Category: Literary

Common Sayings made famous by Shakespeare

The great William Shakespeare wrote many blockbuster plays of his era, but he also made a mark on the English language.  He used a number of sayings in his plays which are now common knowledge and still used today.  You may well have used one of his phrases without realising it came from the great writer himself. Below are some of the most common phrases coined by the great man himself.

Green Eyed Monster

When talking about jealousy we often refer to it as the ‘green eyed monster’.  It is a metaphor which was first quoted in Othello.  Lago sees Cassio leave Desdemona’s room without acknowledging Othello.  Lago uses this opportunity to accuse Cassio that he is cheating with Desdemona. “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Good riddance

We use ‘good riddance’ as an expression of being rid of someone or something.  Shakespeare used it in Merchant of Venice where Patroclus wishes the Prince of Morocoo “a good riddance”.

For goodness’ sake

“For goodness’ sake” is used today as a way of expression how surprised or annoyed you are by something.  Shakespeare penned it in Henry VIII in Act 3, scene 1: Cardinal Wolsey: 2For goodness sake, consider what you do. How you may hurt yourself—ay, utterly. Grow from the King’s acquaintance, by this carriage”.

Break the ice

“Break the ice” means to get something started and was first uses in ‘Taming of the Shrew’.  Tranio is saying that if Petruchio breaks the ice with Katherine, or gets to know her, then he can woo her.  If you “break the ice” in a room, then you’re getting rid of the tension and everyone can be comfortable getting to know each other.

Be-all and the end-all

Today we use the “Be all and end all” as a way of saying it is the most important part of something.  It originates from Macbeth in Act 1 scene 7 when he is contemplating assassinating King Duncan of Scotland and taking the throne for himself:  If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well. It were done quickly. If th’ assassination. Could trammel up the consequence, and catch. With his surcease, success: that but this blow. Might be the be-all and the end-all…

Wild-goose chase

Wild goose chase originates from Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 Scene 4. “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. Was I with you there for the goose?”  Today it means a foolish or hopeless search or pursuit of something unattainable.  Or simply a hopeless quest.

Laughing stock

Today a ‘Laughing stock’ means a person getting mocked or ridiculed.  Shakspeare penned it in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ where in Act 3, scene 1, Sir Hugh Evans says to Doctor Caius: “Pray you let us not be laughing-stocks to other men’s humours; I desire you in friendship, and I will one way or other make you amends.”

As good luck would have it

“As good luck would have it” is another quote first penned from the play ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’.  Falstaff: “You shall hear. As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford’s approach; and, in her invention and Ford’s wife’s distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket”. It means by good or bad luck, by chance, or how it tured out.

Wear my heart upon my sleeve

This phrase was spoken by Iago in Othello.  Shakespeare’s most hateful villain said “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”. Today it means the same thing: to make your feelings and emotions obvious.

These are just a few of the many quotes and sayings which are now commonplace thanks to William Shakespeare.  Others include: faint hearted, fancy-free, forever and a day, foregone conclusion, foregone conclusion, full circle, give the devil his due, in my mind’s eye, heart of gold, in my mind’s eye, one fell swoop, in my heart of hearts, refuse to budge an inch, dead as a door nail, eaten me out of house and home and love is blind.  This is just a small list, but I touched upon the more common ones.

For a bit of fun below I tried to write a few lines with as many phrases from Shakespeare as possible. I managed 16!  It might not make perfect sense, but it was good fun trying!  Could you do better?

I wear my heart upon my sleeve, but when they say that Love is blind, this can’t be true; love is not the be all and end all For goodness sake I hear you cry, in one fell swoop I have made a laughing stock out of myself. I was only trying to break the ice, feeling faint hearted but being fancy free. But as good luck would have it, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I could do this; give the devil his due, in my heart of hearts and in my mind’s eye, and I refuse to budge an inch on this, I tried by best, it was always going to be a wild-goose chase!

Here at Traditional Tours we offer a Shakespeare London walking tour which takes in the history and London life of this famous playwright. On tour you will be guided through areas frequented by the Bard of Avon, hearing readings along the way and learning about 16th and 17th century London. To learn more and to book our Shakespeare London walking tour head over to this page:




London In The Time Of Shakespeare

London at the end of the 16th century already had a population of around 100,000 and included royalty, courtiers, noblemen, merchants, artisans, thieves, beggars, and prostitutes. There were also a large number of foreigners from continental Europe so that even in those days one would hear a lot of foreign languages being spoken.

London appears in several of Shakespeare’s plays: Richard III’s brother and nephews were killed in the Tower of London, while the Boar’s Head Inn where Falstaff spends his time in Henry IV parts one and two was in Eastcheap.

The River Thames was a vital contributor to the prosperity of the city bringing, as it did, ships carrying goods from abroad and taking back with them goods manufactured in London and beyond. Unfortunately it was also badly polluted, being full of both industrial and human waste, and must have been a serious carrier of disease. Audiences visiting the Globe Theatre must have hoped that there would be cool weather in order to keep down the stench of the river flowing past next door to it.

