August 13, 2007

#01-006: Expressions from Shakespeare

front page of a book with an engraving of Shakespeare

Note: Many people believe William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is the greatest of all English writers, and one of the greatest in the world. You will seem him often in these lessons.

Get Ready: What books do you think have probably affected the English language more than any others? What books have influenced your understanding of English?

There are two books that, more than any others, have shaped the English language. These 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 century were a "Golden Age" for the formation of the language.

Let's look at just a few of the hundreds of common expressions used by Shakespeare. Some of these expressions were created by Shakespeare; others were just made popular by him.


Jen and Ashley are talking about Jen's love life. See how many expressions from Shakespeare you can find.

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, I haven't slept a wink!

Ashley: So, are you gonna send him packing?

Jen: Maybe, but it would be easier if he'd just vanish into thin air.

Ashley: Don't worry so much. All's well that ends well!

Jen: Maybe. But don't say anything to him about this, OK? Mum's the word!

Did you find eight expressions? Good!


Read more:

Practice: Match these eight expressions (in the order found in the dialogue) with their meanings. The play the expression comes from is added in (parentheses).

  1. too much of a good thing (As You Like It)
  2. there's method in your madness (paraphrased from a line in Hamlet)
  3. in a pickle (The Tempest)
  4. I haven't slept a wink (Cymbeline)
  5. send [someone] packing (Henry IV, Part I)
  6. vanish into thin air (used in different forms in Othello and The Tempest)
  7. All's well that ends well (title of a play)
  8. Mum's the word (Henry VI, Part 2)

  1. Despite troubles along the way, things usually turn out all right.
  2. Even something or someone you like can become tiresome.
  3. Disappear without a trace
  4. In a difficult spot, or unable to choose between two things
  5. What you're doing seems crazy, but in fact you have a plan.
  6. To send away in shame
  7. Don't say anything except "Mmmmmm…"
  8. I've been awake all night.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 13, 2007

This lesson received 199 visits on my old site between December, 2011, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. a; 3. f; 4. c; 5. b; 6. e; 7. h; 8. d