Daniel Hannan Tweeted:

I say it’s “Never, never, never, never, never” from King Lear.

Cordelia lies dead in her father’s arms.  He says:

No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
and thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
never, never, never, never, never!

I could see the first “never” being querulous, questioning. The last one has finality. Between the two is a path, a trajectory that Lear’s thought takes, vocalised at intervals.  For an actor or a reader, or a member of an audience, that path becomes personal. It’s a brave line to write. You completely leave it to other people.

But by doing so, you let them re-invent it. That’s why Shakespeare plays were popular 200 years ago and today. It’s why they are popular in Japan and Germany. It’s what characterises Shakespeare.

Hannan then Tweeted what might be his favourite line:

That could be one of several writers of the period.

Only one playwright would have written “never, never, never, never”.

Post to Twitter

  • What, no-one’s going to plump for ‘First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’..?

  • Peter Risdon

    Since I’m being sued for libel at the moment, I only want to kill some of the lawyers. 🙂

  • How about, from Julius Caesar:-
    (1) Mark-Antony about Lepidus…”This is a slight, unmeritable little man, meet to be sent on errands”.

    (2) Brutus’s great, great signoff at the end of his speech justifying Caesar’s death:-
    “I pause for a reply…” That’s litotes at its best.

  • Rich Rostrom

    There are lots of great lines. Some have been overused, but that should not bar them from objective consideration. For instance:

    “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” conveys brilliantly the depth of Romeo’s youthful passion.

    One difficulty is identifying good lines, as opposed to lines which are the climax of great speeches, or lines which are clever retorts. For instance, Mark Antony’s next line after the one quoted above: “So is my horse, Octavian.” The latter classes can’t stand on their own.

  • Tom Foster

    I think it would have to be, as you say, something you can’t really imagine coming from another playwright of the time. One that always makes me embarrassingly teary is this from Falstaff, in Henry IV pt 1, on the eve of the battle of Shrewsbury:

    I would ’twere bedtime, Hal, and all well.

    Coming just after a lot of relatively conventional bold, bombastic, on-the-eve-of-battle stuff from the King and Hal, it’s surprising and incredibly moving.

  • Dom

    From Romeo and Juliet:

    Is there no pity sitting in the clouds,
    That sees into the bottom of my grief?
    O, sweet my mother, cast me not away!

    Kind of a hyperbole, but I think it is meant to be that — young girl torn from her lover.

  • It’s two lines, but I was always impressed by (from Venus and Adonis)

    “Now she is in the very lists of love,
    Her champion mounted for the hot encounter”

    It’s almost pornographic. ‘Lists’ as in jousting, of course.

  • John

    Echoing your own choice, Peter, I always liked the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth (Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28, since you ask), the one that ends in:
    “It is a tale
    Told by an idiot,
    full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.”

    As P G Wodehouse once remarked: “That Tomorrow speech from Macbeth has a lot of spin in it.”