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Shakespeare PlaysThe English Language owes a huge debt of gratitude to William Shakespeare. Not only did he give us some of the world’s most memorable plays that have stood the test of time, he also enriched our language with a variety of wonderful English phrases.

In fact, a lot of common, modern English phrases originally come from Shakespeare quotes. Whilst researching this blog post, I was very surprised to find just how many Shakespeare quotes form part of our everyday, modern English usage.

I’d like to share  with you just 10 of these quotes. I’ve given you the modern English phrase, its meaning with an example and the original Shakespeare quote.

 

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

1. Bated Breath –  worried or excited and paying a lot of attention because you want to know what will happen

EX: ‘We waited with bated breath to find out who had won’.

Shylock:
Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness,
(The Merchant of Venice)

 

2. Cruel to be kind – to say or do something to someone that seems unkind but is intended to help them

EX: ‘I told her the facts – sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind‘.

Hamlet:
So again good night.
I must be cruel only to be kind.
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
(Hamlet)

 

3. Foregone conclusion – a result that you can be certain about before it happens

EX: ‘That the company was moving to California was a foregone conclusion‘.

Othello:
O monstrous, monstrous!
Iago:
Nay, this was but his dream.
Othello:
But this denoted a foregone conclusion.
(Othello)

 

4. Eat someone out of house and home (humorous) – to eat too much of someone’s food when you are a guest in their home

EX:’My nephews came to see me at the weekend and ate me out of house and home!’

Hostess Quickly:
“He hath eaten me out of house and home, he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his”
(Henry IV Part 2)

 

Othello

Othello

5. Wear my heart on my sleeve – to make your feelings obvious to others

EX: ‘ You always know how Jack is feeling, because he wears his heart on his sleeve’.

Iago:
“In complement extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve”
(Othello)

 

6. In my heart of hearts – used when you know something is true but don’t want to admit it

EX: ‘In his heart of hearts, he knew that he would have to sell the company’.

Hamlet:
“That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart, as I do thee.”
(Hamlet)

 

Shakespeare_Macbeth Wordle7. In/At one fell swoop – with one sudden action

EX:’In one fell swoop, he’s destroyed everything we’ve achieved in the last year’.

 

MacDuff (on hearing that all his family have been killed):
“What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam, at one fell swoop?”
(Macbeth)

 

8. Short shrift – a firm and immediate refusal to do something

EX:’I’ll give them short shrift if they ask me for money’.

Ratcliffe:
“Come, come, dispatch: the Duke would be at dinner
Make a short shrift: he longs to see your head.”
(Richard the Third)

 

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare's Globe in London

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s Globe in London

9. What the Dickens (informal, old fashioned) – used for emphasising a question when you are surprised or angry

 

EX: ‘What the dickens do you think you’re doing?’

 

Ford:
Where had you this pretty weathercock?
Mrs. Page:
“I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had
him of. What do you call your knight’s name, sirrah?”

NB: ‘dickens’ here refers to satan and not Charles Dickens.
(The Merry Wives of Windsor)

 

Shakespeare_Wild goose chase

10. Wild-Goose Chase – a futile pursuit, a worthless hunt

EX: ‘ I wasted all afternoon on a wild-goose chase – it was so annoying’. 

 

 

Mercutio:
“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.”
(Romeo & Juliet)

 

Have you ever seen these Shakespeare quotes before? Have you used them in your daily English Language exchanges? Which one is your favourite?

If you liked this post please share it, and if you’d like to receive my posts via email, why not subscribe to my blog?

Ciao for now.

Shanthi Streat

NB This blog post first appeared on my Language AND The City website in March 2013.

 

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