Common Phrases Coined by Shakespeare
As a literature student and an avid reader of Shakespeare, I frequently stumble across sentences and phrases that, whilst I happily attribute to the Bard, I cannot fail to realise that I’ve either heard or read or seen perhaps countless times before. Shakespeare’s timelessness lies not only in the universality of his themes and his innate, astute ability to encapsulate human nature, but also in his prowess at either moulding or popularising memorable phrases. Here are some exceptionally well-known ones that are used everyday by people who quite often probably have no idea from where the phrase originated.
- Ever worried that you’ll become a ‘laughing-stock?' So was Sir Hugh Evans in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
Jack Cade was ‘as dead as a doornail’ in Henry VI long before you ever proclaimed something to be in that state.
- If you find yourself ‘in a pickle’, never fear. It’s probably nothing compared to that experienced by Trinculo in The Tempest.
- Iago swore, ‘I will wear my heart upon my sleeve’, in Othello, long before you ever dramatically voiced the phrase.
- To ‘laugh yourself into stitches’ was an idea that Maria voiced in Twelfth Night before you, wiping away tears, were forced to speak the same words.
- Ever concerned that you have ‘too much of a good thing?' Rosalind had the same concerns in As You Like It.
- If you’ve ever just wanted to rid yourself of an irritating person, don’t worry. Falstaff also desired to ‘send him packing’ in Henry IV, Part 1.
- Has your mother ever accused you of eating her ‘out of house and home?' You can blame Mistress Quickly in Henry IV, Part 2, for putting those words in her mouth.
- Cleopatra reminisced over her ‘salad days’ in Antony and Cleopatra long before you were born to worry about yours.
- I bet you’ve never said anything quite so obstinate as Christopher Sly’s declaration to ‘not budge an inch’ in The Taming of the Shrew.
- Ever made a reference to being ‘tongue-tied?' So did Sonnet 85.
- If you’ve ever ‘slept not one wink’ you can join Pisanio in Cymbeline.
You’re not the only one to have ‘seen better days’. Duke Senior felt similarly in As You Like it.
Ever thought ‘all that glisters is not gold?' So did Morocco in the Merchant of Venice.
- Belarius thought that the ‘game was up’ in Cymbeline long before you had even started playing.
- Got a sceptical mind? Hamlet was suspicious of ‘foul play’ too.
This is not a complete list of common phrases that Shakespeare has coined, but it is a collection of some of my favourites. Whether you are or aren't a Shakespeare lover like myself, I hope you were able to recognise some of the phrases included in this list, and appreciate the timelessness of the great Bard.