Eight well known Shakespeare quotes (and one play) that you’ve been acquiring wrong all her life, without understanding it

By Dr David McInnis, Gerry Higgins Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies, Faculty of Arts, university of Melbourne


Shakespeare’s native are anywhere – occasionally you just don’t realise it.

You are watching: Where art thou now meaning?

Ben Affleck supposedly believes the Batman is America’s Hamlet. Hit TV mirrors Seachange (Australia), Outrageous Fortune (NZ) or Slings and also Arrows (Canada) every take their names native Shakespeare quotations.

A jester called by Shakespeare in Love’s Labours Lost adorns the bottle of a south Australian cabernet sauvignon. Even my mechanic’s website boasts “A Brave brand-new World in Accident Repair”.

Four hundreds years since his death, wilhelm Shakespeare continues to be an ubiquitous part of modern life. Yet is that rolling in his grave end the estimates we continue to gain wrong? Picture: Eric Salard/Flickr

Many that the popular quotes are misunderstood, however.

When a camping keep mangles Richard III’s present to develop the advertisement, “Now is the winter of ours discount tents”, they room engaging playfully with a famous Shakespeare quote.

On the other hand, most human being who exclaim “What the dickens!” probably have a 19th Century author in mind (it’s actually from The funny Wives the Windsor), and also references to a “brave new world” room as most likely to be to Aldous Huxley’s novel as to The Tempest.

So let’s look in ~ some renowned Shakespeare quotes in their initial context.

“ROMEO, ROMEO, WHEREFORE arts THOU ROMEO?” – Romeo and also Juliet

Juliet pines away at her balcony, forlorn and also yearning for her lover who has actually disappeared into the night just moments ~ the two teenagers met at the masquerade ball. But “wherefore” means “why”, no “where” – she doesn’t want to recognize where he is; she wants to recognize why he has to be a Montague, and also the sworn adversary of she family. Her following line removes all doubt: “Deny her father and refuse her name” – in various other words, don’t be a Montague.

Romeo and also Juliet was newly voted Australia’s favourite Shakespeare play. Picture: Emanuel Schongut/Flickr

“ONE fell SWOOP” – Macbeth

People frequently say “in one fowl swoop” once they median something occurred suddenly. In fact, Macduff, discovering that his wife and children have been eliminated by Macbeth, asks:

All my pretty ones?Did you speak all? O hell-kite! All?What, all my pretty chickens and their damAt one dropped swoop?

In this image, Macduff’s helpless family members are figured as food (pretty chickens) and Macbeth as a bird of food (a kite) that swoops and attacks them. “Fell” in this context way “fierce, savage; cruel, ruthless”, together the Oxford English thesaurus explains. The renowned mistake is easy to understand: “fowl” as in “bird” (chickens, kite) or “foul” since the plot is treacherous (and carry out by a “hell-kite”). In fact, Macduff is making use of a now obsolete adjective, which creates the source of the still-used term for a criminal, “felon”.

Shakespeare 400 Melbourne


“TO it is in OR not TO be …” – Hamlet

“To be, or not to be, the is the question’’ is possibly the most famed speech in every one of Shakespeare. Regrettably for Shakespeare purists, who urge a destructive crime has taken place if we change Shakespeare’s language in performance, the earliest printed edition of Hamlet (1603) has:

To be, or no to be, ay, there’s the point,To die, to sleep, is that all? Ay, all.No, come sleep, to dream, ay, marry, over there it walk …

This 1603 version is normally regarded together being rather inferior to the 1604-5 and 1623 editions. Was it Shakespeare’s an initial draft, i beg your pardon he subsequently improved? was it a pirated text, composed down from storage by an gibbs who just played a minor role in the play? Or is that actually, together Zachary Lesser has recently argued, the most coherent version that the speech? movie critics are still debating even if it is this decided is around suicide (“to die, to sleep”), about the dreariness that life more generally, or about the merits of action vs inaction (“to experience the slings and arrows that outrageous fortune…”). No wonder, once the passage exist in such various forms.

