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.