14 of Shakespeare’s most captivating openers

Having trouble writing compelling lead sentences? Perhaps the Bard can serve up some inspiration.

Opening lines can torment writers.

The lead sentence can make or break what we’ve written. They are often the deciding factor in whether readers keep reading.

To find inspiration for my own writing projects, I often study the first lines of great literary works. Recently, I’ve been interested in the first lines of Shakespeare’s plays. Some of his most famous works open simply (“Who’s there?” in “Hamlet”), while others immediately draw readers in with a mystery.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”

“In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.”
-“The Merchant of Venice”

“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
-“Twelfth Night”

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;”
-“Richard III”

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,”
-“Romeo and Juliet”

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
-“Henry V, part 1”

“I come no more to make you laugh:”
-“Henry VIII”

“Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall
And by the doom of death end woes and all.”
-“The Comedy of Errors”

“I learn in this letter that Don Peter of Arragon
comes this night to Messina.”
-“Much Ado About Nothing”

“Noble patricians, patrons of my right,
Defend the justice of my cause with arms,”
-“Titus Andronicus”

“Who’s there?”

“So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,”
-“Henry IV, part I”

“Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!”
-“Henry VI, part 1”

“I wonder how the king escaped our hands.”
-“Henry VI, part 3”

Ragan readers, do you have any famous opening lines to share? Do you think there are lessons from these opening lines you can apply to writing ledes?

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.


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