home contact

Scary Shakespeare

A collection of Shakespearean quotations on ghosts, witches and omens, just in time for Halloween. Please see the bottom of this page for related resources.

I have heard (but not believ'd) the spirits of the dead
May walk again: if such thing be, thy mother
Appeared to me last night; for ne'er was dream
So like a waking.
(The Winter's Tale, 3.3)

Angels, and ministers of grace, defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd.
Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell.
Be thy intents wicked or charitable.
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,
That I will speak to thee.
(Hamlet, 1.4)

But, soft: behold! lo where it comes again!
I'll cross it, though it blast me. - Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use a voice.
Speak to me.
(Hamlet, 1.1)

What may this mean.
That thou, dead corse, again, in complete steel,
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon.
Making night hideous ; and we, fools of nature,
So horridly to shake our disposition,
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this?
(Hamlet, 1.4)

My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
(Hamlet, 1.5)

O, answer me:
Let me not burst in ignorance! but tell,
Why thy canoniz'd bones, hears'd in death,
Have burst their cerements! why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd.
Hath op'd his ponderous and marble jaws,
To cast thee up again.
(Hamlet, 1.4)

Why, what care I ? If thou canst nod, speak too, -
If charnel-houses, and our graves, must send
Those that we bury, back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites.
(Macbeth, 3.4)

The ghost of Caesar hath appear'd to me
Two several times by night : at Sardis, once;
And, this last night, here in Philippi fields.
I know, my hour is come.
(Julius Caesar, 5.5)

Glendower. - I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur. - Why, so can I; or so can any man:
But will they come when you do call for them ?
(1 Henry IV, 3.1)

Infected he the air whereon they ride,
And damned all those that trust them.
(Macbeth, 4.1)

The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.
(Macbeth, 2.3)

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
(Macbeth, 4.1)

In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
(Julius Caesar, 2.2)

The bay-trees in our country are all wither'd
And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-look'd prophets whisper fearful change.
(Richard II, 2.4)

For night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger;
At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
Troop home to churchyards: damned spirits all,
That in crossways and floods have burial,
Already to their wormy beds are gone.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3.2)

When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
(Richard III, 2.3)

The southern wind
Doth play the trumpet to his purposes,
And by his hollow whistling in the leaves
Foretells a tempest and a blustering day.
(1 Henry IV, 5.1)

Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch; so like the king
That was and is the question of these wars.
(Hamlet, 1.1), Bernardo to Horatio, speaking of Hamlet's father's ghost.

As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.
(Hamlet, 1.1)

At my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets; and at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shaked like a coward.
(1 Henry IV, 3.1)

Move in that obedient orb again
Where you did give a fair and natural light,
And be no more an exhaled meteor,
A prodigy of fear and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times?
(1 Henry IV, 5.1)

Beware the ides of March.
(Julius Caesar, 1.2)

No natural exhalation in the sky,
No scope of nature, no distemper'd day,
No common wind, no customed event,
But they will pluck away his natural cause
And call them meteors, prodigies and signs,
Abortives, presages and tongues of heaven.
(King John, 3.4)

Calpurnia here, my wife, stays me at home:
She dreamt to-night she saw my statua,
Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure blood: and many lusty Romans
Came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it:
And these does she apply for warnings, and portents,
And evils imminent; and on her knee
Hath begg'd that I will stay at home to-day.
(Julius Caesar, 2.2)

These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us.
(King Lear, 1.2)

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight?
(Macbeth, 2.1)

Yesterday the bird of night did sit,
Even at noon-day, upon the market-place,
Hooting and shrieking.
(Julius Caesar, 1.3)

Alas, why gnaw you so your nether lip?
Some bloody passion shakes your very frame:
These are portents; but yet I hope, I hope,
They do not point on me.
(Othello, 5.2)

Bloody thou art; bloody will be thy end.
(Richard III, 4.4)

Alack, our terrene moon
Is now eclipsed; and it portends alone
The fall of Antony!
(Antony and Cleopatra, 3.13)

There is some ill a-brewing towards my rest,
For I did dream of money-bags to-night.
(The Merchant of Venice, 2.5)

The owl shriek'd at thy birth,--an evil sign;
The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time;
Dogs howl'd, and hideous tempest shook down trees;
The raven rook'd her on the chimney's top,
And chattering pies in dismal discords sung.
(3 Henry VI, 5.6)

Before the times of change, still is it so:
By a divine instinct men's minds mistrust
Ensuing dangers; as by proof, we see
The waters swell before a boisterous storm.
(Richard III, 2.3)

Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.
(Macbeth, 4.1)

How bloodily the sun begins to peer
Above yon busky hill! the day looks pale
At his distemperature.
(1 Henry IV, 5.1)

When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
(Julius Caesar, 2.2)

Away from the light steals home my heavy son,
And private in his chamber pens himself,
Shuts up his windows, locks far daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night:
Black and portentous must this humour prove,
Unless good counsel may the cause remove.
(Romeo and Juliet, 1.1)

Related Resources

 Intercourse with a Devil: The Trial of Poor Bessie Dunlop
 Shakespeare on Omens and Prophecies
 Shakespeare, King James and Witches
 Elizabethan Use of Mummified Flesh

 Heebie-Jeebies: The Curse of Macbeth
 Superstitions in Shakespeare's England
 The Fatal Bellman

 Explanatory Notes for Lady Macbeth's Soliloquy (1.5)
 Temptation, Sin, Retribution: Lecture Notes on Macbeth
 Explanatory Notes for the Witches' Chants (4.1)

 Themes in Romeo and Juliet
 Shakespeare on Fate
 Famous Quotations from Romeo and Juliet

 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost
 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 Violence in Shakespeare's Plays

In the Spotlight

Prophetic Ponderings

It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern'st good-night. He is about it:
The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores: I have drugg'd
their possets,
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die. Macbeth (2.2)

In Renaissance England the hoot of an owl flying over one's house was an evil omen, and meant impending death for someone inside. Shakespeare refers to the owl as the "fatal bellman" because it was the bellman's job to ring the parish bell when a person in the town was near death. "This was called the passing bell, and was a signal for all hearers to pray for the dying person. After the death, there would be one short peal [chime]; from its sound the hearers could tell whether the deceased was male or female" (Singman, Jeffrey. Daily Life in Elizabethan England. Westport. Greenwood Press. 1995). In the play, of course, the owl "shriek'd" for King Duncan.

I am reminded of the famous line by Shakespeare's contemporary, John Donne, who wrote: "never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.)