Have you gone on a “wild goose chase” for the “apple of [your] eye,” and felt like it took “forever and a day”? Believe it or not, all of those are quotes from Shakespeare’s plays. We quote him every day, often without realizing it. Here are five more idioms that you likely use at least once a week that come from Shakespeare’s plays.
“Wild goose chase”
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. — Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 4)
Mercutio is witty, but he is not always the most complimentary, either to himself or others. Wit here refers to one’s intelligence, and Mercutio is saying that he’s not very smart. Also, a wild goose chase referred to a type of horse race, so not only does Mercutio have less intelligence than average, but it’s also slower. Poor guy!
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster. — Iago(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)
Iago is probably one of Shakespeare’s most horrible villains, and with competition such as Macbeth and Richard III, that’s saying something! Here, Iago has just convinced his frenemy, Othello, that his new wife has been cheating on him, and Othello responds by launching into a jealous rage, killing his wife, and then killing himself. Nice, right? Also worth noting: the green-eyed monster isn’t a formless beast, but a cat.
“Wear my heart on my sleeve”
For when my outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart in compliment extern, ’tis not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am. — Iago (Othello, Act 1, Scene 1)
We tend to interpret the phrase “wears his heart on his sleeve” as meaning that one’s emotions are on full display. Interestingly enough, that may not be the case here; Iago speaks in lies for much of the play, and here he is saying that when he allows his emotions to show, then soon after he will put his heart on display for birds to eat. But, he then says that he’s not being truthful anyway, so who knows?
“Off with his head!”
If? Thou protector of this damnèd strumpet, talk’st thou to me of “ifs”? Thou art a traitor–Off with his head. — Richard III (Richard III, Act 3, Scene 4)
“Off with his head” is a phrase that is attributed to Shakespeare and later commandeered by Carroll. That said, executions were a dominant form of entertainment in early modern England, as were other lovely sports like bear baiting. In a city where the main bridge to enter and exit was lined with heads on spikes, Shakespeare probably didn’t invent this one. There were a lot of heads being separated from bodies all around.
Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle, and I would call it fair play. — Miranda (The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1)Towards the end of the play, Miranda, who is the daughter of the wizard Prospero, finally gets some alone time with her new beau Ferdinand. But Ferdinand has promised Miranda’s dad that there will be no hanky-panky until after the wedding night, and Prospero can control the weather, so the two of them take out their frustrations on a game of chess. But, interestingly enough, while people played chess as practice for strategizing in war, the phrase “game of chess” was also a metaphor for dating, so the idiom has a double meaning here.
So, the next time you want to “break the ice,” which is from Act 1, Scene 2 of The Taming of the Shrew, then try using one of these lines, along with the play from which it originated. You’re sure to catch someone’s fancy!