Monday, September 13, 2010

Shakespeare Toasts

Have you never needed to give a toast and had no idea what to say? Is it better to know what’s expected of you in advance (like the best man’s  wedding toast), or one of those impromptu moments at somebody’s 50th anniversary or retirement party when people start yelling ‘Speech! Speech!’ and you realize they’re looking at you?

Here’s a few lines from Shakespeare to keep in your back pocket (figuratively, by memorizing them, or literally have them written on a card in your back pocket :)) to help you out.

Set It Up

“Shakespeare said.”  Remember those words.  It may be more accurate to say that Duke Orsino said it in Twelfth Night, but most of your audience is typically not going to get that.  Everyone in the crowd, however, is guaranteed to recognize the name Shakespeare and pay attention to what you’re about to say.

Of course you can phrase it however you like.  “As Shakespeare once said…” or “In his romantic comedy Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare wrote….”  You get the idea.  That’s just a matter of style.

Below, each quote cites the character who said it, the play, and the act/scene where it can be found, in case you want to work this information into your toast.

Openers / Ice-breakers

“Men of few words are the best men.”
   [Boy, Henry V.  Act 3, Scene 2]

“…so, I’ll keep it brief.”  Or, if you prefer the self-deprecating style, “Shakespeare said that men of few words are best men. I guess that doesn’t say much for me because I’ve got about 20 index cards of notes to get though.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
[Polonius, Hamlet. Act 2, Scene 2]

This line serves the same general purpose as the one above, if you like it better.  It’s the more popular quote, so your audience may recognize it.  That may make it too cliché for you, though.  Judgement call.

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes by chance.”
[Autolycus, The Winter’s Tale. Act 4, Scene 4]

On the other hand, not too many people will recognize the source of this quote.  But hopefully they get the joke – that you lie so often that when you do tell the truth, it’s probably a mistake. You can then go on to say whatever complimentary words you like and leave them wondering whether or not you meant any of it!

Best Wishes

There are plenty of ways to say “Best Wishes” in the works of Shakespeare.  Here are but a few.

“Your heart’s desires be with you.”
[Celia, As You Like It. Act 1, Scene 2]

“Lack nothing: be merry.”
[Shallow, Henry IVp2. Act 5, Scene 3]

“All days of glory, joy and happiness.”
[Lewis, King John. Act 3, Scene 4]

“Fair thought and happy hours attend you.”
[Lorenzo, Merchant of Venice. Act 3, Scene 4]

“I wish you all the joy you can wish.”
[Gratiano, Merchant of Venice. Act 3, Scene 2]

“Heaven give you many, many merry days.”
[Mistress Page, Merry Wives of Windsor. Act 5, Scene 5]

“Heaven send thee good fortune.”
[Mistress Quickly, Merry Wives of Windsor. Act 3, Scene 4]

Wrap It Up

“I drink to the general joy of the whole table.”
[Macbeth, Macbeth. Act 3, scene 4]

A toast is just a way of getting in between the guests and their drinks, so the less you talk, the better.  People also love knowing when it’s over, so they’ve got permission to get back to drinking.  Use this line as your closer, drink, and sit down.


Based on material from my new book Hear My Soul Speak : Wedding Quotations from Shakespeare, now available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad! The definitive guide to Shakespeare wedding quotes, toasts and readings.

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