As my family and friends can attest, I have a large array of interests, many of which are covered in Chasing Dreams. Today let’s venture again into the literary arena. As mentioned in a previous post “WHILOM, AS OLDE STORIES: TALES OF HARLOTRIE TOLDEN” I have always had a fascination with how the English language developed and evolved – my favorite studies include the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. This may sound a bit staid and snooty but before you start calling me sanctimonious* or word-nerdy I would like to show how most of you are using Shakespearean phrases everyday:
Let’s start with the title of this post:
THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER – As I hope my blog has shown, there is so much out there for the taking – exotic to local vistas, intricate to simple pleasures – all one has to do is go and experience what life has to offer. This is the gist of the reply made by the character Pistol when Falstaff refuses to lend him money in the play “The Merry Windsor:”
I will not lend thee a penny.
Why then the world’s mine oyster,
Which I with sword will open.
The Merry Wives Of Windsor (Act 2, scene 2)
Pistol was actually threatening a bit of violence, but the phrase has softened over time to mean the world is ours to enjoy.
FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE – I included this phrase as an homage to the latest episode of “Game of Thrones,” but I won’t show spoilers so don’t worry if your viewing is not up to date. Shakespeare didn’t exactly coin this phrase (the actual phrase “fight fire with fire” began usage in the 19th century by US settlers who ignited small containable fires to prevent outbreaks of wildfire). Shakespeare used this imagery to illustrate how we sometimes must employ more extreme methods than normal to parry an attack from a foe by replicating his tactics to win the day. Here is Philip, the illegitimate son of Richard the Lionhearted exhorting King John to defeat the usurpers to the throne, from the play, “King John:”
So, on my soul, he did, for aught he knew. But wherefore do you droop? why look you sad?
Be great in act, as you have been in thought;
Let not the world see fear and sad distrust
Govern the motion of a kingly eye:
Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror: so shall inferior eyes,
That borrow their behaviors from the great,
Grow great by your example and put on
The dauntless spirit of resolution.
King John: (Act 5, scene.1)
CATCH A COLD – All was not blood and guts or glory with Shakespeare – he is as eloquent describing such mundane matters as getting the sniffles. The idea of “cold” causing illness was written for the first time in Shakespeare’s play, “Cymbelline” as the character Iachimo worries that if deal takes too long to conclude it may not happen:
We will have these things set down by lawful counsel, and straight away for Britain, lest the bargain should catch cold and starve … Cymbelline: (Act 1, scene 4)
Shakespeare wrote a great many plays and sonnets about love and out of these tomes came quite a few phrases, including:
GREEN EYED MONSTER – The color green is often associated with sickness, due in part perhaps to the greenish tinge on the skin of an ill person. Shakespeare took this one step further to suggest that jealousy could also cause a hue in the “Merchant of Venice” as spoken by the character 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. Merchant of Venice: (Act 3, scene 2)
For those of you with young children, grandchildren or just childish wonder, Shakespeare also created these well-known phrases:
KNOCK KNOCK, WHO’S THERE – You might be very surprised to learn where this phrase was first used – in the exalted play, “Macbeth.” Prior to this speech, Macbeth has just murdered the King of Scotland and his knocking about rouses the porter. How ironic that a dastardly and bloody deed is the source of a children’s game:
Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of Hell Gate,
he should have old turning the key. [Knock] Knock, knock,
knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Belzebub? . . . [Knock] Knock,
knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Macbeth (Act 2, scene 3, 1–8)
OFF WITH HIS HEAD – No, this quote was not first roared by the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.” King Richard shouts these words in the Tower of London, where he has accused Lord Hastings of plotting to destroy him, calling him traitor and ordering him immediately beheaded:
“Off with his head!” King Richard III (Act III, scene 3, 76)
In case this has not filled you with amazement* let me leave for your perusal* the following words that were also brought into usage by Shakespeare, appearing for the first time in his writings:
Monumental,* don’t you think?
Let’s end with an apropos song from the play. “Kiss Me Kate” by Cole Porter, about the making of a musical production of Shakespeare’s own “The Taming of the Shrew:”