Eight famous Shakespeare price quotes (and one play) that you’ve been gaining wrong all your life, without understanding it

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


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

You are watching: Romeo romeo wherefore art thou romeo meaning

Ben Affleck reportedly believes that Batman is America’s Hamlet. Fight TV shows Seachange (Australia), Outrageous Fortune (NZ) or Slings and Arrows (Canada) every take their names from Shakespeare quotations.

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

Four hundred years since his death, william Shakespeare remains an ubiquitous part of modern life. But is the rolling in his grave over the quotes we continue to obtain wrong? Picture: Eric Salard/Flickr

Many that the popular price quotes are misunderstood, however.

When a camping save mangles Richard III’s present to produce the advertisement, “Now is the winter of ours discount tents”, they room engaging playfully through a renowned Shakespeare quote.

On the various other hand, most people who exclaim “What the dickens!” probably have actually a 19th Century writer in mind (it’s in reality from The merry Wives that Windsor), and also references come a “brave brand-new world” are as most likely to be to Aldous Huxley’s novel as to The Tempest.

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

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

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

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

“ONE fell SWOOP” – Macbeth

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

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

In this image, Macduff’s helpless family members are figured as food (pretty chickens) and also Macbeth as a bird of food (a kite) that swoops and attacks them. “Fell” in this context means “fierce, savage; cruel, ruthless”, as the Oxford English thesaurus explains. The popular mistake is basic to understand: “fowl” as in “bird” (chickens, kite) or “foul” due to the fact that the action is treacherous (and performed by a “hell-kite”). In fact, Macduff is using a currently obsolete adjective, which creates the root of the still-used term because that a criminal, “felon”.

Shakespeare 400 Melbourne


“TO it is in OR no TO be …” – Hamlet

“To be, or not to be, that is the question’’ is possibly the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare. Unfortunately for Shakespeare purists, who insist a destructive crime has actually taken location if we change Shakespeare’s language in performance, the earliest printed edition the Hamlet (1603) has:

To be, or not to be, ay, yes sir the point,To die, to sleep, is that all? Ay, all.No, come sleep, to dream, ay, marry, there it walk …

This 1603 variation is normally regarded together being rather inferior come the 1604-5 and also 1623 editions. To be it Shakespeare’s an initial draft, i m sorry he consequently improved? was it a pirated text, written down from memory 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 coherent version the the speech? movie critics are tho debating whether this speech is around suicide (“to die, to sleep”), around the dreariness that life much more generally, or around the merits of activity vs inaction (“to experience the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”). No wonder, once the passage exist in such different forms.

This LEGO Hamlet looks favor he is alone, but as Shakespeare created it, he must be surrounding by gravediggers and Horatio. Picture: iStock

“ALAS, negative YORICK” – Hamlet

This is indigenous the graveyard step at the start of action V. Perfect this heat is expected to it is in a trick concern in quiz shows; the contestant is meant to misremember it as “Alas, negative Yorick. I knew the well”, vice versa, the correct analysis is “Alas, poor Yorick. Ns knew him, Horatio”. Unlike the “To be or not to be” speech, the line about Yorick’s skull is the very same in the three early printed execution of Hamlet.

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

Although the image of Hamlet contemplating the skull is among the most iconic of every scenes from Shakespeare, the actor play Hamlet is not alone during this moment: the is surrounding by the gravediggers and also Horatio. Worse, this minute is frequently confused through the “To be or no to be” speech! Why? Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor imply “Hamlet-as-icon … has to be alone” – this is the moment of introspection, of encountering death and also mortality, that Hamlet-as-philosopher. There were no spotlights in the open-air theatres of Shakespeare’s day, but this is a “spotlight moment” if ever before there to be one.

MUCH ADO about NOTHING

Like As You choose It or All’s Well that Ends Well, this watch proverbial title gives nothing away about the play’s topic matter. Or go it? A play about “nothing” sounds awfully favor a Seinfeld episode. But there might be more to this title 보다 a contemporary ear deserve to hear. Pronounced with an Elizabethan accent, “nothing” puns almost perfectly with “noting” and also “naughting”. The play’s an initial scene makes lot ado about whether characters have “noted” every other:

Claudio: Benedick, didst thou keep in mind the daughter that Signor Leonato?Benedick: I noted her not, but I looked top top her.

