In an earlier post, I listed some common phrases that were born on the high seas. Now, we venture into the realm of 17th century Shakespearean literature, and see how lasting an effect his writing has, not only from a cultural sense, but in every day speech:
1. A dish fit for the gods (an offering of high quality)
From Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1601:
Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar:
Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar;
And in the spirit of men there is no blood:
O, that we then could come by Caesar’s spirit,
And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
Caesar must bleed for it! And, gentle friends,
Let’s kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;
Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods…
In the speech Brutus expresses the view that, although the conspirators are resolved to kill Caesar, they aren’t mere butchers and should leave his body in a suitable state for the gods to view.
2. A fool’s paradise (a state of happiness based on a false hope)
Romeo and Juliet, 1592
Now, afore God, I am so vexed, that every part about
me quivers. Scurvy knave! Pray you, sir, a word:
and as I told you, my young lady bade me inquire you
out; what she bade me say, I will keep to myself:
but first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into
a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross
kind of behavior, as they say: for the gentlewoman
is young; and, therefore, if you should deal double
with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered
to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.
3. A forgone conclusion (an obvious result)
A decision made before the evidence for it is known. An inevitable conclusion.
But this denoted a foregone conclusion:
‘Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream.
4. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet (What matters is what something is, not what it is called.”
Romeo and Juliet, 1600:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
A story, much favoured by tour guides, and as such highly suspect, is that in this line Shakespeare was also making a joke at the expense of the Rose Theatre. The Rose was a local rival to his Globe Theatre and is reputed to have had less than effective sanitary arrangements. The story goes that this was a coy joke about the smell. This certainly has the whiff of folk etymology about it, but it might just be true.
5. All of a sudden (suddenly)
‘All of a sudden’ is the poetic version of ‘suddenly’ that Shakespeare preferred. In fact, it was he who coined the phrase. In The Taming of the Shrew, circa 1596:
Is it possible That love should of a sodaine take such hold?
[Note: 'sodaine' was one of the numerous Tudor spellings of 'sudden'.]
With that coinage, Shakespeare gave us the version of the expression that most grammarians now prefer.
There you are. A man (albeit a great man) whose writing is so prolific, it influences speech patterns 400 years after his death. There are, of course, many more of his sayings floating around. But, that’s to be another post :)