Will to Live
The immortal language of Shakespeare
This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock,” where we focus on words, a quirk of history or literature, or something just plain fun. Make sure you don’t miss a single issue.
“Writ in remembrance more than things long past.” — William Shakespeare, 1595 (King Richard II)
William Shakespeare was a powerhouse.
Not only did the Bard of Avon produce a significant volume of work (39 plays and 154 sonnets, among other works), but he left us with words and phrases that are now commonplace.
Given that April 23 marked the anniversary of his death in 1616, I thought we ought to spend some time on his influence on the language.
For the young reader, the Elizabethan English in Shakespeare’s plays can seem stilted, foreign, and in some cases, incomprehensible.
But if we take a moment and dig just a bit below the surface, we can unearth some archeological vocabulary that is much more familiar — terms that he not only popularized, but that he also invented.
From As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms...”
A method to your madness
From Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2:
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?”
A wild goose-chase
From Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 4:
“Nay, if they wits run the wild-goose chase, I have
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?”
Break the ice
From Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene 2:
“... 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.”
All of a sudden
From Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene 1
“I pray, sir, tell me, is it possible
That love should of a sodaine take such hold?”
To come full circle
From King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3:
“Thou hast spoken right, ’tis true;
The wheel has come full circle: I am here.”
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Bernard Lavin, in his 1984 book Enthusiasms, put things together more poetically:
“[I]f you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise — why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then — to give the devil his due — if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then — by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness’ sake! what the dickens! but me no buts — it is all one to me for you are quoting Shakespeare.”
If any of that is all Greek to you, then perhaps you should reread Julius Caesar.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.