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Friday, December 30, 2011

Expressions from Shakespeare


What two books do you think have probably affected the English language more than any others? If you're not sure, try to guess. See the answer in the "Notes" below.


Jen and Ashley are talking about Jen's love life. There are eight expressions from Shakespeare in their conversation. Can you find them all? Answers below.

Ashley: So, Jen, what's up with you and Rob? Why are you treating him so bad?
Jen: Well, I like him, but he might be too much of a good thing, you know?
Ashley: Oh, so there's method in your madness.
Jen: Yeah. But I'm really in a pickle. I'm so upset about it that I haven't slept a wink!
Ashley: So, are you gonna send him packing?
Jen: I don't know. I wish this whole problem would just vanish into thin air.
Ashley: Don't worry too much. All's well that ends well.
Jen: Maybe. But don't say anything to him about this, OK? Mum's the word!


The two books that have shaped the English language probably more than any others are the complete works of William Shakespeare, and the King James Bible. Shakespeare died in 1616; the King James Bible was published in 1611. You could say, then, that the late 16th and early 17th centuries were a "Golden Age" for the formation of English. Some of these expressions were created by Shakespeare; others were just made popular by him.


1. Have you ever read anything by Shakespeare? Did you learn any new expressions from it?
2. Look at the plays in the answers below. Have you read any of those? Or do you know what they're about?
3. Try to use some the expressions in sentences of your own.


Here are the Shakespeare expressions used in the conversation above:
  • too much of a good thing: Even something or someone you like can become tiresome; from As You Like It
  • there's method in your madness: What you're doing seems crazy, but in fact you have a plan; paraphrase of a line in Hamlet
  • in a pickle: In a difficult spot, or unable to make a decision; from The Tempest
  • I haven't slept a wink: I have not slept at all; from Cymbeline
  • send [someone] packing: To send [someone] away in shame; from Henry IV, Part I
  • vanish into thin air: Disappear without a trace; used in different forms in Othello and The Tempest
  • All's well that ends well: Despite troubles along the way, things usually turn out all right; title of a play
  • Mum's the word: Don't say anything except "Mmmmmm…"; from Henry VI, Part 2

This lesson is ©2011 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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