This LEGO Hamlet looks choose he is alone, however as Shakespeare composed it, he need to be surrounding by gravediggers and also Horatio. Picture: iStock

“ALAS, poor YORICK” – Hamlet

This is from the graveyard scene at the start of plot V. Perfect this heat is supposed to it is in a trick inquiry in quiz shows; the contestant is expected to misremember it together “Alas, bad Yorick. I knew the well”, vice versa, the correct analysis is “Alas, negative Yorick. Ns knew him, Horatio”. Unequal the “To it is in or not to be” speech, the line around Yorick’s skull is the exact same in the three early printed execution of Hamlet.

There’s likewise an intriguing propensity to misremember the paper definition in which this heat is delivered.

Although the picture of Hamlet contemplating the skull is just one of the most iconic of all scenes native Shakespeare, the actor playing Hamlet is not alone throughout this moment: that is surrounded by the gravediggers and Horatio. Worse, this minute is typically confused with the “To it is in or no to be” speech! Why? Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor suggest “Hamlet-as-icon … has to be alone” – this is the moment of introspection, of dealing with death and mortality, that Hamlet-as-philosopher. There were no spotlights in the open-air theatres the Shakespeare’s day, but this is a “spotlight moment” if ever before there was one.

MUCH ADO about NOTHING

Like As You like It or All’s Well the Ends Well, this watch proverbial title gives nothing away about the play’s topic matter. Or does it? A play around “nothing” sounds awfully like a Seinfeld episode. But there might be an ext to this title 보다 a modern-day ear have the right to hear. Pronounced through an Elizabethan accent, “nothing” puns almost perfectly v “noting” and “naughting”. The play’s first scene makes much ado around whether characters have “noted” every other:

Claudio: Benedick, didst thou note the daughter the Signor Leonato?Benedick: I listed her not, but I looked on her.

Benedick’s answer points to the next pun: the looked top top Hero yet he paid she no sexual attention. “Naught” can refer euphemistically to one of two people female or male genitalia, and “naughting” come an act involving both.

The title web page from the first quarto version of lot Ado around Nothing, published in 1600. That is currently in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Picture; Wikimedia

“IF you PRICK US, perform WE no BLEED?” – The merchant of Venice

When Antonio, the seller of Venice, borrows money indigenous Shylock (the Jew), the does for this reason on condition that if he can not repay in ~ a specific timeframe, he will have to offer Shylock a lb of his very own flesh.

When Antonio looks collection to forfeit his bond, Shakespeare’s play starts to take it a sinister rotate as characters ask the Jew whether he will certainly really need the bloody payment.

“What’s that good for?” asks Salarino, pointing out how useless a lb of human being flesh would certainly be. “To bait fish withal: if it will certainly feed naught else, it will feed mine revenge”, answer Shylock.

What adheres to is one of the most celebrated speeches in Shakespeare, ostensibly around racial and spiritual equality.

Why Shakespeare tho matters


Shylock complains that the Christians have actually discriminated against him because that being Jewish and also makes one impassioned plea because that his very own humanity: “Hath not a Jew eyes?”, “If girlfriend prick us, execute we no bleed? if girlfriend tickle us, execute we not laugh? if you toxicity us, perform we not die?”

But what’s regularly forgotten is the this exercise in comparison in between Christians and also Jews culminates in the desire because that revenge: “And if friend wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are choose you in the rest, we will certainly resemble you in that.” fair point, that. Not as completely pleasant together one can think, there is no the context, though.

“NOW IS THE WINTER OF our DISCONTENT …” – Richard III

The opening line that Shakespeare’s Richard III by chin sounds negative: the winter of ours discontent is upon us. In the play, however, the complete line reads: “Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer by this boy of York”. Richard is introduce to the conflict in between the houses of York and also Lancaster, which has actually recently take away a turn for the better (from his point of view) through his brother, Edward IV, defeating Henry VI and claiming the throne. Winter gives means to summer and also prosperity, thanks to York’s son/sun.

