When I Saw You I Fell in Love, and You Smiled Because You Knew

William Shakespeare? Arrigo Boito? Jeane Westin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have a question about a quotation depicting communication between lovers. The following words are often ascribed to William Shakespeare:

When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.

Sometimes the play Romeo and Juliet is named as the source, but I have not been able to find this line in the famous story of star-crossed lovers. I performed a comprehensive computer search to look through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets and was unable to find this quote. Did the Bard write this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1893 the Italian-language opera Falstaff with music by the influential Romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi was first performed. The work was a lyrical comedy in three acts with a libretto by Arrigo Boito that was based on The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare plus some material from King Henry IV. 1

In Act 2, Part 2 of the opera the character Fenton says the following to the character Nannetta: 2

Come ti vidi
E tu sorridi
Perchè lo sai.

These Italian words can be translated into English in several different ways. This version is popular today:

When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.

The confusion between attributing the statement to William Shakespeare and Arrigo Boito is understandable because the opera Falstaff was derived from Shakespeare’s oeuvre, but QI has not found the line above in the original plays by the Bard.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1894 an edition of Falstaff with the Italian text together with an English adaption by Frederic Lyster was published in New York. The line spoken by Fenton in English differed somewhat from the modern instance: 3

The glittering moments shine like virgin gold.

I see that you love me. Ah! you smile because I see it!

The spirit of Love flies above us.

In 1977 an English translation of Falstaff by William Weaver included the following lines. The character Fenton was speaking to the character Anne (originally Nannetta): 4

When I saw you
I fell in love,
And you smile
Because you know it.

The 2006 romance novel “Lady Katherne’s Wild Ride” by Jeane Westin included the following lines of dialog. The first character may be deliberately invoking the words from Falstaff. Alternatively, the author may be paying homage to a classic romantic work of the past. 5

“When I first saw you I fell in love,” he said, calming his breathing to recite words deeply felt, “and you smiled because you knew.”
She shivered with delight. “I don’t remember smiling. I thought I hated you.”

In 2007 a company called DreamAid produced pillowcases with covers that listed an assortment of sayings: 6

The covers come in more than 20 varieties that range from sappy — “When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew” — to imaginative — “May shooting stars carry your hopes and dreams far.”

In 2008 a compilation titled “101 Ways to Say Thank You: Notes of Gratitude for All Occasions” ascribed the quotation to William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet”: 7

When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.
—Romeo and Juliet

In conclusion, QI believes this expression is an English translation of a line in the Italian opera Falstaff with a libretto by Arrigo Boito. Falstaff was based primarily on Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”; however, the line does not appear in the Bard’s play. Thus, Boito should be credited.

(Much thanks to Tim J @timtfj and Love Goddess @Aphrodite44 and who pointed out this quotation to QI during an exchange on twitter and requested a trace. Great thanks to Don Arthur @donattroppo who tweeted the Italian phrase and pointed to Falstaff.)


  1. 2006 (Online Version 2008), The Grove Book of Operas, Edited by Stanley Sadie and Laura Macy, Second edition, Entry: Falstaff, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; accessed May 29 2013)
  2. 1893, Falstaff: Commedia Lirica in Tre Atti, (Lyrical comedy in three acts), (This work was written in Italian), Music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Arrigo Boito, (Character Fenton speaking), Quote Page 77, Column 1, Edizioni Ricordi: G. Ricordi & Co., Milano, Italy. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1894, Falstaff: A Lyric Comedy in Three Acts, (This work includes both Italian and English versions of the opera), Music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Arrigo Boito, Translation to English by Frederic Lyster, (Characters Fenton and Nannetta speaking), Quote Page 37, Column 2, Published by F. Rullman, New York. (Google Books full view) link  link
  4. 1977 (Copyright 1975), Seven Verdi Librettos by Giuseppe Verdi, English translations by William Weaver, Section: Falstaff, Quote Page 489, W. W. Norton, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  5. 2006, Lady Katherne’s Wild Ride by Jeane Westin, Quote Page 288 Signet Eclipse: Penguin Group USA. (Google Books Preview and Amazon Look Inside)
  6. 2007 November 3, South Bend Tribune, A promise of sweet dreams by Stacey Hollenbeck, Page D7, South Bend, Indiana. (NewsBank Access World News)
  7. 2008, 101 Ways to Say Thank You: Notes of Gratitude for All Occasions by Kelly Browne, Quote Page 75, Sterling Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Preview)