Happy 452nd Birthday, Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare, possibly the most renowned writer and poet in the world, is 452 years young today. Could you imagine what he’d be like today if he were still alive? How do you think he’d adapt in this ever-changing world? Do you think he’d write on a tablet or stick with the ol’ quill?

We can thank Shakespeare for adding over 1700 words to the English vocabulary. If you think making up a new word is difficult, try and do what Shakespeare did. He turned nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, separating words into two, and he even took two separate words and jammed them together to make a new one. What’s even better, however, are the phrases and idioms that Shakespeare created into being.  So, to celebrate Willy Shakes’ 400th birthday, let’s take a look at some of my favourites:


“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

  • What matters is what something is, not what it is called.

Juliet: ‘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. (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.42-53)

“Beast with two backs”

  • Partners engaged in sexual intercourse.

Iago: I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter

and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs. (Othello 1.1.115-117)

“It was Greek to me”

  • It was unintelligible to me.

Cassius: Did Cicero say any thing?
Casca: Ay, he spoke Greek.
Cassius: To what effect?
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. I could tell you more
news too: Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs
off Caesar’s images, are put to silence. Fare you
well. There was more foolery yet, if I could
remember it. (Julius Caesar 1.2.275-284)

“Fancy free”

  • Without any ties or commitments.

Oberon: That very time I saw, but thou couldst not,
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all arm’d: a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
But I might see young Cupid’s fiery shaft
Quench’d in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free. (A Midsummer Nights Dream 2.1.155-164)

“Green-eyed monster”

  • Jealousy.

Portia: How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! O love,
Be moderate; allay thy ecstasy,
In measure rein thy joy; scant this excess.
I feel too much thy blessing: make it less,
For fear I surfeit. (The Merchant of Venice 3.2.1475-1481)

“In a pickle”

  • In a quandary or some other difficult position.

Alonso: And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

Trinculo: I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing. (The Tempest 5.1.2354-2359)

“No more cakes and ale?”

  • Cakes and ale are synonymous with the good life.

Sir Toby Belch: Out o’ tune, sir: ye lie. Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? (Twelfth Night 2.3.58-59)

“To be, or not to be”

  • Is it better to live or to die?

Hamlet: 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? (Hamlet 3.1.1749-1735)

There are too many phrases to choose from, but these were just a few of my favourite.  What’s your favourite Shakespearean idiom or phrase?  If it’s not on the list above, let me know about it in the comments below.