So Shakespeare’s not your thing. You hated Shakespeare in high school and avoided him in university. And yet, his wit and wisdom are part of your everyday vocabulary whether you realize it or not. Here are some common sayings that originated with the Bard of Avon.
Antony’s famous funeral oration for Julius Caesar is packed with such memorable expressions as, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” but the most frequently quoted part of this speech is, “The evil men do lives after them.”
Falstaff utters these famous words in Henry IV, Part 1: “The better part of valour is discretion.”
“Lord what fools these mortals be!” are Puck’s words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In that same play, Lysander says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Another observation concerning love occurs in The Merchant of Venice, when Jessica tells us, “Love is blind.”
Polonius is a pompous character in Hamlet. Nevertheless, we continue to use his words. Who has not heard, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be?” He’s also the one who gave us, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and, “To thine own self be true.”
It is Juliet who says, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” In that same play, Romeo and Juliet, Romeo asks, “What’s in a name?”
“The world’s mine oyster,” originates with Pistol in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
In As You Like It, Duke Senior observes, “We have seen better days.”
Also much quoted are Malcolm’s words in MacBeth: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.”
And who could ever forget this gem from The Merchant of Venice? “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”
How many times have you seen someone shrug and say, “It’s all Greek to me?” This saying originates with Casca in Julius Caesar. His words: “It was Greek to me.”
Brave New World is the title of a 1931 novel by Aldous Huxley. But Shakespeare penned those very words hundreds of years earlier as part of a speech by Miranda in The Tempest.
As well, in 1962, Ray Bradbury wrote a science fiction novel by the name of Something Wicked This Way Comes. The title was lifted from the words of the Second Witch in Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Not only that, a song in the Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, has the same name.
Not only do we use direct lifts from Shakespeare, like those already quoted, we also modify and simplify his words. For example, we say, “There’s method in his madness.” Shakespeare put it this way in Hamlet: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
Again, we say, “The worm will turn,” or, “The worm turns.” Shakespeare worded the same thought this way in Henry VI, Part 3: “The smallest worm will turn being trodden on.”
“Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never taste of death but once” (Julius Caesar). Today, we hear this same idea expressed this way: “A coward dies a thousand deaths.”
Ah, yes. Shakespeare. That guy you never paid any attention to.