In 1598, Francis Meres praised mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare. He added, The Muses would speak with Shakespeares fine-filed phrase, if they would speak English.
To celebrate my birthday this week, Ive gathered a bouquet of Shakespeares short phrases, hoping especially that young readers will fall in love with his astonishing inspiration, as I once did. (Notice how much he can say in ten words or fewer.)
Wherefore art thou Romeo?; My kingdom for a horse!; To be or not to be: that is the question; Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; What fools these mortals be!; Shall I compare thee to a summers day?; to hold, as twere, the mirror up to nature; star-crossed lovers; Theres a divinity that shapes our ends; murder most foul; the most unkindest cut of all; the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
Theres beggary in the love that can be reckoned; flaming youth; remembrance of things past; We have scotched the snake, not killed it; a countenance more in sorrow than in anger; one fell swoop; The plays the thing; in disgrace with fortune and mens eyes; The rest is silence; I have supped full with horrors; Ill tent him to the quick.
I do believe her though I know she lies; These are but wild and whirling words; tongue-tied; nine-day wonder; to thine own self be true; One touch of nature makes the whole world kin; screw your courage to the sticking-place; honest Iago; more matter with less art; Out, damned spot!; a barefaced lie; the best of the cut-throats; Once more unto the breach; it was Greek to me; Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown; He jests at scars that never felt a wound.
I shall not look upon his like again; a lean and hungry look; the time is out of joint; cabined, cribbed, confined; one may smile, and smile, and be a villain; a fools paradise; I must be cruel, only to be kind; my salad days, When I was green in judgment; I dare do all that may become a man.
Frailty, thy name is woman; the paragon of animals; wild-goose chase; the apparel oft proclaims the man; a pound of flesh; caviar to the general; I have Immortal longings in me; in my minds eye; to the manner born; trumpet-tongued; one that loved not wisely, but too well; This was the noblest Roman of them all.
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all; the demi-Atlas of the earth; It out-Herods Herod; bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang; For Brutus is an honorable man; Something is rotten in the state of Denmark; Whats in a name? Alas, poor Yorick; Et tu, Brute? The quality of mercy is not strained; the very witching time of night; Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.
Whats Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba? more sinned against than sinning; tell truth and shame the devil; Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought; speak daggers to her; the marriage of true minds; Sweets to the sweet; the milk of human kindness; A plague o both your houses; brevity is the soul of wit; Now is the winter of our discontent; I am but mad north-northwest.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose; A little more than kin, and less than kind; On horrors head horrors accumulate; make assurance double-sure; The lady doth protest too much, methinks; that way madness lies; Words, words, words; a dish fit for the gods; A king of shreds and patches; every inch a king; in my heart of heart; Hath not a Jew eyes? Make Ossa like a wart; We happy few, we band of brothers; a foregone conclusion; a very palpable hit; This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle; The course of true love never did run smooth.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; Lay on, Macduff; wear my heart upon my sleeve; Beware the Ides of March; a custom more honored in the breach than the observance; Parting is such sweet sorrow; the green-eyed monster; Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it; O, for a muse of fire; All the worlds a stage; Though this be madness, yet there is method in t; If you have tears, prepare to shed them now; hoist by his own petard; Sweet are the uses of adversity; household words.
It seems miraculous that one man could coin so many brilliant turns of phrase. No other author has ever been so fertile, versatile, and joyfully, inexhaustibly eloquent.
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