We all know that Shakespeare was a master of the English language, with a pretty impressive literary CV to boot. 38 plays, 2 narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a couple of other minor poems to be exact. His plays are produced throughout the world and have been adapted across multiple genres and cultures. The list truly is endless. But have you ever stopped to consider how Shakespeare’s words and phrases have lodged themselves in time to become part of our common parlance. When did you last have a conversation that included a phrase first penned by the Bard?
Take a look at some of our favorite quotes that were coined and/or popularized by Shakespeare, and maybe try and slide one into your next chat with your roommate/partner/colleague/teacher/mortal enemy…..
“The green-eyed monster” (Othello)
Yes, we’ve all been guilty of being taken over by the green-eyed monster at some point in our lives but this is not a new idea. The color green has long been associated with jealousy or envy but Shakespeare provides the first textual evidence of this phrase. In fact, he enjoyed the idea so much that it developed from the “green-eyed jealousy” referred to by Portia in The Merchant of Venice, to the phrase we know today.
In Act 3, Scene 3 of Othello, Iago slyly suggests to Othello that his wife, Desdemona, is having an affair with Cassio, his lieutenant. After planting this seed of doubt, Iago then warns Othello not to give into jealousy–the green-eyed monster–as it will consume him….which of course it does.
Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger,
But, oh, what damnèd minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts— suspects, yet soundly loves!
“Wild-goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet)
The first known citation of this fun phrase appears in Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio and Romeo have been firing off a series of witty retorts to one another, before Mercutio finally gives up, declaring the exchange to be “the wild-goose chase”.
Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five. Was I with you there for the goose? (Act 2, Scene 4)
But where does this odd description come from? Did sixteenth century Englishmen delight in chasing geese down the street? Well, not quite. Instead, it can be traced back to a type of horse race, in which one lead horse is followed–and mimicked–by a series of other horses, whose positioning on the field appeared like the formation of wild geese in the sky. Today, of course, we commonly use this idea to describe a hopeless task.
“With bated breath” (The Merchant of Venice)
This saying (describing how someone holds their breath in suspense) first appears in Act 1, Scene 3 of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, Shakespeare’s renowned Jewish caricature villain and moneylender, coins the phrase whilst pointing out the hypocrisy of Antonio’s treatment of him. The word ‘bated’ is an abbreviation of abated but you won’t see it used anymore, except in this literary gem of an expression!
Go to then, you come to me, and you say,
“Shylock, we would have moneys,” you say so. . . .
Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness, Say this:
“Fair sir, you spet on me Wednesday last,
You spurn’d me such a day, another time
You call’d me dog; and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much moneys”?
“More fool you” (The Taming of the Shrew)
Now come on, who’s uttered this while shaking their head in disbelief at someone’s sheer stupidity?! It’s another Shakespearean gem! This time, it comes from The Taming of the Shrew and is spoken by Bianca during her wedding banquet. After Petruchio has ‘tamed’ and married Katherine (the ‘shrew’), he proposes a bet with the other men. He challenges them to all call their wives to them, and the first to appear will win a heap of cash. To everyone’s surprise, it is Katherine who has transformed into a dutiful wife. Her sister, Bianca, tells her new husband that he was foolish to bet on her obedience!
“The more fool you, for laying on my duty”
“Eaten out of house and home” (Henry IV, Part II)
This is an expression that is all too familiar for anyone with teenage children with never-ending appetites! Shakespeare came up with this particular phrase in Henry IV, Part II. Mistress Quickly, the hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, is sick and tired of her carousing lodger, Sir John Falstaff. The gout-ridden, swindling knight has emptied her cupboards of food but, funnily enough, he doesn’t seem able to pay the bill…
“It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all, all I have. He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his” (Act 2, Scene 1)
And there are TONS more to explore!
“Break the ice” — The Taming of the Shrew
“As good luck would have it” – The Merry Wives of Windsor
“Heart of gold” – Henry V
“Refuse to budge an inch” — In both Measure for Measure & The Taming of the Shrew)
“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)
“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)
“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)
“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)
…..to name but a few!