Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

April 23, 2021, marks what would have been the 457th birthday of England’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare.  His plays are still hailed as the pinnacle of literature and hundreds of his coined phrases are still in wide usage in modern Britain and around the world. The Bard’s influence on our language and culture is still impossible to escape and even those who “don’t do Shakespeare” unwittingly channel his words in their daily lives.

Here are just a handful of popular sayings that came courtesy of Shakespeare.William Shakespeare

“Green-eyed monster”

Meaning jealousy. This phrase was first used by Shakespeare to denote the powerful emotion in 1596’s The Merchant of Venice when Portia refers to “green-eyed jealousy”. More well known is Iago’s usage in 1604’s Othello: “It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on.”

“As good luck would have it”

This phrase is regularly shortened to “as luck would have it”. It originates from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1600. Falstaff utters the line.

“The be-all and end-all”

Meaning “the whole thing” or “the last word”. Shakespeare coined this well-used phrase in his 1605 tragedy Macbeth. Macbeth says this while contemplating murdering King Duncan to take the throne: “That but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all.” Of course the murder is far from the “end-all” as the play turns out…

“A sorry sight”

Meaning “regrettable and unwelcome” or someone of untidy appearance. First used in Macbeth by Shakespeare’s titular tragic hero when he looks at his hands. “A foolish thought to say a sorry sight” replies Lady Macbeth.

“Fair play”

Said by Miranda in 1610’s The Tempest among others: “Yes for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle / And I would call it fair play.” Widely used to mean fairness and justice in a variety of contexts.

“Good riddance”

Most people have used this phrase to express joy or relief when an annoyance disappears. Back in Shakespeare’s day “riddance” meant “deliverance from” or “getting rid of” but it is now only rarely used outside of the saying. Portia wishes the Prince of Morocco “a gentle riddance” in The Merchant of Venice but it is thought to have been used before that.

“In a pickle”

Meaning “in a difficult position”. There were various references to pickles in the late 16th century but Shakespeare was one of the first to use “in a pickle” in The Tempest. Trinculo says: “I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last.”

“Love is blind”

Chaucer first used this phrase in 1405 but Shakespeare made it more commonplace by including it in several of his plays. Jessica in The Merchant of Venice says: “I am much ashamed of my exchange / But love is blind and lovers cannot see / The pretty follies that themselves commit.” It can also be heard in Henry V and Two Gentleman of Verona.

 More words and phrases coined by the Bard

– “Fancy-free” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Lie low” – Much Ado About Nothing

– “Send packing” – Henry IV

– “Foregone conclusion” – Othello

– “A sorry sight” – Macbeth

– “For goodness sake” – Henry VIII

– “Neither here not there” – Othello

– “Mum’s the word” – Henry VI, Part II

– “What’s done is done” – Macbeth

– “Eaten out of house and home” – Henry IV, Part II

– “Rant” – Hamlet

– “Knock knock! Who’s there?” – Macbeth

– “With bated breath” – The Merchant of Venice

– “A wild goose chase” – Romeo and Juliet

– “Assassination” – Macbeth

– “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It

– “A heart of gold” – Henry V

– “Such stuff as dreams are made on” – The Tempest

– “Fashionable” – Troilus and Cressida

“Dead as a doornail” – Henry VI, Part II

– “Not slept one wink” – Cymbeline

– “The world’s mine oyster” – The Merry Wives of Windsor

– “Obscene” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

– “Bedazzled” – The Taming of the Shrew

– “In stitches” – Twelfth Night

– “Addiction” – Othello

– “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI, Part I

“One fell swoop” – Macbeth

– “Vanish into thin air” – Othello

– “Swagger” – Henry V

– “Own flesh and blood” – Hamlet

– “Zany” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

“Give the devil his due” – Henry IV, Part I

“There’s method in my madness” – Hamlet

– “Salad days” – Antony and Cleopatra

– “Spotless reputation” – Richard II

– “Full circle” – King Lear

– “All of a sudden” – The Taming of the Shrew

– “Come what, come may” – Macbeth

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