Top 10 Words and Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

12:00 pm 2 Mar, 2013


Shakespeare’s words and phrases have so much resemblance with our day-to-day’s life that they’re widely used in everything from movies to everyday conversations. Not only that, every now and then, we realize that we are totally in sync with whatever Bard of Avon said. Whenever one utters a cliché such as “Fair Play,” “You Brute,” “It is Greek to me,” et al, it’s inadvertently a tribute to the great dramatist. The fact remains that Shakespearean thesaurus have much relevance in today’s times. Listed here are top 10 words and phrases Shakespeare taught us.

10. “We have seen better days” (As you like It, Act II, Scene VII):

When Orlando, the romantic hero confronts some strangers in a dark, dense and mystical forest, he naturally assumes they’re savages or criminals. And for that matter, Orlando is no exception when he faces that troupe of exiled courtiers, escorted by the Duke Senior. The duke and his men have “seen better days”, yet they haven’t forgotten their conduct. On seeing the aggressive Orlando as he draws his sword, the duke replies gently, with an intention of helping him.

We have seen better days - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

9. “Et tu, Brute?”(Julius Caesar):

Caesar is not the vital character in its action; his appearance is confined to a couple of scenes, and is killed at the beginning of the Third Act. The protagonist of the play is Marcus Brutus, and the inherent drama is his struggle between the incompatible demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship. Caesar was warned by a soothsayer, about his impending assassination. Predictably, Caesar rejected the petition, which landed him in trouble as he’s stabbed by Brutus and his fellows. This is when Caesar murmurs the famous line: “Et tu, Brute?”

Et tu, Brute - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

8. “Foregone conclusion” (Othello, Act III, Scene III):

Othello – the brave, romantic, and sophisticated Moor of Venice – is cursed by his ensign, Lago, when he casted his evil spell upon Othello. Lago pretended that a certain Lieutenant Cassio’s alleged dreams are of Othello’s chaste wife Desdemona. Othello believed that Cassio’s alleged dreams must reenact the “forgone conclusion” of infidelity. In Othello’s mind, this assumption promptly “thickens” into the evidence that Desdemona has cheated on him.

Foregone conclusion - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

7. “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (Macbeth):


In William Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’, the phrase, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”, contributes to the evil mood of the scene. Alliteration is often considered to be a major parameter in any kind of innovative writing, but the specific nature and origin are very difficult to describe. The witches’ words, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” is a persistent theme throughout Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, where reality and fantasy seem to collide for both the titular character and Lady Macbeth.

Fair is foul and foul is fair - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

 6. “A dish for the gods” (Julius Caesar, Act II, scene I):

This phrase has been wrenched well out of its morbid, and somewhat nauseating, context. The phrase, “A dish fit for the gods”, is lavish in meaning and nature. Brutus acknowledged the excellence of the dish, but pursues the horrid consequences of the metaphor.

A dish for the gods - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

5. “The course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night Dream, Act I, Scene I):

This is an opening quote by Lysander, a character in the play. The beginning of the comedy, however, reflects only on troubled circumstances that he and Hermia have already gone through. It is assumed therefore what true love is, and which characters in the play feel it.

The course of true love never did run smooth - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

4. “But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.”- (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II):

Julius Caesar is a tragic drama and depicts the conspiracy against the Roman dictator, his assassination and its aftermath. “But, for my own part, it was Greek to me” was spoken when Caesar speaks to Brutus as a reply to something the latter had said. Caesar simply means that he didn’t understand a word.

But, for my own part, it was Greek to me - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

3. “Friends, Romans, countrymen…”- (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene II):

Apart from a few in Hamlet, this is perhaps the most quoted of all Shakespeare’s lines. Antony opens his funeral speech with this historic line: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He thanks the assembled crowd and says that besides burying Caesar, he has no other motive. The crowds were moved to an emotional frenzy.

Friends, Romans, countrymen - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

2.  “Frailty thy name is woman” (Hamlet):

Women are often presumed as timid and docile character. Their independent existence raises many eyebrows. In the play, because of their lack of speech, vulnerable character and inability to influence, the men in ‘Hamlet’ feel threatened by free female sexuality. With this quote, Hamlet speaks of his mother’s weaknesses: morally, spiritually, and physically. In the moral sense of the word, his mother is “frail” because she betrayed her husband by marrying Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle.

Frailty thy name is woman - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us

1. “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”(Hamlet, Act III, Scene I):


Undoubtedly the most famous of all Shakespearean quotes, “To be or not to be: that is the question” is part of a soliloquy delivered by Hamlet. This self-doubting line depicts the difficulty Hamlet faces in decision making and therefore this quote is a favourite of today’s managers. In plain English the quote means: “What should be done: This or that?” In the play, however, Hamlet mulls over this thought, comparing the painful life a heart-break and the fear of uncertain death.

To be, or not to be that is the question - Phrases that Shakespeare Taught Us