No doubt you have heard of William Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon. Some say the greatest playwright in the world ever.
The man wrote every story that ever needed to be told. Poet, playwright, theatre owner, all-round literary legend.
He wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets and countless poems and is highly regarded and revered around the world.
He also wrote some choice lines that most of us are familiar with. The best-known one probably being To be or not to be, that is the question.
Another question is: How can I use Shakespeare in my everyday English?
Glad you asked and I am about to show you.
Lead on, MacDuff, and see below 19 ways you can use Shakespeare in your everyday English!
1. Seen Better Days
From the play: As You Like It
The line is said by the character Duke Senior.
True is it that we have seen better days and have with holy bell been knolled to church, and sat at good men’s feasts and wiped our eyes of drops that sacred pity hath engendered.
It means that something or someone is getting too old — or is past its best. Maybe time to retire or buy a new one.
For example, maybe you meet your friend and he is wearing an old coat that he has had for many years. You might say to him:
It’s about time you got a new coat, isn’t it? This one has seen better days.
2. Lie Low
From the play: Much Ado About Nothing
If he could right himself with quarrelling, some of us would lie low — Antonio
Lie low means to keep out of public view. To stay quiet and not cause a scene. Make sure you are not noticed.
For example, maybe a friend of yours argued with someone unnecessarily. It made a big scene, and many people were upset with your friend.
The next day you call him and he is feeling embarrassed.
Then you might advise him:
It might be a good idea to lie low for a while.
3. Love Is Blind
From the play: The Merchant of Venice
But love is blind, and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit, for if they could Cupid himself would blush to see me thus transformed to a boy — Jessica
We often use this in a slightly malevolent tone to describe two people that are not a good match for each other. Maybe one person is much more attractive than the other or their personalities seem very different.
It is best not to use this to the couple in question. We might say it to someone else though, to describe the pair.
Wow, have you seen John’s latest girlfriend? She is so ugly. I guess love is blind.
4. In A Pickle
From the play: The Tempest
Trinculo says: I have been in such a pickle since I saw you last.
It means to be in a difficult or awkward situation. Maybe something hard to get out of with any ease.
In modern English, people might use the phrase a bit of a pickle.
Bob’s got himself into a bit of a pickle by accepting all that extra work in the office.
5. Send Him Packing
From the play: Henry IV
Faith, and I’ll send him packing, says Falstaff.
We use this phrase to describe getting rid of someone. To throw them out of your life or out of the house.
Maybe a manager in a company is having trouble with one of his workers. He might use it as a warning:
One more comment like that and I will send you packing.
Or maybe a girl has had enough of her boyfriend’s attitude towards her. He doesn’t respect her, and she has had enough.
She tells her friend:
I just couldn’t trust him, so I sent him packing.
6. More Fool You
From the play: The Taming of the Shrew
The character Bianca says it: The more fool you, for laying on my duty.
It simply means you are a fool and showing a great lack of foresight or judgement. It is often used to reprimand someone for doing something foolish.
Our company has decided to not promote themselves on social media. More fool them.
7. Mum’s The Word
From the play: Henry VI
Said by Hume: Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.
Shakespeare was not the first to use the phrase. Mum comes from the Latin word Mutus and it has adapted over the years to the current use of Mum’s the word.
It means to keep quiet and not say anything.
Today we often say it as a promise to keep quiet about something.
John: I’m leaving the company next month but keep it to yourself.
Bill: Mum’s the word, don’t worry.
8. All Of a Sudden
From the play: The Taming of The Shrew
The character Tranio says: Is it possible that love should of a sodaine take such hold?
In Shakespeare’s day, it was sodaine, not sudden. The meaning is that something has happened very quickly and without any warning.
John: I’m really hungry all of a sudden.
Bill: I don’t know what happened to Mike. He left all of a sudden.
9. Wild Goose Chase
From the play: Romeo and Juliet
The character Mercutio says: Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five. Was I with you there for the goose?
Originally, it meant a kind of horse race. But in modern meaning, it means to be given the runaround by someone. Someone tells you to do something or gives you some wrong advice, which amounts to you wasting a lot of time and going here, there and everywhere. Thus wasting your entire day.
