Literary Quotations
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GEORGE BERNARD SHAW QUOTES


Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

In Egypt the bearer of good tidings is sacrificed to the gods as a thank offering; but no god will accept the blood of the messenger of evil. When we have good tidings, we are careful to send them in the mouth of the cheapest slave we can find. Evil tidings are borne by young noblemen who desire to bring themselves to notice.

--Belzanor, Act I

The Romans are at hand ... not even the descendants of the gods can resist them; for they have each man seven arms, each carrying seven spears. The blood in their veins is boiling quicksilver; and their wives become mothers in three hours, and are slain and eaten the next day.

--Belzanor, Act I

Who shall stay the sword in the hand of a fool, if the high gods put it there?

--Ftatateeta, Act I

In the little world yonder, Sphinx, my place is as high as yours in this great desert; only I wander, and you sit still; I conquer, and you endure; I work and wonder, you watch and wait; I look up and am dazzled, look down and am darkened, look round and am puzzled, whilst your eyes never turn from looking out--out of the world--to the lost region--the home from which we have strayed.

--Caesar, Act I

I always want to be let do as I like, no matter whether it is the will of the gods or not: that is because my blood is made with Nile water.

--Cleopatra, Act I

Taxes are the chief business of a conqueror of the world.

--Caesar, Act II

Pardon him ... he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

--Caesar, Act II

I was not born to be slain by so ugly a weapon.

--Apollodorus, Act III

When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty.

--Apollodorus, Act III

My heart, my heart, be whole and free:
Love is thine only enemy.

--Apollodorus, Act III

Every dog has his day.

Caesar, Act III

I mean no harm by killing: I do it as a dog kills a cat, by instinct.

--Rufio, Act IV

When I was foolish, I did what I liked, except when Ftatateeta beat me; and even then I cheated her and did it by stealth. Now that Caesar has made me wise, it is no use my liking or disliking; I do what must be done, and have no time to attend myself. That is not happiness, but it is greatness.

Cleopatra, Act IV

It is not that I am so clever, but that the others are so stupid.

--Cleopatra, Act IV

Who are those we love? Only those whom we do not hate.

--Cleopatra, Act IV

When a man has anything to tell in this world, the difficulty is not to make him tell it, but to prevent him from telling it too often.

--Caesar, Act IV

Rome, that has achieved greatness only to learn how greatness destroys nations of men who are not great!

--Caesar, Act IV

To the end of history, murder shall breed murder, always in the name of right and honor and peace, until the gods are tired of blood and create a race that can understand.

--Caesar, Act IV

He who has never hoped can never despair.

--Caesar, Act IV

Man and Superman (1903)

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

--Epistle Dedicatory

Our political experiment of democracy, the last refuge of cheap misgovernment, will ruin us if our citizens are ill bred.

--Epistle Dedicatory

Progress can do nothing but make the most of us all as we are.

--Epistle Dedicatory

We must either breed political capacity or be ruined by Democracy, which was forced on us by the failure of the older alternatives. Yet if Despotism failed only for want of a capable benevolent despot, what chance has Democracy, which requires a whole population of capable voters.

--Epistle Dedicatory

A lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth.

--Tanner, Act I

The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.

--Tanner, Act I

The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.

--Tanner, Act I

Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. But he is worse: he is a child-robber, a bloodsucker, a hypocrite and a cheat. Perish the race and wither a thousand women if only the sacrifice of them enable him to act Hamlet better, to paint a finer picture, to write a deeper poem, a greater play, a profounder philosophy!

--Tanner, Act I

You think you are Ann's suitor; that you are the pursuer and she the pursued; that it is your part to woo, to persuade, to prevail, to overcome. Fool: it is you who are the pursued, the marked down quarry, the destined prey. You need not sit looking longingly at the bait through the wires of the trap: the door is open, and will remain so until it shuts behind you forever.

--Tanner, Act II

It is a woman's business to get married as soon as possible, and a man's to keep unmarried as long as he can.

--Tanner, Act II

Marry Ann; and at the end of a week you'll find no more inspiration in her than in a plate of muffins.

--Tanner, Act II

In short, the way to avoid misunderstanding is for everybody to lie and slander and insinuate and pretend as hard as they can. That is what obeying your mother comes to.

--Tanner, Act II

You can be as romantic as you please about love ... but you mustn't be romantic about money.

--Violet, Act II

If we were reasoning, farsighted people, four fifths of us would go straight to the Guardians for relief, and knock the whole social system to pieces with most beneficial reconstructive results. The reason we do not do this is because we work like bees or ants, by instinct or habit, not reasoning about the matter at all. Therefore when a man comes along who can and does reason, and who, applying the Kantian test to his conduct, can truly say to us, If everybody did as I do, the world would be compelled to reform itself industrially, and abolish slavery and squalor, which exist only because everybody does as you do, let us honor that man and seriously consider the advisability of following his example.

--stage directions, Act III

Precisely the same qualities that make the educated gentleman an artist may make an uneducated manual laborer an ablebodied pauper. There are men who fall helplessly into the workhouse because they are good for nothing; but there are also men who are there because they are strongminded enough to disregard the social convention ... which bids a man live by heavy and badly paid drudgery when he has the alternative of walking into the workhouse, announcing himself as a destitute person, and legally compelling the Guardians to feed, clothe, and house him better than he could feed, clothe, and house himself without great exertion.

