William Shakespeare is one of the cult figures in English history and a literary visionary.
His artistic expression through words has contributed a great deal to British society, culture and language. Hence, his passages are revered, remembered, and recited time and again.
As the creator of some of history’s most tragic and yet also beautiful love stories, his words quite literally speak for themselves.
Heavily imbued with romantic lexis and tradition of courtly love, they are the perfect poems and verses to recite to your loved one, either at the altar or during your wedding speeches.
Below, we have compiled together our favourites of Shakespeare’s sonnets and quotes from his plays that perfectly encapsulate not only the vulnerability of love but also the trials and tribulations that love faces.
The sonnet has been around for centuries, and has had many exponents. Its name comes from the Italian meaning “little song”. Only from the 13th century did 14 lines become the standard, along with the recognisable rhythm and structure.
The typical Italian sonnet, from which Shakespeare formed his version, has two halves. The first eight lines form one idea, while the next six argue the opposing point of view. Finally, the second half of these six signal a turn to a resolution, a volta.
Because of the musing nature of the form of the sonnet, it has often been used as a vessel for love poetry. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets in all, and the vast majority focus on the subject of love. Read just three of these below, along with short explanations which could help you decide which one might be best for you.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out e’en to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
This truly romantic sonnet explores a love which is honest and true. Specifically, it explores how a relationship requires utmost trust. The line “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds” is a mirror to the vows “For better or worse”.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
This sonnet is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous and best loved. It is written in iambic pentameter, and therefore follows traditional rhythms of speech and should be easier to read aloud.
It celebrates the stability of love, in all its forms. The second half of the poem reflects on the continuation of love after death, even further than “Till death us do part.”
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
The form of the sonnet is so deeply intertwined with grandiose expressions of love. In fact, Shakespeare is possibly the most famous for this, as we explored above.
Nevertheless, his outwardly unromantic poem is an audience favourite. He turns the spotlight on over the top declarations and makes a mockery of them. True, not everyone can marry someone with eyes like suns.
However, this sonnet is perhaps his most romantic of all. By pulling focus on how other poems and other writers hide their affection behind language, Shakespeare here acknowledges that actions speak louder than false assertions.
Quotes from plays
Shakespeare wrote a great many plays, often separated into three categories: comedies, tragedies and histories. The form of the comedy usually relied on a wedding taking place in the final scene. Of course, this makes them particularly great for quoting at weddings.
Of course, there is romance in other Shakespearian plays, too. Perhaps his most famous work, Romeo and Juliet, is a tragedy. Although the deaths at the end of the play may not be lines you want to quote at your wedding, there are plenty of romantic lines early on in tragedies that might be perfect for your ceremony or reception.
You can use these lines in your vows and speeches, or else use them to decorate your venue.
Romeo and Juliet
The aforementioned Romeo and Juliet is a trove for romantic lines early on in the play. A couple are listed below.
Juliet, 2.2.133-135, from “the balcony scene”
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
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
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
One of his final plays, The Tempest contains elements of both tragedy and comedy. Ultimately, however, it does have a happy ending. The sorcerer Prospero and his daughter Miranda live alone on an island. There is an almighty storm and Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand, one of the men shipwrecked by the tempest.
‘Tis fresh morning with me
When you are by at night.
I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you,
Nor can imagination form a shape
Besides yourself to like of.
Hear my soul speak.
The very instant that I saw you did
My heart fly to your service, there resides
To make me slave to it
As I hope
For quiet days, fair issue, and long life,
With such love as ’tis now, the murkiest den,
The most opportune place, the strong’st suggestion,
Our worser genius can shall never melt
Mine honor into lust to take away
The edge of that day’s celebration
When I shall think, or Phoebus’ steeds are foundered,
Or night kept chained below.
The Merchant of Venice, Portia, 3.2.16-18
One half of me is yours, the other half yours,
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours.
In these lines, Portia does not want to admit that she fully belongs to Bassanio. As a result, she says it in a roundabout way.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Julia, 2.2.34-38
I’ll be as patient as a gentle stream
And make a pastime of each weary step,
Till the last step have brought me to my love,
And there I’ll rest, as after much turmoil
A blessèd soul doth in Elysium.
Julia wishes to travel to Milan to visit Proteus, her sweetheart. Although she knows the road will be tough and long, she knows the journey will be worth it at the end.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena, 1.1.234-235
Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Helena is completely lovesick for Demetrius, who is in love with Hermia, who in turn is about to elope with Lysander. Here, Helena believes that Demetrius must be blind to her own beauty because he is so enamoured by Hermia’s.
Henry V, King Henry, 5.2
Thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst, and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and better. And therefore tell me, most fair Katherine, will you have me?
Historically, royalty married for convenience rather than love. This marriage, however, happily seems to be both. Needing to form an alliance with France, Henry proposes to the daughter of the King of France. As Henry himself states, he is not a courtier, but tries his best to win her hand, eventually winning her heart.
Be careful that you understand some of the context behind the lines you end up using.
King Lear. Goneril, Act 1, Scene 1, 54
I love you more than words can wield the matter,
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty.
Although this sounds awfully romantic, here is actually a daughter trying to trick her father into giving her a larger share of his property. Consequently, Cordelia, Lear’s dearest daughter, notes the words are hollow.
Many of William Shakespeare’s lines make excellent readings for weddings. Selected works of other poets too would be more than appropriate. If you have any suggestions for further matrimonial readings, then please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.