Shakespearean Compliments

Usually in Shakespeare before (or immediately after) being especially eloquent, one disclaims any oratorical abilities. Modern American politicians call this "lowering expectations." For example:

Mark Antony claims, "I am no orator, as Brutus is." Julius Caesar (3.2.317);

Falstaff says, "Mistress Ford, I cannot cog, I cannot prate.... What made me love thee? Let that persuade thee there's something extraordinary in thee. Come, I cannot cog and say thou art this and that, like a many of these lisping hawthorn-buds, that come like women in men's apparel, and smell like Bucklersbury in simple time--I cannot: but I love thee, none but thee; and thou deservest it." Merry Wives of Windsor (3.3.48, 68-74);

and Henry V tells Katherine, "I am glad thou canst speak no better English, for if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king that thou wouldst think I had sold my farm to buy my crown. I know no ways to mince it in love, but directly to say 'I love you.' .... I cannot look greenly, nor gasp out my eloquence, nor I have no cunning in protestation; only downright oaths, which I never use till urg'd, nor never break for urging. If thou canst love a fellow of this temper, Kate, whose face is not worth sunburning, that never looks in his glass for love of any thing he sees there, let thine eye be thy cook. I speak to thee plain soldier. If thou canst love me for this, take me!" Henry V (5.2.123-127).


"Fie, wrangling queen! / Whom every thing becomes--to chide, to laugh, / To weep; [whose] every passion fully strives / To make itself (in thee) fair and admir'd!" Antony, Antony and Cleopatra (1.1.48-51)

"I might call him / A thing divine, for nothing natural / I ever saw so noble." Miranda, The Tempest (1.2.418-20)

"Most sure, the goddess on whom these airs attend!" Ferdinand, The Tempest (1.2.422-23) (Ferdinand says this when he first spots Miranda. As Odysseus recognized, it's always safest to assume the lady is a goddess. If the lady is, in fact, a goddess, the gentleman will live to see another day, and if she's not a goddess, well, it's a great opening line.)

"There's nothing ill can dwell in such a temple. / If the ill spirit have so fair a house, / Good things will strive to dwell with't." Miranda, The Tempest (1.2.458-60)

"O, she is / Ten times more gentle than her father's crabbed; / And he's compos'd of harshness." Ferdinand, The Tempest (3.1.7-9) (Flatter the lady and insult her father in one breath.)

"Noble mistress, 'tis fresh morning with me / When you are by at night." Ferdinand, The Tempest (3.1.33-4)

"Admir'd Miranda, / Indeed the top of admiration! worth / What's dearest to the world! Full many a lady / I have ey'd with best regard, and many a time / Th' harmony of their tongues hath into bondage / Brought my too diligent ear. For several virtues / Have I lik'd several women, never any / With so full soul but some defect in her / Did quarrel with the noblest grace she ow'd, / And put it to the foil. But you, O you, / so perfect and so peerless, are created / Of every creature's best!" Ferdinand, The Tempest (3.1.37-48)

"How features are abroad / I am skilless of; but by my modesty / (The jewel in my dower), I would not wish / Any companion in the world but you; / Nor can imagination form a shape, / Besides yourself, to like of." Miranda, The Tempest (3.1.50-7)

"What you do / Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet, / I'ld have you do it ever; when you sing, / I'ld have you buy and sell so; so give alms; / Pray so; and for the ord'ring of your affairs, / To sing them too. When you do dance, I wish you / A wave o' th' sea, that you might ever do / Nothing but that; move still, still so, / And own no other function. Each your doing / (So singular in each particular) / Crowns what you are doing in the present deeds, / That all your acts are queens." Florizel, The Winter's Tale (4.4.135-46)

Copyright 1997 by Ace G. Pilkington