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Shakespeare on Show: Top Ten Exhibition – AMOR VINCIT OMNIA brooch

A gold brooch with the motto 'Amor Vincit Omnia' holds a meaning that has easy ties to Shakespeare's famous pair of star-crossed lovers.

Emily Millward
love conquers brooch
A gold brooch with the motto ‘AMOR VINCIT OMNIA’ (‘Love conquers')

This gold annular brooch was gifted to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1868, although the precise date of manufacture is unknown. Measuring approximately 5/8-inches in diameter, one side of the brooch is rounded while the other is flat and engraved with the legend ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ (‘Love Conquers All’).

The Latin phrase ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ first appeared in the Eclogues of Virgil (X, 69) in the first century BCE, and has subsequently been adopted as a common motto in the English language. The appearance of this motto on a brooch may not be completely unique in this case, as such an adornment is also alluded to in Chaucer’s The Prioress’ Tale, in which the protagonist owns a brooch similarly inscribed.

The phrase denotes a complete feeling of love, despite any obstacles or contradicting emotion that may be in the way; this brooch is therefore most fittingly displayed within our ‘Top Ten Characters’ exhibition (at Nash’s House) in the Romeo and Juliet display case. These two characters are infamously known as ‘star-crossed’ and their struggle to be together despite their long-standing family feud and expectations that they should hate each other is completely overlooked by their love at first sight. Juliet is even prepared to renounce her family name upon discovering her love for Romeo - ‘Deny they father and refuse they name, or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet’ (Act II, Scene II).

The idea of an all-conquering love is woven through many of Shakespeare’s works and is not reserved for his plays. One of his most well-known sonnets (Sonnet 116) protests against love ever being broken apart or destroyed by obstacles - ‘Oh no! It is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken’. If Romeo and Juliet had chosen a mantra to live by, it surely would have been ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’.