#6: William Shakespeare
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
It’s fair to say the Bard knew a thing or two about love and is a veritable fountain—dare we say a Tempest?—of amorous witticisms, the king of love quotes.
Shakespeare is such an integral author at this point, not just to English or even Western but World literature and the human experience as a whole, that it’s worth looking at a couple other love quotes by him to place this one in its proper context.
This selection from All’s Well That Ends Well comes from the character of the Countess as a part of a brief, advisory monologue.
A much more famous such monologue occurs in Hamlet, where Polonius advises Laertes—and us all—“To thine own self be true.”
In both advisory monologues, the preciousness of trust is emphasized, as Polonius telling Laertes to “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice” is somewhat similar in nature to the Countess’ advice to “Love all, [but] trust a few.”
In both cases, openness and trust are both necessary, but the latter is precious to the point of rarity, which is true in Elizabethan love quotes as well as love today. Part of that precious rarity may be seen as deriving from the fact that Shakespeare often depicts true love as a perfect or even perfect-imperfect fit.
Romeo and Juliet’s first lines to one another famous fit together to form a perfect sonnet, while “Sonnet 116” famously declares that “Love is not love. Which alters when it alteration finds” and describes love as “an ever-fixed mark.”
What do all these love quotes do to our understanding of this line? It shows the fragility of both love and that idea of its rareness, for one thing. Lest we forget, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are tragedies where things don’t turn out well for couples in love, to say the least.
What’s more, if love really is “an ever-fixed mark,” might that mean it’s inflexible or unattainable for mere mortals such as ourselves? It’s not as if you and the person you love are likely to spit out a sonnet in your first mumbling, bumbling hellos.
Love being so rare means the pressure to perform (one way or another) is intense…but wait—wasn’t the Countess’ advice to “Love all?” There are different forms of love in life, and Shakespeare recognizes that and reflects it in his own writing.
Love between yourself and a partner? That’s rare, but so is general human compassion, making it all the more important to share that general “love” for and of mankind whenever possible. “Do wrong to none” and do right to as many as possible, all while making sure to “trust a few” and keep that trust rare, pure and lasting as…well, an “ever-fixed mark.”