Friend or foe? These Shakespeare quotes about friendship depict the complexities of relationships between characters in his plays: the bad and the good, the jealous and the self-sacrificing, the treacherous and the loyal.
Good friendships can engender feelings of warmth, happiness, and security. Particularly in times of uncertainty, being able to rely on friends brings a boost to one’s spirits.
“I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul rememb’ring my good friends”
— Richard II, 2.3.46-47
“Thy friendship makes us fresh.”
“And doth beget new courage in our breasts.”
— 1 Henry VI, 3.3.86-87
On the flipside, friendship proved false can bring great disappointment and anger. The title character in Timon of Athens believes himself surrounded by devoted friends, the beneficiaries of his lavish generosity and hospitality.
“…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.
Pray, sit. More welcome are you to my fortunes
Than my fortunes to me.”
— Timon of Athens, 1.2.16-21
However, when his fortunes take a turn for the worse, his friends show their true colors and desert him, leading Timon to become a misanthrope. Timon’s situation brings to mind these lyrics from another Shakespeare play, As You Like It:
“Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not…
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.”
— As You Like It, 2.7.196-197,199
Friendship and love
Timon of Athens is not the only Shakespeare play where we see the pain and dysfunction that results when friends betray friends or lead them astray. Consider The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which Proteus betrays his best friend Valentine by (unsuccessfully) attempting to woo Valentine’s beloved, Sylvia.
Thou counterfeit to thy true friend!
PROTEUS In love
Who respects friend?
SYLVIA All men but Proteus.
— The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 5.4.53-56
When Valentine discovers what’s going on, he’s crushed:
“The private wound is deepest. O, time most
’Mongst all foes that a friend should be the worst!”
— The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 5.4.75-77
Remarkably, the men reconcile at the end of the play after Proteus repents and Valentine forgives him.
Does love always get in the way of friendship? In Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio’s friend Don Pedro offers to woo Hero on his behalf. Claudio accepts but then later panics, believing that Don Pedro will woo Hero for himself instead. As Claudio says:
“Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love.”
— Much Ado About Nothing, 2.1.173-174
Happily for Claudio, Don Pedro remains a true friend in this instance. Later in the play, after Claudio falsely accuses and publicly humiliates Hero, we see another friend of Claudio’s, Benedick, turn against him — taking the side of his beloved, Beatrice, over that of his friend.
True friends through thick and thin
Standing by a friend can sometimes mean standing against your family, as we see with Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It. When Celia’s father banishes her cousin Rosalind from court, Celia declares that she will leave with Rosalind: “I cannot live out of her company.” Because of friendship, Celia effectively chooses an extended family member over an immediate family member.
Celia is the sort of friend who comes to mind when we read Polonius’s advice about friendship to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet:
“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel”
— Hamlet, 1.3.68-69
And for such friends as these, the final couplet in Sonnet 30 seems particularly apt:
“But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.”
— Sonnet 30
Close friendships must be guarded because they can quickly turn sour. Consider the two rulers Leontes and Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale, who have been close friends since childhood. Without any provocation, Leontes becomes consumed by jealousy, believing that the friendly intimacy between his wife, Hermione, and Polixenes is proof of an affair.
“To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.”
— The Winter’s Tale, 1.2.140
While King Leontes behaves more and more irrationally, his counselors Paulina and Camilo prove to be his true friends, acting against his orders but in line with his best interests. When Leontes commands Camilo to kill Polixenes, Camilo instead informs Polixenes of the threat and escapes with him. Paulina stands up to Leontes, rebuking him at great personal risk, and she is the one who ultimately brings about the restoration of Hermione.
There are many more friendships in Shakespeare’s plays that we haven’t explored here: Romeo and Mercutio, Hermia and Helena, Hamlet and Horatio, to name a few. Which depiction of friendship in Shakespeare’s works stands out to you the most? Do you have a favorite Shakespeare quote about friendship? Tell us in the comments.