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

The title web page from the first quarto edition of much Ado about Nothing, published in 1600. It is currently in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Picture; Wikimedia

“IF friend PRICK US, do WE not BLEED?” – The merchant of Venice

When Antonio, the seller of Venice, lend money from Shylock (the Jew), that does therefore on problem that if he cannot repay in ~ a certain timeframe, he will have actually to provide Shylock a pound of his own flesh.

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

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

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

Why Shakespeare quiet matters


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

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

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

The opened line of Shakespeare’s Richard III by itself sounds negative: the winter of our 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 between the homes of York and also Lancaster, which has recently bring away a revolve for the far better (from his point of view) v his brother, Edward IV, defeating Henry VI and claiming the throne. Winter gives means to summer and prosperity, many thanks to York’s son/sun.

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

Yes, Shakespeare apparently designed this phrase, i m sorry is usually taken in a confident sense to median that possibility beckons, the pearls lie wait for the lucky human who’s speaking. That comes when Falstaff and also Pistol are arguing over money in the Garter Inn. Falstaff refuses to lend Pistol a penny, and Pistol replies: “Why then the world’s mine oyster, i m sorry I, v sword will certainly open.” read in context, the picture is decidedly much more violent and also points come the need to seize opportunity, to actively pursue one’s needs or desires. To proverbially open an oyster with a knife or dagger intended to maintain a safe distance, but Pistol is penniless and threatens to resort to theft.

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

“SEA-CHANGE” – The Tempest

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

“Sea-change” originates from Shakespeare’s last solo-authored play, The Tempest. After gift shipwrecked, characters find us dispersed about a secret island. Ferdinand, child of the king the Naples, to trust he has actually outlived his father. This misbelief is perpetuated as soon as Ariel, a spirit of the isle, access time Ferdinand and sings the following song whilst remaining invisible:

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

Ferdinand’s father has undergone the most literal of sea-changes: his bones have turned to coral in the salty depths that the Mediterranean. Therefore the “escape come the seaside” idea is actually less to perform with the coast and an ext to carry out 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 university of Melbourne


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Shakespeare: Wherefore arts thou meaning?Associate Professor David McInnis

Shakespeare’s words are all over – occasionally you simply don’t realise it.

Ben Affleck supposedly believes the Batman is America’s Hamlet. Fight TV shows Seachange (Australia), Outrageous Fortune (NZ) or Slings and also Arrows (Canada) all take your names indigenous 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 new World in Accident Repair”.

Four hundred years since his death, william Shakespeare stays an ubiquitous component of modern-day life. Yet is that rolling in his grave end the price quotes we proceed to acquire wrong? Picture: Eric Salard/Flickr

Many that the popular price 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 space engaging playfully v a well-known Shakespeare quote.

On the various other hand, most people who exclaim “What the dickens!” probably have actually a 19th Century writer in psychic (it’s in reality from The funny Wives of Windsor), and also references to a “brave brand-new world” space as likely to it is in to Aldous Huxley’s novel as to The Tempest.

So stop look in ~ some famed Shakespeare estimates in their initial context.

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

Juliet pines away at she balcony, forlorn and yearning for her lover who has actually disappeared into the night just moments after ~ the two teens met at the masquerade ball. However “wherefore” means “why”, not “where” – she doesn’t want to understand where he is; she desires to know why he needs to be a Montague, and also the sworn enemy of she family. Her next line removes all doubt: “Deny her father and refuse your name” – in various other words, don’t it is in a Montague.

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

“ONE dropped SWOOP” – Macbeth

People typically say “in one fowl swoop” as soon as they average something happened suddenly. In fact, Macduff, discovering that his wife and also children have actually been eliminated by Macbeth, asks:

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

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

Shakespeare 400 Melbourne


“TO be OR not TO it is in …” – Hamlet

“To be, or not to be, the is the question’’ is probably the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare. Unfortunately for Shakespeare purists, who firmly insist a damaging crime has taken place if we readjust Shakespeare’s language in performance, the earliest printed edition that Hamlet (1603) has:

To be, or not to be, ay, yes sir the point,To die, come sleep, is the all? Ay, all.No, to sleep, to dream, ay, marry, there it walk …

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

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

“ALAS, negative YORICK” – Hamlet

This is indigenous the graveyard step at the start of plot V. Perfect this line is meant to it is in a trick concern in quiz shows; the contestant is expected to misremember it together “Alas, negative Yorick. Ns knew the well”, whereas the correct reading is “Alas, negative Yorick. I knew him, Horatio”. Unlike the “To be or not to be” speech, the line around Yorick’s skull is the same in the three early on printed execution of Hamlet.

