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Tag Archives: Shakespeare
In an earlier entry I listed a selection of clichés and everyday expressions taken from Hamlet. Below are a few from other plays by the bard:
A fool’s paradise Romeo and Juliet
A foregone conclusion Othello
A tower of strength Richard III
All the world’s a stage As You Like It
An eye-sore Taming of the Shrew
As white as driven snow Winter’s Tale
Bated breath Merchant of Venice
Budge an inch Taming of the Shrew
Cold comfort King John
Come full circle King Lear
Devil incarnate Henry V
Dead as a doornail Henry VI part 2
Done to death Much Ado About Nothing
Eaten out of house and home Henry IV part 2
Elbow room King John
For goodness sake Henry VIII
Good riddance Troilus and Cressida
Hold a candle to Merchant of Venice
I have not slept one wink Cymbeline
Into thin air The Tempest
For a more comprehensive list see http://www.lomonico.com
See also Shakespeare’s Clichés in Hamlet
Our recent visit to Stratford brought to mind the story of the fellow who, after seeing Hamlet for the first time, commented, ‘I don’t know why they say Shakespeare was our finest writer. That play was full of clichés.’
Of course, there is an element of truth in his observation. Such was Shakespeare’s extraordinary understanding of human kind that, coupled with his command of language, he was capable of capturing the essence of a situation and expressing his thoughts in language that was apt, succinct, elegant and musical.
Many, many of the playwright’s phrases, and sometimes longer passages, have become part of our everyday language. Shakespeare didn’t quote chichés, he was their originator!
Here are a few taken from Hamlet:
Brevity is the soul of wit.
Conscience does make cowards of us all.
Dog will have his day.
Hoist with his own petard.
In my heart of hearts.
In my mind’s eye.
More in sorrow than in anger.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.
To be, or not to be: that is the question.
To the manner born.
To thine own self be true.
We’ll add examples from other plays on another occasion.
A few weeks ago my wife and I visited Stratford to see a production of Hamlet. As so often happens on such occasions, my mind was taken back to my school days and my first encounter with the play as a set text.
One of the things that baffled me at the time was, what I felt to be, the unfair criticism of Polonius. He is, afterall, a caring father of Laertes and Ophelia, and to describe him as a ‘tedious old fool’ and a ‘busy-body’ is somewhat unkind.
Polonius’ ‘fault’ is that he is over-protective. His advice to Laertes, prior to his son leaving for France, is a long catalogue of do’s and dont’s – all very sound but far, far too long. We can well imagine Laertes ‘listening’ but ‘hearing’ nothing as the words pass in one ear and out of the other.
This typifies the relationship between advice given and advice received. As parents we feel a responsibility for giving advice, whether or not it is sought. At the receiving end we only hear advice when the situation and the advice match – when we need help.
From childhood days on, two pieces of advice have influenced my behaviour and actions on many occasions:
- Remember, you’re as good as any man; better then none (my grandmother);
- Never spoil a ship for a ha’porth of tar (my father).
The first was important because, by temperament, I am naturally reserved and somewhat short on self-confidence. As a consequence I have needed to recall my grandmother’s words.
The second, I had always assumed, had something to do with keeping the ship watertight and seaworthy. Only recently have I discovered that ship is a dialectal pronunciation of sheep. Tar was used to protect sheep’s sores and wounds from flies. Whichever – don’t scrimp, don’t cut corners! That is false economy.
I have to confess that over the years this second injunction has cost me money. Too often I have used it as an excuse for being extravagant or over-indulgent!