During a Pub quiz early this week a Shakespeare quote emerged in German translation, and I am keen to know the original wording and the work it stems from, or if it is possibly part of his notes.

As my English translation
"Do not bemoan what cannot be altered but alter what is deplorable."
of the German version I heard
„Beklage nicht, was nicht zu ändern ist, aber ändere, was zu beklagen ist.“
certainly does not meet Shakespeare's words, my search was fruitless on several sites, e.g., https://myshakespeare.me/shakespeares-works/search-filter/ .

Following KillingTime's comment this is Cross-posted on Literature.SE .

  • 1
    This might get better results on Literature SE. Sep 29 at 13:37
  • @KillingTime Thanks for that one. It corresponds on my second thought, and I shall move it there.
    – Hanno
    Sep 29 at 13:40
  • Seems like a horrible pub quiz question, but fair is foul and foul is fair, I suppose.
    – Phil Sweet
    Sep 29 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


The line is spoken by Proteus, a villain in Shakespeare's play The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The saying occurs in act 3, scene 1 of the text, lines 247-8 of the scene. You can see it in an 1838 edition of Shakespeare translated by Ernst Ortlepp, via Google Books:

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This is the corresponding passage in English, using the Folger Library online version of the play:

Cease to lament for that thou canst not help,

And study help for that which thou lament’st.

In context, Proteus counsels Valentine to obey his ordered exile (which Valentine can't help) and leave the city, so that at least he can stay free and send letters to his love, Sylvia (the "help" for the situation, which is better than nothing). It's ostensibly good advice, except that Proteus loves Sylvia too and is trying to get Valentine out of the way.

I find it remarkable the saying circulates in German. The Two Gentlemen of Verona isn't one of Shakespeare's more loved plays, and this quote isn't so widely circulated in English. The English quote doesn't even make my edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (third edition, 1979), which features 13 other quotations from that play. So this may be a case of the quote or the translation having more cultural relevance in German.

  • Honestly, at least to my ear Ortlepp's German translation sounds a lot nicer than Shakespeare's original lines. Some of that could, of course, be due to linguistic change and my unfamiliarity with English style and idioms from Shakespeare's time, but I suspect that this may also just be one of those cases where the translation improves on the original. Sep 30 at 21:06
  • @IlmariKaronen: what a bizarre view! I take it you are not a native English speaker?
    – TonyK
    Sep 30 at 22:39
  • @TonyK I agree with Ilmari Karonen in this case. I'm fine with the English and usually prefer Shakespeare, but the German versions sound great. "Study help," for me, is chunkier than "Und ändere" (and change) or "aber ändere" (but change). The more modern German version also takes out the slower "wenn du kannst" (if you can) to make it the shareable pap of LinkedIn profiles. I see no reason why a translation can't be as good or better than the original, especially at the level of two lines. Sep 30 at 23:00
  • @TaliesinMerlin: Your Fraktur quote is certainly an improvement on the OP's prosaic version, but I still don't see any reason to prefer it over the English original.
    – TonyK
    Sep 30 at 23:36

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