Saturday, May 28


Read any play of Shakespeare's, and you'll find him full of clichés -- stock phrases and figures of speech that are so much the common coinage of the language that they possess no particular literary value whatsoever. Let me quote the sort of thing I mean -- these are all phrases from MacBeth:

The milk of human kindness
Even-handed justice
The primrose way
What's done is done
Scotched the snake, not killed it
Can such things be
The slaves of drink
Make assurance doubly sure
The crack of doom

Those are all commonplace enough. Yet, to me, they are the most exciting thing about Shakespeare, because none of them had ever been said until he said them. They are a few out of hundreds of similar phrases that he invented and added to the English language -- so many of them that I doubt whether any English-speaking person can carry on one day's conversation without quoting Shakespeare. They are Shakespeare's immortal contribution. The plays are great; but long after the plays are forgotten, those humble phrases will still be spoken, as long as there is an English language to speak.

-- Deems Taylor The Well-Tempered Listener