--stage directions, Act III

A movement which is confined to philosophers and honest men can never exercise any real political influence: there are too few of them. Until a movement shows itself capable of spreading among brigands, it can never hope for a political majority.

--Mendoza, Act III

Hell is the home of honor, duty, justice, and the rest of the seven deadly virtues. All the wickedness on earth is done in their name: where else but in hell should they have their reward?

--Don Juan, Act III

You may remember that on earth--though of course we never confessed it--the death of anyone we knew, even those we liked best, was always mingled with a certain satisfaction at being finally done with them.

--Don Juan, Act III

Written over the gate here are the words "Leave every hope behind, ye who enter." Only think what a relief that is! For what is hope? A form of moral responsibility. Here there is no hope, and consequently no duty, no work, nothing to be gained by praying, nothing to be lost by doing what you like. Hell, in short, is a place where you have nothing to do but amuse yourself.

--The Statue, Act III

Englishmen never will be slaves: they are free to do whatever the Government and public opinion allows them to do.

--The Devil, Act III

The earth is a nursery in which men and women play at being heroes and heroines, saints and sinners; but they are dragged down from their fool's paradise by their bodies: hunger and cold and thirst, age and decay and disease, death above all, make them slaves of reality: thrice a day meals must be eaten and digested: thrice a century a new generation must be engendered: ages of faith, of romance, and of science are all driven at last to have but one prayer "Make me a healthy animal."

--Don Juan, Act III

A picture gallery is a dull place for a blind man.

--Don Juan, Act III

Is Man any the less destroying himself for all this boasted brain of his? Have you walked up and down upon the earth lately? I have; and I have examined Man's wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence and famine. The peasant I tempt to-day eats and drinks what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady's bonnet in a score of weeks. But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind.

--The Devil, Act III

In the arts of peace Man is a bungler.... There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons.

--The Devil, Act III

Man measures his strength by his destructiveness.

--The Devil, Act III

Man, the inventor of the rack, the stake, the gallows, and the electrocutor; of the sword and gun; above all, of justice, duty, patriotism and all the other isms by which even those who are clever enough to be humanely disposed are persuaded to become the most destructive of all the destroyers.

--The Devil, Act III

Man ... is dangerous as a fanatic. He can only be enslaved whilst he is spiritually weak enough to listen to reason.

--Don Juan, Act III

The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error.

--Don Juan, Act III

Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?

--Don Juan, Act III

Men get tired of everything, of heaven no less than of hell; and all history is nothing but a record of the oscillations of the world between these two extremes ... there is nothing new under the sun. Vanitas vanitatum.

--The Devil, Act III

I had better be a ploughman than a philosopher; for the ploughman lives as long as the philosopher, eats more, sleeps better, and rejoices in the bosom of his wife with less misgiving.

--Don Juan, Act III

The philosopher is Nature's pilot.

--Don Juan, Act III

Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human.

--The Devil, Act III

Hell is full of musical amateurs. Music is the brandy of the damned.

--Don Juan, Act III

An Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable.

--The Devil, Act III

There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it.

--Mendoza, Act IV

The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

Lack of money is the root of all evil.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

In heaven an angel is nobody in particular.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

Beware of the man who does not return your blow: he neither forgives you nor allows you to forgive yourself.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

--Maxims for Revolutionists

Pygmalion (1912)

It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.

--Preface

The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it.

--Preface

If the play makes the public aware that there are such people as phoneticians, and that they are among its most important people in England at present, it will serve its turn.

--Preface

Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

--Higgins, Act I

Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby!

--Higgins, Act I

I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me, she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious, and a damned nuisance. I find that the moment I let myself make friends with a woman, I become selfish and tyrannical.

--Higgins, Act II

Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you're driving at another.

--Higgins, Act II

The woman wants to live her own life; and the man wants to live his; and each tries to drag the other on to the wrong track. One wants to go north and the other south; and the result is that both have to go east.

--Higgins, Act II

What is life but a series of inspired follies?

--Higgins, Act II

I don't want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a lady.

--Liza, Act II

Time enough to think of the future when you haven't any future to think of.

--Higgins, Act II

You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being by creating a new speech for her. It's filling up the deepest gulf that separates class from class and soul from soul.

--Higgins, Act III

Can you shew me any English woman who speaks English as it should be spoken? Only foreigners who have been taught to speak it speak it well.

--Nepommuck, Act III

There's always something professional about doing a thing superlatively well.

--Pickering, Act IV

I have to live for others and not for myself; that's middle-class morality.

--Doolittle, Act V

Oh! If I only could go back to my flower-basket! I should be independent of both you and father and all the world! Why did you take my independence from me? Why did I give it up? I'm a slave now, for all my fine clothes.

--Liza, Act V

Independence? That's middle-class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.

--Higgins, Act V

Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me.

--Liza, Act V

The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated.

--Liza, Act V

Every girl has a right to be loved.

--Liza, Act V

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