In Love With Shakespeare

I grew up in a home filled with books and magazines and record albums. My parents weren’t wealthy; they were working class folks, but this is how they were raised and how they raised their children too.

We kids had access to all of those wonders, and one of my favorites was a blue-striped college text of my father’s called England in Literature (published by Scott, Foresman and Co. in 1953). When I was very little, I loved the spine, perhaps because it pictured a Beefeater in full regalia (who looked a lot like the guy on that bottle of gin with which Daddy made “tee many martoonis”); I also loved the many line drawings throughout the text. (I can’t even describe the rush I felt just now, opening it and seeing drawings that are like old friends.)

It was in this book I first—with my father’s help—read the works of William Shakespeare (chapter 2: Shakespeare’s England). When I was older, he handed me his copy of The Works of Shakespeare Gathered into One Volume (Oxford University Press, 1938). The cover isn’t nearly as interesting as England in Literature, but it has a lot more Post-It Notes markers in it. When I left home at eighteen, these two books (and many others) left with me.

Shakespeare appeared in my parents’ conversations too: “Et tu, Brute?” my mother would sigh when, after her two younger children had refused to even taste some new dish she’d served up for dinner, I also pushed away the plate. My father would laugh at our childish stories, saying, “And thereby hangs a tale, doesn’t it, Doris?” to our mother.

I don’t think about ol’ Will as much as I did when I was actively reading him in school and on my own. But I was delighted when I stumbled upon a list of common words and phrases that we know and use today because they were born and live in his works*:

A piece of work (Hamlet)
All of a sudden (The Taming of the Shrew)
A sorry sight (Macbeth)
Discretion is the better part of valor (Henry IV, Part 1)
Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2)
Fair play (The Tempest)
Foul play (Love’s Labours Lost, Henry IV, and others)
Give the devil his due (King Henry IV, Part 1)
Green-eyed monster (the Merchant of Venice)
Household words (Henry V)
In stitches (Twelfth Night)
Lay it on with a trowel (As You Like It)
Love is blind (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice)
Milk of human kindness (Macbeth)
Off with his head (Henry VI, Part 3)
Out of the jaws of death (Twelfth Night)
Primrose path (Hamlet)
Salad days (Anthony and Cleopatra)
Sea change (The Tempest)
Seen better days (Timon of Athens)
Send him packing (Henry IV)
The game is up (Cymbelline)
The short and the long of it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
There’s method in my madness (Hamlet)
Truth will out (The Merchant of Venice)
Vanish into thin air (Othello, The Tempest)
Wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello)
Wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet)

There are many of these sorts of lists all over the Internet (some include phrases that were used but not coined by Shakespeare, so googler beware). My list is just a sampling; I got much of my information from this one.

These are words and phrases you may use regularly without knowing they originated with Shakespeare. (I didn’t!) And you’ll note my list doesn’t include phrases like A rose by any other name would smell as sweet or To be or not to be, that is the question. Because you know them as quotations.

That is, I hope you know them. :) As I was writing this post, I was thinking about cultural literacy and how important it is. Stay tuned.

* This little video says there are two thousand words and phrases invented by Shakespeare. Honestly, we don’t know if Shakespeare originated all of these; they may have been a part of the vernacular of his time. But certainly the works of Shakespeare provide the earliest citation for them.

UPDATE: There’s more on this subject here.

 

 

Tweet: Fair play? Foul play? Salad days? Here is the short and the long of it.
Tweet: Words & phrases you may use without knowing they originated with Shakespeare.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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4 Comments

  1. Loved this, Jamie! I grew up around manuscripts and newspapers as my father was a newspaper editor/owner. Although he was an alcoholic, a very unhappy man and we didn’t enjoy a close relationship, I am grateful to him for passing on to me his love for the written word.

  2. Mari Adkins says:

    All of these things are phrases I heard – and use and still use – growing up. Although, I’d be happy if “all of a sudden” just all of a sudden disappeared. LOL I’ve heard tons of people say “Truth will out” is from the Bible, but of course it isn’t. Sitting here, I can hear my great-grandmother clear as a bell. “The truth will out. It always does.” :)

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