John sent me on a wild goose chase today. It was a total waste of time.
10. Pure As The Driven Snow
From the plays: Hamlet & The Winter’s Tale
Said by Hamlet himself: Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go
And then by Autolycus: Lawn as white as driven snow
This phrase means purity, often virginal purity.
Shakespeare never used the exact same phrase, but it comes from two different plays that have now been combined into the modern phrase we know today.
Again, it is not used seriously, often said as a kind of joke.
Someone might talk about themselves as being pure or without sin and claim;
I’m pure as the driven snow.
It is said as a joke, not in a serious manner.
11. It’s Greek To Me
From the play: Julius Caesar
From the character Casca: Nay, an I tell you that, Ill ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me
In modern use: It’s all Greek to me.
It means: I have no idea what this is or what it means.
We might use it in this way:
I don’t understand these new apps for phones. They are all Greek to me.
12. Be-All. End-All
From the play: Macbeth
It is Macbeth himself who says: If the assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch with his surcease success; that but this blow might be the be-all and the end-all here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we’d jump the life to come
We use the phrase as an adjective to describe someone or something as the best or a very good example of something.
Bob thinks he is the be-all and end-all when it comes to marketing.
13. Up In Arms
From the plays: Henry VI and Richard III
In Shakespeare’s day, arms meant weapons. So it was used to mean armies preparing for battle to fight the enemy.
Today it means to protest with great passion against something. We might see it in a newspaper headline.
Teachers are up in arms about new education cuts.
People don’t really use it to describe themselves but another group of people.
The sales department is up in arms about the new sales manager.
14. Vanish into Thin Air
From the two plays: Othello and The Tempest
The clown in Othello says: Go; vanish into air; away!
And Prospero says: All spirits and are melted into air, into thin air.
It means to disappear suddenly and completely. For example, maybe John is looking for Sally and he asks Mary where she is but Mary doesn’t know.
I haven’t got a clue. She just vanished into thin air.
It means Sally was around earlier but is now nowhere to be seen.
15. You Can Have Too Much Of A Good Thing
From the play: As You Like It
Said by Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?
It means that if you have too much of something that is good for you, then maybe it can cause you some harm.
I don’t want to go running every day. There’s too much of a good thing.
16. Good Riddance
From the play: Troilus and Cressida
Said by the character Patroclus: A good riddance.
In modern use, it means we are happy to be rid of someone or something we don’t like.
Maybe a boy is giving a girl a lot of trouble and she tells him to get away. She might mutter Good riddance under her breath as he leaves.
17. You’ve Got To Be Cruel To Be Kind
From the play: Hamlet
Said by Hamlet himself: So, again, good night. I must be cruel only to be kind. Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
It means to do something cruel to another person in order to help them. Maybe someone with a drinking problem not being helped financially by their family.
You have to be cruel to be kind.
18. Heart of Gold
From the play: Henry V
The character Pistol says: The king’s a bawcock, and a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant.
The expression comes from gold being good because of its value, especially in the 1500s. In modern use, we often relate it to a person and their character or behaviour.
John has a heart of gold.
It means that John is a good person and very kind.
We often say it about people who do certain jobs.
Those nurses have a heart of gold.
19. Break The Ice
From the play: The Taming of The Shrew
Said by Tranio: If it be so, sir, that you are the man must stead us all, and me amongst the rest, and if you break the ice and do this feat, achieve the elder, set the younger free for our access, whose hap shall be to have her will not so graceless be to be ingrate.
It means to do or say something to relieve any tension in the air. Often in a social setting like a party.
We don’t use the expression to relieve the tension. It would be inaccurate to say: Shall I break the ice here?
But we might use it in the telling of a story.
I had dinner with some friends last night and no one was talking, so I told a joke to break the ice.
Nineteen lines from Shakespeare that you can start using in your everyday speech in English today.
Shakespeare came up with a lot more than this. There are many, many more phrases and words that he used in his plays that are now part of modern-day English.
Some you may already use without knowing their real origin. Most native English speakers don’t know either.
Start using these phrases today. Or to really impress people, tell them the origin of these expressions. Something to break the ice with in your next English class.
And don’t forget… Please leave a comment below!
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