Alas, poor Shakespeare. We know him so well, even if we don’t always realise it.
We do not know his exact date of birth (we celebrate it on 23rd April, which coincidentally is also the date – 52 years later – that he died). Conspiracy theories abound about his origins, identity and even his very existence – was he a woman, was he John Webster or Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon, or even a group of upper class writers?
He is often much despised in school classrooms by children taught by unimaginative teachers, and much plagiarised by dull politicians with little by way of original thought.
Yet for all this, we remain indebted to him for the richness he has brought to language and our ability to express ourselves and communicate with each other.
Shakespeare, through his poems and plays, has given the world countless phrases that have seeped into everyday usage Here are just a few:
A plague on both your houses (Romeo & Juliet)
A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet (Romeo & Juliet)
Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, so well (Hamlet) actually it was ‘Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio’
All of a sudden (The Taming of the Shrew)
All that glitters is not gold (The Merchant of Venice) – actually it was ‘All that glisters is not gold’
All the world’s a stage (As you like it)
As good luck would have it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
A tower of strength (Richard III)
Brevity is the soul of wit (Hamlet)
Budge an inch (The Taming of the Shrew)
Pound of flesh (The Merchant of Venice)
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. (Twelfth Night)
There is method in my madness (Hamlet) (actually ‘though this be madness, yet there is method in it’)
The short and the long of it (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
Discretion is the better part of valour (Henry IV)
Fair Play (The Tempest)
For goodness sake (Henry VIII)
Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your ears (Julius Caesar)
Give the devil his due (Henry IV)
In the twinkling of an eye (The Merchant of Venice)
wear my heart on my sleeve (Othello)
Love is blind (The Merchant of Venice)
Milk of human kindness (Macbeth)
My salad days (Anthony and Cleopatra)
Neither a borrower or a lender be (Hamlet)
Neither rhyme not reason (Comedy of Errors)
Now is the winter of our discontent (Richard III)
Too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
Tell the truth and shame the devil (Henry IV)
We have seen better days (Timon of Athens)
What’s done is done (Macbeth)
What’s past is prologue (The Tempest)
Wild goose chase (Romeo & Juliet)
R.I.P. and Happy Birthday, Mr Shakespeare. We can no other answer make, but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks (Twelfth Night).