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

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


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

You are watching: What does where art thou mean

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

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

Four hundreds years since his death, wilhelm Shakespeare remains an ubiquitous part of modern-day life. But is he rolling in his grave over the quotes we continue to gain wrong? Picture: Eric Salard/Flickr

Many the the popular quotes are misunderstood, however.

When a camping store mangles Richard III’s lines to create the advertisement, “Now is the winter of our discount tents”, they space engaging playfully with a famous Shakespeare quote.

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

So stop look in ~ some renowned Shakespeare price quotes in their initial context.

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

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

Romeo and 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 average something happened suddenly. In fact, Macduff, learning that his wife and also children have been eliminated by Macbeth, asks:

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

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

Shakespeare 400 Melbourne


“TO it is in OR not TO it is in …” – Hamlet

“To be, or no to be, that is the question’’ is perhaps the most famous speech in every one of Shakespeare. Unfortunately for Shakespeare purists, who urge a devastating crime has actually taken ar if we change Shakespeare’s language in performance, the earliest printed edition the Hamlet (1603) has:

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

This 1603 version is usually regarded together being somewhat inferior to the 1604-5 and also 1623 editions. Was it Shakespeare’s an initial draft, which he ultimately improved? was it a pirated text, written down from storage by an actor who just played a minor function in the play? Or is it actually, as Zachary Lesser has recently argued, the most meaningful version of the speech? movie critics are still debating even if it is this speech is around suicide (“to die, come sleep”), around the dreariness of life an ext generally, or around the merits of activity vs inaction (“to experience the slings and also arrows of outrageous fortune…”). No wonder, once the passage exist in such various forms.

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

“ALAS, negative YORICK” – Hamlet

This is from the graveyard scene at the begin of action V. Perfect this heat is meant to it is in a trick question in quiz shows; the contestant is expected to misremember it as “Alas, bad Yorick. I knew him well”, conversely, the correct reading is “Alas, bad Yorick. Ns knew him, Horatio”. Unequal the “To be or no to be” speech, the line around Yorick’s skull is the exact same in the three early on printed version of Hamlet.

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

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

MUCH ADO about NOTHING

Like As You choose It or All’s Well the Ends Well, this look at proverbial title provides nothing away about the play’s topic matter. Or go it? A play about “nothing” sounds awfully like a Seinfeld episode. But there may be more to this title 보다 a contemporary ear have the right to hear. Pronounced with an Elizabethan accent, “nothing” puns almost perfectly with “noting” and “naughting”. The play’s very first scene makes much ado about whether personalities have “noted” every other:

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

Benedick’s answer points come the following pun: he looked ~ above Hero however he paid she no sex-related attention. “Naught” might refer euphemistically to one of two people female or masculine genitalia, and also “naughting” come an act entailing both.

The title page from the very first quarto execution of much Ado about Nothing, printed in 1600. The is currently in the Folger Shakespeare Library. Picture; Wikimedia

“IF friend PRICK US, carry out WE no BLEED?” – The seller of Venice

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

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

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

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

Why Shakespeare tho matters


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

But what’s frequently forgotten is that this practice in comparison in between Christians and Jews culminates in the desire for revenge: “And if friend wrong us, shall we no revenge? If us are like you in the rest, we will resemble friend in that.” same point, that. Not as totally pleasant together one might think, without the context, though.

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

The opened line that 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 our discontent/made glorious summer by this kid of York”. Richard is introduce to the conflict in between the dwellings of York and Lancaster, which has recently bring away a rotate for the far better (from his point of view) with his brother, Edward IV, beating Henry VI and also claiming the throne. Winter gives way to summer and prosperity, thanks to York’s son/sun.

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

Yes, Shakespeare apparently created this phrase, which is generally taken in a positive sense to typical that chance beckons, the pearls lie waiting for the lucky human who’s speaking. It comes once Falstaff and also Pistol are suggesting over money in the Garter Inn. Falstaff refuses to lend Pistol a penny, and also Pistol replies: “Why climate the world mine oyster, i beg your pardon I, with sword will open.” check out in context, the picture is decidedly more violent and also points come the have to seize opportunity, to proactively pursue one’s requirements or desires. To proverbially open an oyster through a knife or dagger supposed to maintain a for sure distance, yet Pistol is penniless and threatens to will to theft.

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

“SEA-CHANGE” – The Tempest

To explain you’re ready for a sea adjust typically method you’re prepared to leaving your residence in suburbia and also move to the coast and also a low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

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

Full fathom 5 thy dad lies,Of his bones space coral made;Those room pearls the were his eyes.Nothing that 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 the sea-changes: his bones have turned come coral in the salty depths of the Mediterranean. Therefore the “escape come the seaside” idea is actually much less to perform with the coast and much more to carry out with a radical revolution of one’s life (Ferdinand’s father transforms out to be okay, if she wondering!).