London Bridge

London Bridge was erected by the Romans and the site was chosen because it was the first place as you come up the Thames from its’ estuary that was narrow enough to erect a bridge. At the time of Shakespeare there were over 100 buildings on the bridge, many of which were shops with apartments above them, market stalls, and the mighty Nonesuch House – a four story palace so named because there was “none such” like it in Europe.

In Shakespeare’s day the queen had several palaces around London including Westminster, St. James, Whitehall, Greenwich, Richmond, Hampton Court, and Windsor Castle. The royal court consisted of over 1,000 people – courtiers, servants and other attendants – and the queen and her court frequently moved from one palace to another, not just to change the view but for a very basic more practical reason. There was no plumbing in any of the palaces and the human waste created by over 1,000 people obviously produced a very unpleasant atmosphere. Although the flush toilet was invented by one John Harrington, one of the queen’s courtiers, it didn’t get installed in Shakespeare’s lifetime. (Incidentally, the American slang term for the toilet – “the john” – was in honour of its’ inventor!).

In Shakespeare’s day most of the population of London either worked for a living, begged, or stole. The merchants, tradesmen and manufacturers contributed immensely to the growth of the city and although anyone with a skill set could make a living one of the problems that they faced was the guild system. In order to work in a particular trade you had to be a member of the appropriate guild, in much the same way as some trade unions operated in the 20th century. Your rank in the guild depended on your level of skill and length of time you had worked. However, if for some reason you were expelled from the guild you could no longer find work, which meant that in London you would join the ranks of the poor and be reduced to begging or stealing.

Those wanting to learn more about Shakespeare should book our walking Shakespeare tour here.  You will learn more about the history and London life of the world’s most famous playwright.

The Plague

Being poor was not just a hardship, but was also likely to make you more vulnerable to disease. The plague still came and went, and in London was a part of life, especially as the city’s population grew at an alarming rate with the arrival of many foreigners. In fact, by 1601 there was so much poverty that the queen “handed down ‘An Act for the Relief of the Poor’, which mandated local, community responses to indigent populations. The government wished to provide for the poor not necessarily out of any sense of charity or human kindness, but rather because of the plague” (

Theft and burglary abounded, and there were many footpads and pickpockets in the crowded streets in Shakespeare’s day who stole in order to be able to live.

Charles Dickens, from Rags to Riches

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born 7th February 1812 in Landport, Portsmouth. The son of a naval clerk, the Dickens family had always been poor, although had remained happy during Charles’ early years. After first moving to Chatham, Kent, the family eventually moved to the deeply deprived London neighbourhood of Camden Town, where their financial situation took a dire turn. His father’s poor management skills came to the fore when he was imprisoned for debt. Charles was just 12 years old.

During the years of Charles’ life to follow, he began to grasp the sentiment for life that would reflect through his writings. Indeed, it would be that both ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’ would fictionalise the time that Charles now spent working in a rodent-ridden factory with a feeling of loneliness and despair. He was returned to school after enduring the experience and supporting the family for three years, but the experience was clearly never forgotten.

At 15 he was made to leave school yet again and contribute to the families’ income once more. He started off as an office boy, but within a year he started freelance reporting and within a couple of years was writing for a two major London Newspapers. Not that he knew it at the time, but this job became the launching point for his writing career.

The very first work of fiction Dickens ever published were short pieces which were illustrative of everyday life and people. He wrote them under the pseudonym “Boz” and his first book ‘Sketches by Boz’ was published in 1836. In the same year he got his first major success with ‘The Pickwick Papers’. It was during this part of his career in which Charles would marry Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have 10 children. Charles also became publisher of a magazine called ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’, in which he began publishing his first novel, ‘Oliver Twist’. This is widely accepted as been inspired by Dickens’ own childhood, during which he felt abandoned by the adults he had entrusted to protect him, forced to earn his own keep, and left to rely on his own wit to survive. ‘Oliver Twist’ was widely well received, with monthly followers always eagerly awaiting the next publication.

From them onwards Dickens was never poor again, despite over the coming years struggling to quite find the success ‘Oliver Twist’ had received. As well as his own large family, Charles’ also supported his extended family, numerous friends and beneficiaries, which only increased as did his earning power. He calculated that he needed around £9,000 a year (around £630,000 today) to continue to provide and live with the comforts he was accustomed to. An inventory of his house shortly before his death noted in his cellar sherry, brandy, rum and “one fine cask scotch whiskey”, although Charles is not deemed to have been an alcoholic.

After a five-month lecture tour of America with his wife in 1842, Charles returned home and wrote ‘American Notes for General Circulation’, a sarcastic critique of American materialism and their general way of life.
Over the next couple of years Charles would publish the literary classic ‘A Christmas Carol’, the tale of the protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge, a man devoid of all kindness and heart despite his wealth, who is then with the help of three ghosts is exposed to the Christmas spirit and becomes something of a philanthropist. The popularity of this work remains today, as it continues to be adapted in all artistic genres.