“THE world MINE OYSTER” – The funny Wives the Windsor

Yes, Shakespeare apparently invented this phrase, i m sorry is typically taken in a hopeful sense to mean that opportunity beckons, that pearls lie wait for the lucky human who’s speaking. It comes as soon as Falstaff and also Pistol are suggesting over money in the Garter Inn. Falstaff refuses to lend Pistol a penny, and also Pistol replies: “Why then the world mine oyster, i m sorry I, with sword will open.” check out in context, the photo is decidedly more violent and points come the must seize opportunity, to actively pursue one’s requirements or desires. To proverbially open an oyster v a knife or dagger meant to maintain a safe distance, yet Pistol is penniless and also threatens to resort to theft.

Shakespeare was born and died top top the very same day – April 23. Picture: Flickr

“SEA-CHANGE” – The Tempest

To declare you’re ready for a sea change typically way you’re prepared to leave your home in suburbia and move come the coast and also a low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

“Sea-change” comes from Shakespeare’s last solo-authored play, The Tempest. After gift shipwrecked, personalities find themselves dispersed around a mysterious island. Ferdinand, kid of the king the Naples, trust he has outlived his father. This misbelief is perpetuated once Ariel, a spirit of the isle, visits Ferdinand and also sings the following song whilst continuing to be invisible:

Full fathom five thy father lies,Of his bones space coral made;Those room pearls the were his eyes.Nothing the him the doth fadeBut doth experience a sea-changeInto other rich and also strange.Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell.

Ferdinand’s father has actually undergone the most literal of sea-changes: his bones have actually turned come coral in the salty depths of the Mediterranean. So the “escape come the seaside” idea is actually less to execute with the beach and an ext to execute with a radical revolution of one’s life (Ferdinand’s father turns out to be okay, if you wondering!).

Banner image: Puck from Midsummer Night’s Dream/The college of Melbourne


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Shakespeare: Wherefore arts thou meaning?Associate Professor David McInnis

Shakespeare’s words are everywhere – periodically you simply don’t realise it.

Ben Affleck supposedly believes that Batman is America’s Hamlet. Hit TV mirrors Seachange (Australia), Outrageous Fortune (NZ) or Slings and also Arrows (Canada) every take their names native Shakespeare quotations.

A jester named by Shakespeare in Love’s Labours Lost adorns the bottle of a southern Australian cabernet sauvignon. Also my mechanic’s website boasts “A Brave brand-new World in Accident Repair”.

Four hundred years due to the fact that his death, wilhelm Shakespeare stays an ubiquitous part of contemporary life. Yet is the rolling in his grave end the quotes we proceed to obtain wrong? Picture: Eric Salard/Flickr

Many of the popular price quotes are misunderstood, however.

When a camping keep mangles Richard III’s present to create the advertisement, “Now is the winter of ours discount tents”, they room engaging playfully v a popular Shakespeare quote.

On the other hand, most civilization who exclaim “What the dickens!” probably have a 19th Century writer in mental (it’s in reality from The funny Wives that Windsor), and references come a “brave new world” space as most likely to it is in to Aldous Huxley’s novel regarding The Tempest.

So let’s look at some well known Shakespeare quotes in their original context.

“ROMEO, ROMEO, WHEREFORE art THOU ROMEO?” – Romeo and also Juliet

Juliet pines far at her balcony, forlorn and yearning for her lover who has disappeared right into the night simply moments ~ the two teenagers met in ~ the masquerade ball. Yet “wherefore” way “why”, not “where” – she doesn’t want to know where he is; she desires to understand why he needs to be a Montague, and also the sworn adversary of she family. Her next line clears all doubt: “Deny thy father and also refuse your name” – in other words, don’t be a Montague.

