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Friendship in Shakespeare

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears …

In Shakespeare’s England, the term “friend” could be used to express a wide range of interpersonal relations. A friend could be anything from a neighbour, a lover, or fellow countryman, to a family member or the close personal acquaintance we understand as a “friend” today. Much like power or love, different types of friendship are one of the central themes in Shakespeare’s plays, dealing with the positivity of close and trusting friendships, but also with its fragility and the resultant dangers when trust breaks down.

Being a true Shakespearean friend means above all loyalty, unwavering support, and mutual respect– clearly shown in the relationship between Hamlet and Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet’s one true ally and stands by the tragic Prince throughout his troubles, going so far as to offer to commit suicide for him. This tragic conclusion seems to be a pattern for many Shakespearean friends, revealing the darker side of human relationships. Some of the most famous villains are the ones who betray their nearest and dearest friends, indicating that unwavering trust and friendship, like the trust Julius Caesar places in his friend Brutus until the very end, can be easily misplaced.

From the most uplifting displays of platonic affection, to tragic endings, and comic capers, Shakespeare explored the concept of friendship in almost all of his plays. With this in mind, we have collected some of his most memorable quotations on friendship. Which would make your list?

In Act 2, Scene 1 of Much Ado about Nothing, Claudio contemplates friendship, and its relation to matters of the heart:

“Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love”

Ulysses speaks with Achilles on the transience of human relations in Act 3, Scene 3 of Troilus and Cressida:

“Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
To envious and calumniating time”

In Act 3, Scene 7 of 1 Henry VI Charles the Dauphin heartily welcomes the “Bastard of Orleans” in a scene reminding us of the strength friendship can give:

Charles the Dauphin: “Welcome, brave Duke! Thy friendship makes us fresh”
Bastard: “And doth beget new courage in our breasts”

Image credit: Eugène Delacroix: “Hamlet und Horatio auf dem Friedhof”, 1835 from Städel Museum. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Miranda speaks to Ferdinand (to whom she is later betrothed) on the romantic side of companionship, in Act 3, Scene 1 of The Tempest:

“I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you;
Nor can imagination form a shape
Besides yourself to like of”

The Duke of Bolingbroke recalls the power of platonic love amongst friends, after Harry Percy declares his loyalty to him in Act 2, Scene 3 of Richard II:

“I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends;
And, as my fortune ripens with thy love,
It shall be still thy true love’s recompense”

Timon of Athens speaks to his guests on the concept of “true friendship” at the banquet in Act 1, Scene 2 of the eponymous play:

“Ceremony was but devised at first
To set a gloss on faint deeds, hollow welcomes,
Recanting goodness, sorry ere ’tis shown;
But where there is true friendship, there needs none”

Parson Evans and Doctor Caius (previous antagonists and duellers) bond over a common adversary in Act 3, Scene 1 of Merry Wives of Windsor:

“I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends”

Featured Image Credit: “Stamp – inked from Folger Shakespeare Library” uploaded by POP,CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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