Many everyday sayings are lifted from Shakespeare:
a plague on both your houses Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio
a poor thing but my own As You Like It "An ill-favoured thing sir, but mine own."
a rose by any other name Romeo and Juliet, Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet."
at one fell swoop Macbeth, Macduff: “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/ at one fell swoop?” (He’d previously been talking of Macbeth as a bird of prey – a kite.)
be all and end all Macbeth, Macbeth: "...but this blow/Might be the be-all and the end-all here"
beggars description Anthony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus: "For her own person/It beggar'd all description..."
bestrides the world like a Colossus Julius Caesar
brave new world Tempest, Miranda: "Oh wonder, how many goodly creatures are there here,/ how beauteous mankind is, Oh brave new world/ that has such people in it."
charmed life Macbeth, Macbeth: "I bear a charmed life, which must not yield / to one of woman born."
cruel to be kind Hamlet, Hamlet: "I must be cruel, only to be kind."
discretion is the better part of valour Henry IV, Part One, Falstaff: "The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life."
dogs of war Julius Caesar, Brutus: "And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,/With Ate by his side come hot from hell,/Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice/Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war..."
every inch a king King Lear, Gloucester: "Is 't not the king?" King Lear: "Ay, every inch a king."
fond farewell Henry VIII "Farewell, a long farewell to all my greatness."
foregone conclusion Othello "But this denoted a foregone conclusion."
gild the lily King John "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily."
green-eyed monster Othello, Iago: "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/ It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on..."
hoist by your own petard Hamlet "For 'tis the sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his owne petar." (A petard is an explosive device used to break down doors or walls.)
I can tell a hawk from a handsaw Hamlet, Hamlet: I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. Cue endless explanations of the “real” meaning of hawk (carpenter’s tool easily confused with a saw) and handsaw (hansa or heron easily confused with a hawk). Hamlet was being ironic. He's also using alliteration, like saying two things are as different as chalk and cheese.
I could a tale unfold Hamlet, Ghost: "I could a tale unfold/ Would freeze your young blood, make your two eyes like stars start from their spheres, /and thy knotted and combined locks to part/ like quills upon the fretful porpentine."
in a nutshell Hamlet, Hamlet: "I could be bounded in a nutshell/ and count myself king of infinite space /were it not that I have bad dreams"
into the breach Henry V, Henry V: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more/lOr close the wall up with our English dead."
It was all Greek to me Julius Caesar But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. King Henry IV, Part II "Not the ill wind which blows no man to good." (What does it mean? That a wind that blew nobody any good really would be bad. So most ill winds (or terrible events), though they bring disaster to a lot of people, will actually benefit a few.)
lay it on with a trowel As You Like It "Well said, that was laid on with a trowel." (Applied thickly, like cement.)
Lend me your ears Julius Caesar, Brutus
make a clean breast of it Hamlet "Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff/that weighs upon the heart"
many a time and oft Merchant of Venice, Shylock: "many a time and oft / In the Rialto you have rated me." ie berated
marry in haste, repent at leisure Taming of the Shrew "Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure."
Methinks the lady doth protest too much... Hamlet, Queen: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (Queen Gertrude means the actor is overdoing “her” part. Now used to indicate that the more someone protests their innocence, or their disinterest, or their love, the less likely they are to be sincere.)
method in his madness Hamlet, Polonius: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." (The characters in the play treat Polonius as a dim buffoon, but he often pinpoints the truth whether by accident or design.)
midsummer madness Twelfth Night, Olivia: "Why, this is very midsummer's madness."
milk of human kindness Macbeth, Lady Macbeth: "Yet do I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness."
mind’s eye Hamlet, Hamlet: "In my mind’s eye, Horatio."
more honoured in the breach than in the observance Hamlet, Hamlet: "It is a custom... "(He doesn’t mean that people forgot to honour the custom, but that it would be more honourable to forget about this particular custom.)
more in sorrow than in anger Hamlet, Horatio (describing the ghost): "A countenance more in sorrow than in anger."
nearest and dearest Henry IV Part I, King: "Why, Harry, do I tell thee of my foes,/ Which art my nearest and dearest enemy...?"
needs must when the devil drives All’s Well that Ends Well "He must needs go that the Devil drives."
Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Hamlet, Polonius
not single spies, but in battalions/Sorrows don’t come singly. Hamlet, Claudius: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies..." (You usually send out spies singly — you wouldn’t send out battalions of spies, they’d be noticed.)
not wisely but too well Othello "One that loved not wisely, but too well."
pound of flesh Merchant of Venice
primrose path (to the eternal bonfire) Macbeth, Porter
salad days Anthony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra: “my salad days/When I was green in judgment”
sea change Tempest, Ariel: “but doth suffer a sea change, into something rich and strange.”
seen better days As You Like It Orlando: If ever you have look’d on better days,/If ever been where bells have knoll’d to church,/If ever sat at any good man’s feast,/If ever from your eyelids wip’d a tear,/And know what ’tis to pity, and be pitied,/Let gentleness my strong enforcement be:/In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword. Duke Senior: True is it that we have seen better days...
Shuffled off this mortal coil Hamlet, Hamlet: "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/ Must give us pause." (He means when our immortal souls have shed our mortal bodies like a coiled snake sloughs off its skin, not when we have shuffled off this planet, or off to Buffalo.)
slings and arrows Hamlet, Hamlet: The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Twelfth Night, forged letter to Malvolio
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark Hamlet, Marcellus
star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet (assumes that your fate is written in the stars)
strange bedfellows Tempest "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows."
That way madness lies King Lear, Lear
The course of true love never did run smooth. Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysander
the darling buds of May Sonnets "Rough winds may shake the darling buds of May"
the food of love Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on. (ie if love lives on music, go on playing, and maybe love will die of a surfeit)
The long and short of it The Merry Wives of Windsor "This is the short and the long of it."
the stuff that dreams are made of Tempest, Prospero: "We are such stuff/as dreams are made on, and our little life / is rounded with a sleep."
There are more things in heaven and earth (Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy) Hamlet, Hamlet (What was Horatio’s philosophy? One that didn’t allow for ghosts, apparently.)
There’s the rub. Hamlet, Hamlet (not "therein lies the rub". He’s referring to a shoe that rubs.)
Thereby hangs a tale As You Like It, Jacques
thin air (Tempest, Prospero: "These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits/ and are melted into air, into thin air." He predicts that the world and all it contains will do the same one day.)
To be or not to be Hamlet, Hamlet
too too solid flesh "Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt." Hamlet, Hamlet
We shall not look upon his like again Hamlet
wear your heart on your sleeve Othello "I will wear my heart upon my sleeve."
Wherefore art thou Romeo? Juliet, Romeo and Juliet (Means ‘Why are you “Romeo”?’ not ‘Where are you, Romeo?’)
Winter of discontent Richard II, Richard: "Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer by this son [sun] of York."
worm turns Henry VI, Part III "The smallest worm will turn, being trodded on."
A lot of our favourite sayings come from the Bible, too.