As well as his esteemed works as a novelist, Dickens during his time was a well-known campaigner for children’s rights and education, plus founder of many charities. His greatest fame was experienced during his two American tours, which he took as an opportunity to voice his opposition to slavery. Charles initially bragged of the way the American crowds flocked to him, although later grew to resent the invasion of his privacy. Back home Dickens was famous enough to regularly be recognised as his strolled London seeking inspiration for his work.

‘David Copperfield’ was Charles’s personal favourite of his own works, despite not particularly his most successful. This novel itself was very much a first of its kind, as the first to follow one character through their everyday life. During it, Charles reflects upon his own impoverished upbringing and early life as a journalist.
Indeed, it is much of the turmoil and strife experienced by the young Charles Dickens which gives us some of the great novels enjoyed today, which give us a sense of how a young Victorian boy was forced to live, and explore Victorian England through his writings.

Dickens London Walking Tour

To visit the sites that are mentioned in his world famous stories such as Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend, Oliver Twist and many other books join us on our Dickens Walking Tour of London. The tour is led by a world expert of the life and works of Charles Dickens who shares surprising facts and stories.

Dickens Favourites Places featured in his novels in London:

Palace of Westminster (including the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Hall), St Pauls`s Cathedral, Strand, Bank of England, Covent Garden Market, Holborn, London Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Bridge.

Some are Born Great!

Southwark London - Mural of William ShakespeareSome are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.  Shakespeare is often referred to as England’s national poet, and the “Bard of Avon”.

As the most quoted English writer Shakespeare has more than his share of famous quotes. Some Shakespeare famous quotes are known for their beauty, some for their everyday truths and some for their wisdom.

Interesting Shakespeare Facts:

  • William Shakespeare was born in 1564, but his exact birthdate is unknown. He was baptized on April 26 of that year, so his birth would have been shortly before.
    Shakespeare’s parents were probably illiterate, and his children almost certainly were, Shakespeare himself did not go to college however attended Stratford’s local grammar school, where he mastered reading, writing and Latin.
  • Shakespeare was eighteen when he married an older woman Anne Hathaway in 1582 who was three months pregnant at the time.  The couple had a baby girl, and then had twins, a boy and a girl, in 1584.
  • Almost no information exists about Shakespeare’s activities from the time he moved to London from 1585 to 1592, when he was described as an up-and-coming playwright in the London theater scene. Because of this, the years 1585 to 1592 are called “the lost years”.  Historians have speculated that he worked as a schoolteacher, studied law, travelled across continental Europe or joined an acting troupe that was passing through Stratford.
  • We probably don’t spell Shakespeare’s name correctly—but, then again, neither did he.  Sources from William Shakespeare’s lifetime spell his last name in more than 80 different ways ranging from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.”  In the handful of signatures that have survived, the Bard never spelled his own name “William Shakespeare,” using variations or abbreviations such as “Willm Shakp,” “Willm Shakspere” and “William Shakspeare” instead.
  • Some people think Shakespeare was a fraud, how did a provincial commoner who had never gone to college or ventured outside Stratford become one of the most prolific, worldly and eloquent writers in history? Even early in his career, Shakespeare was spinning tales that displayed in-depth knowledge of international affairs, European capitals and history, as well as familiarity with the royal court and high society. For this reason, some theorists have suggested that one or several authors wishing to conceal their true identity used the person of William Shakespeare as a front.
  • Because of the plague outbreak in Europe, all London playhouses were closed between 1592 and 1594 because it was thought that crowded places helped facilitate the spread of the disease. During this period, because there was no demand for Shakespeare’s plays, he began to write poetry.
  • Plays were performed only in the afternoon, by daylight, the theater had no heating.
  • In 1594, Shakespeare became one of the founders of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting/theater group that soon became the leading player’s company in London.
  • Shakespeares playing company built the Globe Theater in 1599, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It showed up to 10 plays a week, however had to be rebuilt in 1614 when it burned down, it was designed to hold 3000 people.
  • Women were not allowed to act in plays during Shakespeare’s time, so in all of his plays, boys performed women’s roles and men wearing lots of makeup, however this led to early deaths due to the high lead content on the make-up.
  • None of Shakespeare’s original manuscripts exists.
  • Shakespeare’s plays feature the first written instances of hundreds of familiar terms.  William Shakespeare is believed to have influenced the English language more than any other writer in history has. Many say these combinations of words did not appear in print before Shakespeare’s works:

– All that glitters is not gold
– All’s well that ends well
– Bated breath
– Dead as a doornail
– Fancy-free
– Fool’s paradise
– For goodness’ sake
– Good riddance
– Heart of gold
– In a pickle
– Knock knock! Who’s there?
– Laughing stock
– Love is blind
– Naked truth
– Neither rhyme nor reason
– One fell swoop
– Star-crossed lovers
– Pomp and circumstance
– Pound of flesH
– Primrose path
– Too much of a good thing
– Wear my heart upon my sleeve
– What’s in a name?
– Wild goose chase
– The world’s my oyster

The Guinness Book of Records lists 410-feature length film and TV Versions of William Shakespeare`s plays as having been produced, making Shakespeare the most filmed author ever in the English language.

Why not join us on our two hour Shakespeare walking tour around London, exploring areas of the capital that are connected with this incredible playwright.


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