There’s likewise an intriguing tendency to misremember the context in i beg your pardon this heat is delivered.

Although the picture of Hamlet contemplating the skull is one of the most iconic of every scenes indigenous Shakespeare, the actor play Hamlet is not alone throughout this moment: that is surrounded by the gravediggers and Horatio. Worse, this moment is generally confused through the “To it is in or not to be” speech! Why? Ann Thompson and also Neil Taylor imply “Hamlet-as-icon … needs to be alone” – this is the minute of introspection, of facing death and mortality, the Hamlet-as-philosopher. There were no spotlights in the open-air theatres that Shakespeare’s day, yet this is a “spotlight moment” if ever before there was one.

MUCH ADO around NOTHING

Like As You favor It or All’s Well the Ends Well, this watch proverbial title gives nothing away around the play’s topic matter. Or go it? A play around “nothing” sounds awfully prefer a Seinfeld episode. However there might be an ext to this title than a contemporary ear can hear. Pronounced v an Elizabethan accent, “nothing” puns practically perfectly with “noting” and “naughting”. The play’s very first scene makes much ado about whether characters have “noted” each other:

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

Benedick’s reply points come the next pun: that looked top top Hero yet he paid her no sex-related attention. “Naught” might refer euphemistically to one of two people female or masculine genitalia, and “naughting” to an act involving both.

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

“IF friend PRICK US, perform WE not BLEED?” – The seller of Venice

When Antonio, the vendor of Venice, borrow money indigenous Shylock (the Jew), he does so on problem that if he cannot repay within a certain timeframe, that will have to give Shylock a pound of his own flesh.

When Antonio looks collection to forfeit his bond, Shakespeare’s play starts to take it a sinister rotate as personalities ask the Jew even if it is he will really demand the bloody payment.

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

What follows is among the most commemorated speeches in Shakespeare, ostensibly about racial and religious equality.

Why Shakespeare tho matters


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

But what’s regularly forgotten is the this exercise in comparison in between Christians and Jews culminates in the desire for revenge: “And if girlfriend wrong us, candlestick we not revenge? If we are prefer you in the rest, we will certainly resemble you in that.” fair point, that. No as entirely pleasant together one could think, without the context, though.

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

The opened line of Shakespeare’s Richard III by chin sounds negative: the winter of our discontent is top top us. In the play, however, the complete line reads: “Now is the winter of ours discontent/made glorious summer through this child of York”. Richard is referring to the conflict in between the houses of York and Lancaster, which has recently taken a turn for the better (from his allude of view) v his brother, Edward IV, defeating Henry VI and also claiming the throne. Winter gives method to summer and prosperity, thanks to York’s son/sun.

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

Yes, Shakespeare apparently developed this phrase, i m sorry is typically taken in a positive sense to mean that opportunity beckons, the pearls lie waiting for the lucky person who’s speaking. The comes when Falstaff and Pistol are suggesting over money in the Garter Inn. Falstaff refuses to lend Pistol a penny, and Pistol replies: “Why climate the world’s mine oyster, i m sorry I, v sword will certainly open.” review in context, the image is decidedly much more violent and points come the should seize opportunity, to proactively pursue one’s demands or desires. Come proverbially open up an oyster through a knife or dagger supposed to keep 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 explain you’re all set for a sea readjust typically method you’re prepared to leaving your residence in suburbia and move come the coast and a low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

“Sea-change” originates from Shakespeare’s critical solo-authored play, The Tempest. After gift shipwrecked, personalities find us dispersed around a secret island. Ferdinand, child of the king that Naples, believes he has outlived his father. This misbelief is perpetuated when Ariel, a heart of the isle, access time Ferdinand and sings the complying with song whilst staying invisible:

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

Ferdinand’s father has actually undergone the most literal the sea-changes: his bones have actually turned to coral in the braided depths the the Mediterranean. For this reason the “escape come the seaside” idea is actually much less to execute with the coast and more to do with a radical transformation of one’s life (Ferdinand’s father transforms out to it is in okay, if you wondering!).

Banner image: Puck native Midsummer Night’s Dream/The university of Melbourne

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