Even 405 years after William Shakespeare passed away, his works and his plays have become a part of our daily lexicon. The usage of phrases, sayings, and terms is so common to the English language that we rarely realise that the origin of the term is from a play that the bard wrote. Not just writers of the English language, but playwrights, poets, and literature from all over the world owe it to him for enriching their experience of the language as well as giving context to their feelings in the Queen's language.
Here is a list of some quotes and phrases that we have sourced from Shakespeare's birthplace trust and www.biography.com to celebrate the immense contribution of the poet to our lives.
1. "To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep..."
-Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
Prince Hamlet's soliloquy in the Danish-set tragedy — particularly the first line — has been widely referenced in modern pop culture. Of course, "the question" can be broadly applied to many different situations, but at its inception, the speech was part of a deeply philosophical internal debate about the pros and cons of human existence. This finds mentions in many adapted plays notably ‘Natasamrat’ in Marathi that Gyanpeeth awardee VV Shirwadkar wrote.
2. "This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
-Hamlet, Act I, Scene III
Also taken from the seminal tragedy, the line, which was spoken by Polonius as a pep talk of sorts, has resonated throughout the generations for its universal theme of sticking to one’s values when faced with a dilemma.
3. "Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once."
-Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene II
Using death as a metaphor, the Roman ruler minimises his wife Calpurnia’s fears that he may soon die, in the play. Many identify with the call to bravery in the present moment versus “dying inside”, so to speak, while wasting one’s life in fear of an inevitable end.
4. “Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
-Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II
Cassius uses this speech to convince Brutus to join the assassination conspiracy against his friend Caesar. What he intended to convey is that people can control their destinies and that they're not necessarily pre-determined by some divine power. “Et Tu Brutus” or “You too Brutus” is also a phrase from the same play used commonly for someone who is found erring when one least expected.
5. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet..."
-Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
In Shakespeare's tragedy about the titular ‘star-crossed lovers’, Juliet's line references her and Romeo’s warring families and that their last names — Montague and Capulet — shouldn’t define who they are or negate their romance. Instead, she’s saying that a name given to an object is nothing more than a collection of letters, and changing what something is called doesn’t change what it inherently is.
6. "Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”
-Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
Taken from Romeo and Juliet's iconic balcony scene, Juliet speaks these words as she is saying goodbye to Romeo. The highly relatable — though seemingly paradoxical — sentiment notes the sadness of saying goodbye to a loved one, while also pointing to the ‘sweet’ excitement of thinking about the next time they will see each other.
7. "All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts."
-As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
Spoken by Jaques in the 17th-century comedy, the frequently quoted passage contends that life essentially follows a script and that people play roles, as in a theater production, during its various stages.
8. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
-King Henry IV, Act III, Scene I
Sometimes rewritten with the phrase “heavy is” in place of “uneasy lies”, the dialogue of King Henry IV conveys the great difficulties of leaders who are tasked with great responsibilities and difficult decisions.
9. "All that glitters is not gold."
-The Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VII
In essence, the quote written on a scroll in the 16th-century play means that appearances can sometimes be deceiving. Shakespeare originally used the word “glisters”, an antiquated synonym of “glitters”.
Not just dialogues, even small day-to-day phrases have also seen great inspiration from Shakespeare.
We have seen better days
(We are in poor condition, worn out)
-As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7
Too much of a good thing
(Even good things can hurt in excess)
-As You Like It, Act 4 Scene 1
Neither rhyme nor reason
(Without common sense or logic)
-The Comedy of Errors, Act 2 Scene 2
I have not slept one wink
(I did not sleep at all)
-Cymbeline, Act 3 Scene 4
Cruel to be kind
(Tough love, being harsh for their benefit)
-Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 4
The clothes make the man
(People are judged by the way they dress)
-Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3
In my heart of hearts
(In my most inner, true thoughts and feelings)
-Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 2
Own flesh and blood
(Part of my family)
-Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5
He hath eaten me out of house and home
(He ate so much there was nothing left)
-Henry IV Part 2, Act 2 Scene 1
A dish fit for the Gods
(A high-quality meal)
-Julius Caesar, Act 2 Scene 1
It’s Greek to me
(It’s unintelligible, I cannot understand_
-Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2
The be-all and the end-all
(Of the utmost importance; the ultimate aim)
-Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 7
What’s done is done
(I cannot change what has happened in the past)
-Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 2
Something wicked this way comes
(A person so evil, he or she is not human)
-Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 1
(An inevitable result)
-Othello, Act 3 Scene 3
Wear my heart upon my sleeve
(To expose my feelings, be vulnerable)
-Othello, Act 1 Scene 1
All that glitters isn’t gold
(Things are not as good as they appear to be)
-The Merchant of Venice, Act 2 Scene 7
A tower of strength
(A person you can rely on for support)
-Richard III, Act 5 Scene 3
(A hopeless search for something unattainable)
-Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 4
Break the ice
(To reduce the awkward, initial social tension)
-Taming of the Shrew, Act 1 Scene 2
Brave new world
(Used ironically to refer to a new, hopeful period)
-The Tempest, Act 5 Scene 1
Melted into thin air
(To disappear suddenly, leaving no traces)
-The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1