Romeo and also Juliet was recently voted Australia’s favourite Shakespeare play. Picture: Emanuel Schongut/Flickr

“ONE fell SWOOP” – Macbeth

People generally say “in one fowl swoop” once they median something happened suddenly. In fact, Macduff, discovering that his wife and children have been eliminated by Macbeth, asks:

All mine pretty ones?Did you to speak all? O hell-kite! All?What, all my pretty chickens and also their damAt one dropped swoop?

In this image, Macduff’s helpless family members members room figured as prey (pretty chickens) and also Macbeth together a bird of prey (a kite) that swoops and also attacks them. “Fell” in this context means “fierce, savage; cruel, ruthless”, as the Oxford English dictionary explains. The famous mistake is basic to understand: “fowl” together in “bird” (chickens, kite) or “foul” because the plot is treacherous (and perform by a “hell-kite”). In fact, Macduff is using a now obsolete adjective, which forms the source of the still-used term for a criminal, “felon”.

Shakespeare 400 Melbourne


“TO be OR no TO be …” – Hamlet

“To be, or no to be, that is the question’’ is probably the most famed speech in all of Shakespeare. Unfortunately for Shakespeare purists, who insist a disastrous crime has taken place if we change Shakespeare’s language in performance, the earliest published edition the Hamlet (1603) has:

To be, or not to be, ay, there’s the point,To die, come sleep, is that all? Ay, all.No, come sleep, to dream, ay, marry, over there it goes …

This 1603 variation is typically regarded as being rather inferior to the 1604-5 and 1623 editions. Was it Shakespeare’s an initial draft, i beg your pardon he consequently improved? was it a pirated text, composed down from storage by an gibbs who only played a minor function in the play? Or is it actually, together Zachary Lesser has actually recently argued, the most meaningful version of the speech? doubters are quiet debating whether this speech is around suicide (“to die, come sleep”), about the dreariness that life much more generally, or about the merits of action vs inaction (“to endure the slings and also arrows of outrageous fortune…”). No wonder, once the passage exists in such different forms.

This LEGO Hamlet looks like he is alone, yet as Shakespeare wrote it, he have to be surrounding by gravediggers and also Horatio. Picture: iStock

“ALAS, bad YORICK” – Hamlet

This is from the graveyard scene at the begin of plot V. Completing this heat is supposed to it is in a trick question in quiz shows; the contestant is supposed to misremember it together “Alas, bad Yorick. I knew the well”, conversely, the correct analysis is “Alas, bad Yorick. I knew him, Horatio”. Unlike the “To be or not to be” speech, the line about Yorick’s skull is the same in the three beforehand printed execution of Hamlet.

There’s additionally an intriguing tendency to misremember the context in which this heat is delivered.

Although the picture of Hamlet contemplating the skull is one of the many iconic of all scenes indigenous Shakespeare, the actor play Hamlet is not alone throughout this moment: he is surrounded by the gravediggers and Horatio. Worse, this moment is typically confused v the “To be or no to be” speech! Why? Ann Thompson and also Neil Taylor suggest “Hamlet-as-icon … has to be alone” – this is the minute of introspection, of dealing with death and also mortality, the Hamlet-as-philosopher. There to be no spotlights in the open-air theatres of Shakespeare’s day, yet this is a “spotlight moment” if ever before there was one.

MUCH ADO around NOTHING

Like As You choose It or All’s Well that Ends Well, this look at proverbial title offers nothing away around the play’s subject matter. Or does it? A play about “nothing” sounds awfully like a Seinfeld episode. However there might be much more to this title than a modern ear deserve to hear. Pronounced v an Elizabethan accent, “nothing” puns practically perfectly v “noting” and also “naughting”. The play’s an initial scene makes lot ado about whether personalities have “noted” every other:

Claudio: Benedick, didst thou keep in mind the daughter that Signor Leonato?Benedick: I provided her not, however I looked on her.

Benedick’s reply points come the following pun: he looked ~ above Hero yet he paid she no sexual attention. “Naught” could refer euphemistically to one of two people female or masculine genitalia, and “naughting” to an act entailing both.

