April 24, 2024

Phrases Created by Shakespeare

History's most famous playwright also made a large contribution to the English language. Here are words and phrases that were created by Shakespeare.

The only known portrait of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous writer the English language has ever produced. He wrote sonnets and poems, but is best known as a playwright, producing comedies and dramas that have remained popular for 400 years.

Yet we know surprisingly little about him.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small village south of Birmingham, in April 1564. The exact date is not known; April 23 is traditionally celebrated, but his specific date of birth was not recorded.

His early years are also something of a blank.

In 1582, local parish records record Shakespeare's marriage to Anne Hathaway, the couple subsequently had three children. Almost nothing else is known after this date until he arrives in London, in 1590.

There Shakespeare found work as an actor, a bit player among the many theatres in the city's thriving arts scene. He also began to write; his first play was the historical drama 'King Henry VI', completed in 1591.

His first comedy, 'The Taming of the Shrew', came the following year.

Shakespeare attached himself to a theatre company known as 'The King's Men', and steadily developed a reputation as one of the foremost writers of the period. His plays were distinguished by their poetic language, vivid characters, and intense emotional impact.

They were so good, and have proved so enduring, people have speculated that he was not their actual writer, after all. How did this largely uneducated nobody, from a rural town, suddenly produce the greatest works in literature?

Some historians and amateur investigators have claimed that Shakespeare was a front for another writer; possibly Christopher Marlowe, another leading playwright of the period, or an unknown author, who wished to conceal their identity.

There is scant evidence to confirm these theories, but so little is known about Shakespeare that they are hard to conclusively disprove. Some doubt will probably always remain.

Assuming Shakespeare was the author, he was also a neologist: a creator of new words and phrases. And the list of common sayings that can be originally traced to his plays, is remarkably long.

A selection follows:

Bated breath   -  The Merchant of Venice

Be-all and end-all  -  Macbeth

Brave new world  -  The Tempest

Break the ice  -  The Taming of the Shrew

Cold comfort  -  The Taming of the Shrew

Dead as a doornail  -  Henry VI: Part II

Eaten me out of house and home  -  Henry IV: Part II

Faint hearted  -  Henry VI: Part I

Fancy free  -  A Midsummer Night's Dream

For goodness sake  -  Henry VIII

Forgone conclusion  -  Othello

Heart of gold  -  Henry V

In my mind's eye  -  Hamlet

It's Greek to me  -  Julius Caesar

Jealousy is the green-eyed monster  -  Othello

Kill with kindness  -  The Taming of the Shrew

Laughing stock  -  The Merry Wives of Windsor

Lie low  -  Much Ado About Nothing

Love is blind  -  The Merchant of Venice

One fell swoop  -  Macbeth

Play fast and loose  -  King John

Pure as the driven snow  -  Hamlet

Refuse to budge an inch  -  Measure for Measure

Set my teeth on edge   -   Henry IV: Part I

Wear my heart upon my sleeve  -  Othello

Wild goose chase  -  Romeo and Juliet

You can have too much of a good thing  -  As You Like It

You've got to be cruel to be kind  -  Hamlet


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