Life lessons we’ve picked up from Shakespeare’s leading ladies

From Viola to Lady Macbeth, there are a good few pearls to be learned from his most celebrated female characters

There are an infinite amount of trials and tribulations that can arise when riding the tidal wave of life, but a very finite amount of inspiring fridge magnets, aphorisms on mugs and actually-useful-and-not-depressing self help books to guide you through the most challenging moments that crop up during womanhood/girlhood/the hood.

Luckily, The Bard has written enough amazing plays with female characters who overcome hardship, evil and everything else that plagued people in the 17th Century (excluding the actual plague which doesn’t get much of a mention) that we can transfer his life lessons to the modern day.

So, when life gives you lemons…read Shakespeare.

Here are a few pearls of widsom/withering putdowns we’ve taken on board from The Bard’s leading ladies.

‘Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour 
As thou are in desire?’
– Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, 1606) 
Don’t be scared to act on what you really want, and like, properly go for it. Best drawn upon if you decide aged 27 that pursuing a creative career is actually the most fulfilling life path for you, even though you’re tempted to join your friends who are climbing that gold-plated, greasy pole. Stick at what you love and it will pay off. Hopefully. 
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‘We have no friend 
But resolution 
And the briefest end’
– Cleopatra (Anthony and Cleopatra, 1607)
Nothing is certain in this world except death. (And taxes, may we add, in 2015).

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‘If I be waspish, best beware of my sting’
– Katherine (As You Like It, 1603)
AKA…Don’t even try it. Like, ever.
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‘We know what we are but know not what we may be’
– Ophelia (Hamlet, 1603)
A weekly existential crisis is not only normal but expected as a young adult. As much as we all think we know exactly what we’re destined to do with our lives, in actual fact no-one has a clue. Let’s all take some comfort in that as collectively confused beings.
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‘Well, I will forget the condition of my estate, to rejoice in yours’
– Rosalind (As You Like It, 1603)
Your friend’s flat may have jam jars and rustic rope hanging from the ceiling with the kind of fairy lights which add ambiance and you might still be living in Zone six with your Mum but you you should still be happy for her, obvs. Leave your jealousy in your childhood bedroom and celebrate other’s success. Because smashing her perfectly arranged spice rack won’t solve anything. 
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‘Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing’
– Cressida (Troilus and Cressida, 1607)
Don’t wish your life away in other words. How slowly do the days pass when counting down that summer holiday, compared to how amazingly fast time whizzes by when you’re actually on that beach? Exactly.

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‘How far that little candle throws his beams! 
 So shines a good deed in a naughty world’
– Portia (The Merchant Of Venice, 1596)
A good deed goes even further when you’re having a rubbish day. Instead of saying ‘thank-you’ when that stranger gives you his seat on the train after a long day, try quoting Portia and see what magic unfolds on the tube/bus/tram.


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‘Holla, holla! That eye that told you so look’d but asquint’
– Regan (King Lear, 1604)
Try to exercise some caution when someone first catches your eye because in this century, not all is what is seems when it comes to dating. Tiger-accompanied or cleverly-angled Tinder shots are never worth a swipe right and don’t ever date a man who looks like he wears more oil than he cooks with.



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‘Oh time, thou must untangle this not I
It is too hard a knot for me t’untie!’
– Viola (Twelfth Night, 1623)
Nothing says reassurance like rhyming couplets. When you find yourself in a complete pickle and it looks like there’s nothing ahead but an empty abyss of misery – just give it some time. Throw out some good vibes into the universe and all that, and things will work themselves out.

We’re holding onto that anyway.



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‘Ask me not what I know. Exit.’
– Goneril (King Lear, 1604)
Never allow yourself to be made a fool of in front of others. If someone springs an awkward socio-political question on you at the office party, leave immediately without explanation to save face. 



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Who’s your favourite female Shakespeare character? Tweet us @marieclaireuk

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