The title page from the very first quarto version of much Ado around Nothing, printed in 1600. The is right now in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Picture; Wikimedia

“IF friend PRICK US, execute WE no BLEED?” – The merchant of Venice

When Antonio, the vendor of Venice, lend money native Shylock (the Jew), the does for this reason on problem that if he can not repay in ~ a specific timeframe, he will have to offer Shylock a pound of his very own flesh.

When Antonio looks collection to forfeit his bond, Shakespeare’s play begins to take a sinister revolve as personalities ask the Jew whether he will certainly really need the bloody payment.

“What’s that good for?” asks Salarino, pointing out exactly how useless a lb of human being flesh would certainly be. “To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will certainly feed my revenge”, answers Shylock.

What follows is among the most celebrated speeches in Shakespeare, ostensibly around racial and spiritual equality.

Why Shakespeare still matters


Shylock complains the the Christians have discriminated against him because that being Jewish and also makes one impassioned plea for his very own humanity: “Hath not a Jew eyes?”, “If girlfriend prick us, do we no bleed? if girlfriend tickle us, perform we no laugh? if you toxicity us, carry out we no die?”

But what’s often forgotten is that this practice in comparison in between Christians and Jews culminates in the desire for revenge: “And if girlfriend wrong us, shall we no revenge? If us are like you in the rest, we will certainly resemble you in that.” fair point, that. Not as totally pleasant as one could think, there is no the context, though.

“NOW IS THE WINTER OF our DISCONTENT …” – Richard III

The opened line the Shakespeare’s Richard III by itself sounds negative: the winter of ours discontent is upon us. In the play, however, the finish line reads: “Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer by this kid of York”. Richard is referring to the conflict in between the houses of York and also Lancaster, which has recently taken a rotate for the much better (from his suggest of view) with his brother, Edward IV, defeating Henry VI and also claiming the throne. Winter gives way to summer and prosperity, many thanks to York’s son/sun.

“THE world’s MINE OYSTER” – The merry Wives the Windsor

Yes, Shakespeare apparently created this phrase, which is typically taken in a positive sense to typical that possibility beckons, that pearls lie waiting for the lucky person who’s speaking. That comes once Falstaff and Pistol are arguing over money in the Garter Inn. Falstaff refuses to loan Pistol a penny, and also Pistol replies: “Why climate the world’s mine oyster, i m sorry I, with sword will certainly open.” read in context, the photo is decidedly more violent and also points to the must seize opportunity, to proactively pursue one’s requirements or desires. To proverbially open an oyster through a knife or dagger intended to keep a for sure distance, but Pistol is penniless and also threatens to resort to theft.

Shakespeare to be born and also died ~ above the very same day – April 23. Picture: Flickr

“SEA-CHANGE” – The Tempest

To declare you’re prepared for a sea change typically means you’re all set to leave your residence in suburbia and move to the coast and also a low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

“Sea-change” originates from Shakespeare’s last solo-authored play, The Tempest. After being shipwrecked, characters find us dispersed around a secret island. Ferdinand, kid of the king of Naples, trust he has outlived his father. This misbelief is perpetuated when Ariel, a soul of the isle, visits Ferdinand and also sings the adhering to song whilst remaining invisible:

Full fathom 5 thy dad lies,Of his bones room coral made;Those space pearls the were his eyes.Nothing of him the doth fadeBut doth suffer a sea-changeInto something rich and strange.Sea nymphs hourly ring his knell.

Ferdinand’s father has actually undergone the many literal of sea-changes: his bones have turned to coral in the salty depths that the Mediterranean. For this reason the “escape come the seaside” idea is actually much less to carry out with the beach and much more to execute with a radical revolution of one’s life (Ferdinand’s father turns out to be okay, if you’re wondering!).

Banner image: Puck from Midsummer Night’s Dream/The college of Melbourne

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