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Common Phrases Coined by Shakespeare

Updated on December 3, 2013
Do you reference him unknowingly?
Do you reference him unknowingly?

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.

The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre | Source

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.


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    • Ron Wagner profile image

      Ron Wagner 

      5 years ago from Decatur, Illinois.

      There is a tide in the time of ment that if followed...

      To be or not to be, that is the question.......

      Shakespeare is awsome!

    • Laura Schneider profile image

      Laura Schneider 

      5 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      Fantastic job! I never knew where some of these phrases came from--I read all of Shakespeare's plays and most of everything else long ago as a child. Whenever something breaks in my house, we say, "Ah, poor York. I knew thee well." I suppose we're geeks in that way. :-) Great hub! I especially liked the way you wrote the lead-ins to the phrases. I look forward to reading more of your work. Voted up and interesting...

      P.S. Hamlet is my favorite of all his plays (which brought us "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark"). If anyone loves Hamlet, do yourself a favor and watch the movie "Rozencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead" (or whatever the correct spellings of their names are). The better you know Hamlet, the funnier and deeper this obscure but star-studded movie is.

    • ajwrites57 profile image


      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      samwrites21, I think it is a foregone conclusion that anyone who think's they can live without Shakespeare's influence is living in a fool's paradise! We know that all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Come what may, we can only hope that, by reading his works, all's well that ends well. :o)

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      5 years ago from Canada

      Thank you! It's so quiet in this Books Literature and Writing topic page tonight, too bad. These Hubs deserve some recognition.

    • samwrites21 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Melbourne

      I definitely agree that Shakespeare is of great interest. Thanks so much for your feedback, I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      5 years ago from Canada

      samwrites, What a fun Hub, good research, and nicely formatted. Shakespeare is always of interest. Regards, snakeslane


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