“If the skin were parchment”: 10 beautiful Shakespeare tattoos

William Shakespeare once wrote, “what’s in the brain, that ink may character, which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?”

In his search to create an original depiction of the soul’s many facets, Shakespeare’s work has touched millions with its unprecedented eloquence and imagination.

It is a tribute to his creative ingenuity that many are choosing to immortalise the Bard’s words on their bodies through such diverse art.

Here are 10 of my favourite Shakespearean tattoos that capture in ink an individual’s “true spirit”.

Shakespeare 6

Photo: Instagram – LJ Ayrten [@ljayrten], tattoo by unknown artist at @sacredinktattoostudio, London.

A line from Sonnet 116, proclaiming the constancy of love. An apt choice, and a wry nod to the permanency of the tattoo.

 Shakespeare 7

Photo: Instagram – Adam Harmon [@adammanski], Salem Ink, Salem, Massachusetts.

A beautifully colourful take on another of his most famous adages, this tattoo pays homage to several aspects of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Hamlet = the quote from Polonius, Yorick’s skull, and the flowers Ophelia collects in her despair are all combined in a well-balanced design.

Shakespeare 5

Photo: Instagram – Madison Hodges [@madisona_hodges], Art Gallery Tattoos, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The typewriter font of this tattoo made this stand out for me. Contrasting his status as a Renaissance artist with the relative modernity of the device, this juxtaposition is something that Shakespeare himself would have admired, as it was a technique he often utilised himself in his work.

Shakespeare 8

Photo: Instagram – unknown artist at @luckydogtattoos, Fresh Meadows, New York.

This has always been one of my favourite quotes (I’m 5 foot 2 inches of barely veiled irritation and the short jokes do not help), so to see it in combination with this lovely quill design makes it even dearer to me.

Shakespeare 9

Photo: Instagram – Phoebe Lambdon [@phoebemlambdon], tattoo by unknown artist, Urban Tattoo London.

Another favourite quote, this time from the feisty http://www.mindanews.com/buy-accutane/ Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew. In this controversial play, many, myself included, admire Katherine’s original spirited nature. A playful (but not too playful) reminder to watch your words around this Shakespeare fan.

Shakespeare 4

Photo: Instagram – Amy Lynn Colson [@amylynn.colson], Golden Lotus Tattoo Studio, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Arkansas

A bold and beautiful black and grey design, with the reassuring reminder that our past makes us who we are.

 Shakespeare 1

Photo: Instagram – Abby Brumleve [@abby_b6], tattoo by unknown artist at Bomber Crew Tattoo, Carbondale, Illinois.

The story behind these paired tattoos really sold them for me. Two friends had these done when they were about to be separated after 13 years of friendship, having played Ophelia and Laertes in Hamlet at school. A charming way of commemorating their companionship, and a shared passion.

Shakespeare 2

Photo: Instagram – Ashleigh Flanagan Russell [@shkspraddict], tattoo by unknown artist at Two Birds Tattoo, Seattle, Washington.

Perhaps the cleverest tattoo on this list, this subtle tribute to Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter recognises one of the most distinctive stylistic features of his work. The meter mimics the human heartbeat, and runs throughout Shakespeare’s sonnets and many of his plays like the rhythmic lifeblood of his craft. 

Shakespeare 10 

Photo: Tumblr – Losille [losille2000.tumblr.com], tattoo by Connie Corona, Venomous Ink, Glendale, Arizona.

Many of Shakespeare’s quotes have made it into our everyday lexicon (“all’s well that end’s well,” “in my mind’s eye,” “kill with kindness,” etc.), and this individual chose to immortalise the saying to “wear my heart on my sleeve” from Othello in their tattoo. A cute visual pun, with some great art to match!

Shakespeare 3

Photo: Instagram – Joshua Paul Cruse [@joshcruse], Wichita, Kansas.

Finally, this fantastic black and grey portrait of the man himself makes me smile every time I look at it.

Words: Bethan Ackerley
Photography: As credited above


  1. The little/fierce one is my favorite too! I’m also 5’2, so yep, I get it, completely. Great list!


Comments are closed.