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


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Shakespeare: Wherefore art thou meaning?Associate Professor David McInnis

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

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

Four hundred years since his death, wilhelm Shakespeare continues to be an ubiquitous part of modern-day life. Yet is the rolling in his grave end the quotes we proceed to obtain wrong? Picture: Eric Salard/Flickr

Many that the popular quotes are misunderstood, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ONE fell SWOOP” – Macbeth

People generally say “in one fowl swoop” as soon as they average something taken place suddenly. In fact, Macduff, finding out that his wife and also children have actually been killed by Macbeth, asks:

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

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

Shakespeare 400 Melbourne


“TO be OR no TO it is in …” – Hamlet

“To be, or not to be, that is the question’’ is perhaps the most famous speech in every one of Shakespeare. Unfortunately for Shakespeare purists, who urge a damaging crime has actually taken location if we adjust Shakespeare’s language in performance, the earliest published edition of 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, there it goes …

This 1603 variation is normally regarded as being somewhat inferior to the 1604-5 and also 1623 editions. To be it Shakespeare’s very first draft, which he consequently improved? to be it a pirated text, created down from storage by an actor who just played a minor duty in the play? Or is it actually, together Zachary Lesser has actually recently argued, the most meaningful version of the speech? doubters are still debating even if it is this speech is about suicide (“to die, to sleep”), around the dreariness of life an ext generally, or around the merits of action vs inaction (“to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”). No wonder, when the passage exist in such different forms.

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

“ALAS, bad YORICK” – Hamlet

This is from the graveyard scene at the begin of act V. Perfect this line is meant to be a trick concern in quiz shows; the contestant is intended to misremember it as “Alas, bad Yorick. I knew the well”, vice versa, the correct analysis is “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio”. Uneven the “To be or no to be” speech, the line around Yorick’s skull is the exact same in the three early on printed editions of Hamlet.

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

Although the image of Hamlet contemplating the skull is just one of the many iconic of all scenes from Shakespeare, the actor play Hamlet is not alone throughout this moment: he is surrounding by the gravediggers and Horatio. Worse, this minute is commonly confused with 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 moment of introspection, of dealing with death and mortality, that 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 there was one.

MUCH ADO around NOTHING

Like As You favor It or All’s Well the Ends Well, this look at proverbial title provides nothing away about the play’s topic matter. Or does it? A play about “nothing” sound awfully favor a Seinfeld episode. Yet there may be much more to this title than a contemporary ear can hear. Pronounced v an Elizabethan accent, “nothing” puns nearly perfectly v “noting” and “naughting”. The play’s very first scene makes much ado about whether personalities have “noted” each other:

Claudio: Benedick, didst thou note the daughter that Signor Leonato?Benedick: I listed her not, however I looked ~ above 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 also “naughting” come an act entailing both.

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

“IF you PRICK US, carry out WE not BLEED?” – The seller of Venice

When Antonio, the vendor of Venice, lend money native Shylock (the Jew), the does for this reason on problem that if he cannot repay within a details timeframe, the will have actually to give Shylock a pound of his very own flesh.

When Antonio looks set to forfeit his bond, Shakespeare’s play starts to take it a sinister revolve as personalities ask the Jew whether he will really demand the bloody payment.

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

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

Why Shakespeare still matters


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

But what’s often forgotten is that this practice in comparison in between Christians and also Jews culminates in the desire because that revenge: “And if you wrong us, candlestick we not revenge? If us are like you in the rest, we will resemble friend in that.” same point, that. No as totally pleasant together one could think, there is no the context, though.

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

The opened line of Shakespeare’s Richard III by chin 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 son of York”. Richard is introduce to the conflict in between the residences of York and Lancaster, which has recently bring away a rotate for the far better (from his allude of view) through his brother, Edward IV, beating Henry VI and also claiming the throne. Winter gives way to summer and also prosperity, thanks to York’s son/sun.

“THE world MINE OYSTER” – The merry Wives that Windsor

Yes, Shakespeare apparently designed this phrase, which is typically taken in a positive sense to mean that opportunity beckons, that pearls lie waiting for the lucky person who’s speaking. It comes once Falstaff and also Pistol are suggesting over money in the Garter Inn. Falstaff refuses to lend Pistol a penny, and also Pistol replies: “Why climate the world’s mine oyster, i beg your pardon I, through sword will open.” read in context, the image is decidedly an ext violent and points come the have to seize opportunity, to proactively pursue one’s demands or desires. Come proverbially open up an oyster v a knife or dagger intended to preserve a for sure distance, however Pistol is penniless and also threatens to will to theft.

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

“SEA-CHANGE” – The Tempest

To explain you’re prepared for a sea adjust typically way you’re ready to leave your house in suburbia and move to the coast and a low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

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

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

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

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

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