Common Sayings made famous by Shakespeare

The great William Shakespeare wrote many blockbuster plays of his era, but he also made a mark on the English language.  He used a number of sayings in his plays which are now common knowledge and still used today.  You may well have used one of his phrases without realising it came from the great writer himself. Below are some of the most common phrases coined by the great man himself.

Green Eyed Monster

When talking about jealousy we often refer to it as the ‘green eyed monster’.  It is a metaphor which was first quoted in Othello.  Lago sees Cassio leave Desdemona’s room without acknowledging Othello.  Lago uses this opportunity to accuse Cassio that he is cheating with Desdemona. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Good riddance

We use ‘good riddance’ as an expression of being rid of someone or something.  Shakespeare used it in Merchant of Venice where Patroclus wishes the Prince of Morocoo “a good riddance”.

For goodness’ sake

“For goodness’ sake” is used today as a way of expression how surprised or annoyed you are by something.  Shakespeare penned it in Henry VIII in Act 3, scene 1: Cardinal Wolsey: 2For goodness sake, consider what you do. How you may hurt yourself—ay, utterly. Grow from the King’s acquaintance, by this carriage”.

Break the ice

“Break the ice” means to get something started and was first uses in ‘Taming of the Shrew’.  Tranio is saying that if Petruchio breaks the ice with Katherine, or gets to know her, then he can woo her.  If you “break the ice” in a room, then you’re getting rid of the tension and everyone can be comfortable getting to know each other.

Be-all and the end-all

Today we use the “Be all and end all” as a way of saying it is the most important part of something.  It originates from Macbeth in Act 1 scene 7 when he is contemplating assassinating King Duncan of Scotland and taking the throne for himself:  If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well. It were done quickly. If th’ assassination. Could trammel up the consequence, and catch. With his surcease, success: that but this blow. Might be the be-all and the end-all…

Wild-goose chase

Wild goose chase originates from Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 Scene 4. “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?”  Today it means a foolish or hopeless search or pursuit of something unattainable.  Or simply a hopeless quest.

Laughing stock

Today a ‘Laughing stock’ means a person getting mocked or ridiculed.  Shakspeare penned it in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ where in Act 3, scene 1, Sir Hugh Evans says to Doctor Caius: “Pray you let us not be laughing-stocks to other men’s humours; I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends.”

As good luck would have it

“As good luck would have it” is another quote first penned from the play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.  Falstaff: “You shall hear. As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford’s approach; and, in her invention and Ford’s wife’s distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket”. It means by good or bad luck, by chance, or how it tured out.

Wear my heart upon my sleeve

This phrase was spoken by Iago in Othello.  Shakespeare’s most hateful villain said “For when my outward action doth demonstrate. The native act and figure of my heart. In compliment extern, ’tis not long after. But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve. For daws to peck at: I am not what I am”. Today it means the same thing: to make your feelings and emotions obvious.

These are just a few of the many quotes and sayings which are now commonplace thanks to William Shakespeare.  Others include: faint hearted, fancy-free, forever and a day, foregone conclusion, foregone conclusion, full circle, give the devil his due, in my mind’s eye, heart of gold, in my mind’s eye, one fell swoop, in my heart of hearts, refuse to budge an inch, dead as a door nail, eaten me out of house and home and love is blind.  This is just a small list, but I touched upon the more common ones.

For a bit of fun below I tried to write a few lines with as many phrases from Shakespeare as possible. I managed 16!  It might not make perfect sense, but it was good fun trying!  Could you do better?

I wear my heart upon my sleeve, but when they say that Love is blind, this can’t be true; love is not the be all and end all For goodness sake I hear you cry, in one fell swoop I have made a laughing stock out of myself. I was only trying to break the ice, feeling faint hearted but being fancy free. But as good luck would have it, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I could do this; give the devil his due, in my heart of hearts and in my mind’s eye, and I refuse to budge an inch on this, I tried by best, it was always going to be a wild-goose chase!

Here at Traditional Tours we offer a Shakespeare London walking tour which takes in the history and London life of this famous playwright. On tour you will be guided through areas frequented by the Bard of Avon, hearing readings along the way and learning about 16th and 17th century London. To learn more and to book our Shakespeare London walking tour click here.



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