic relevance, as well as attending the show together. ArtsEmerson’s PRBC provides theater-goers with a full understanding of the play and a thorough analysis of all these famous lines. Learn more about the PRBC here.

Don’t miss Measure for Measure OCT 24 – 28 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre!

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