Shakespearean Phrases

a fool's paradise
(from Romeo and Juliet)
meaning: a stupid situation; a situation in which ‘a fool’ is happy, but other people can see it is a mess.

1. He lived in a fool’s paradise, believing she would fall in love with him.

2. This company is a fool’s paradise; everybody seems to love working here, but they don’t see how they are wasting their time.
fight fire with fire
(from King John)
meaning: take strong action against strong action

1. The US military’s tactic is simple: fight fire with fire.

2. If he is going to try to steal your business, then you have to fight fire with fire: go out and start stealing his customers.
a foregone conclusion
(from Othello)
meaning: something that is certain to happen

1. The sale of this house is a foregone conclusion: it is not ‘if’, but ‘when’.

2. People seem to think it is a foregone conclusion that Brazil will win the World Cup, but I think China has a chance.

footloose and fancy free
(from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
meaning: able to do whatever you want; no commitments, so completely free

1. He’s going to enjoy a summer of being footloose and fancy-free.

2. Life changes after you get married: you’re no longer footloose and fancy-free, and instead have to act like a responsible adult.
all that glitters is not gold
(from The Merchant of Venice)
meaning: appearances can be deceiving; not everything that looks good is good

1. Remember when you’re buying your new car that all that glitters is not gold.
pound of flesh
(from The Merchant of Venice)
meaning: a debt that is harshly demanded; wanting to be repaid with as much work as possible

1. My work pays me money, but in return they want their pound of flesh.

2. In exchange for my money, I want my pound of flesh: I need you to do something for me.
band of brothers
(from Henry V)
meaning: a tight group of friends or comrades, usually with a bond formed through tough times (such as soldiers)

1. The guys Jonny fought with in Iraq are really close, a band of brothers who won’t forget what they saw.

2. They walked into danger like a band of brothers.
salad days
(from Anthony and Cleopatra)
meaning: time of youth and innocence

1. I enjoyed my salad days.

2. Now that I’m married I feel trapped. I wish I could go back in time to my salad days: those were good times.
neither rhyme nor reason
(from A Comedy of Errors)
meaning: something makes no sense

1. There is neither rhyme nor reason in his actions; in fact, I think he has gone mad.

2. What you’re asking me to do has neither rhyme nor reason. Why do you want me to lie naked on the road?
uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
(from Henry IV, Part 2)
meaning: it is difficult to be a leader; leaders must worry about others wanting their position

1. Congratulations on the promotion. Just remember uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

2. Since he became manager his hair has gone white and he can’t sleep. He thinks everyone is out to get him. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
it was all Greek to me
(from Julius Cesar)
meaning: I didn’t understand it at all

1. That lecture was all Greek to me.

2. I’m sorry, I know you’re trying to explain how an engine works, but it’s all Greek to me.
up in arms
(from Henry IV, Part 2)
meaning: angry and discontented; shouting or complaining about a situation

1. The students are all up in arms about the change in teacher.

2. The public are up in arms about the new tax; I think there will be a riot.
hoist on my own petard
(from Hamlet)
meaning: make one’s own trouble; have an action that you did to help yourself come back and hurt you

1. I told them I speak Japanese so they would give me a job. Now they want me to be a translator. I’ve been hoist on my petard.

2. I asked her to the dance to I could get closer to her sister. Now the wrong sister is sending me love-letters. Talk about being hoist on one’s own petard!