Common Phrases in Shakespeare's Plays

Shakespeare’s language has had such an impact on the English language that many phrases from his plays have become part of our common speech, whether we realise it or not.

Media headlines regularly feature Shakespeare quotes. Regular conversations include quotes from Shakespeare plays. In fact, Shakespeare is often quoted without the speaker even realising. In fact, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations says that Shakespeare wrote about one-tenth of the most quotable quotations ever written or spoken in English.

Here is a list of just a few phrases that appear in Shakespeare’s plays and that are commonly spoken today:

  • "A wild goose chase" - Romeo and Juliet
  • “I have been in such a pickle” - The Tempest
  • “I must be cruel, only to be kind” - Hamlet
  • “Laugh oneself into stitches” - Twelfth Night
  • "For goodness’ sake" - Henry VIII
  • "Neither here nor there" – Othello
  • “One fell swoop” - Macbeth
  •  ”The be-all and the end-all” - Macbeth
  • "Mum's the word" - Henry VI, Part II
  • “All that glisters is not gold” – The Merchant of Venice
  • "Eaten out of house and home" - Henry IV, Part II
  • "Knock knock! Who's there?" - Macbeth
  • "With bated breath" - The Merchant of Venice
  • “In my heart of hearts” - Hamlet
  • "Too much of a good thing" - As You Like It
  • “It’s Greek to me” – Julius Caesar
  • "A heart of gold" - Henry V
  • “Break the ice” – The Taming of the Shrew
  • "Such stuff as dreams are made on" - The Tempest
  • "Lie low" - Much Ado About Nothing
  • “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” - Othello
  • “Made of sterner stuff” – Julius Caesar
  • "Dead as a doornail" - Henry VI, Part II
  • "Not slept one wink" - Cymbeline
  • "Foregone conclusion" - Othello
  • "The world's mine oyster" - The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • "Naked truth" - Love's Labour's Lost
  • "Faint-hearted" - Henry VI, Part I
  • "Send him packing" - Henry IV
  • "Melted into thin air" – The Tempest
  • "Own flesh and blood" - Hamlet
  • "Truth will out" - The Merchant of Venice
  • "Give the devil his due" - Henry IV, Part I
  • "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't" - Hamlet
  • "Salad days" - Antony and Cleopatra
  • "Spotless reputation" - Richard II
  • "Full circle" - King Lear
  • "All of a sudden" - The Taming of the Shrew
  • "Come what, come may" – Macbeth
  • “Neither rhyme nor reason” – The Comedy of Errors

Related resources