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Familiar Passages in Hamlet

From Hamlet Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

When you first take a play of Shakespeare's in hand, you soon begin to have the feeling that you have read this before, though you know you have not. The fact is, Shakespeare expressed the general mind and common feeling of us all in phrases so packed with meaning, so full of insight into human nature, so happy in figure and choice of words, that we have adopted them and added them to our stock of everyday language. Only the Bible has contributed more of these stock phrases to modern English speech.

The result is that, without knowing it, we are constantly quoting words and even whole lines from Shakespeare's plays, as, for instance, when we speak of "the king's English," "sweets to the sweet," "much virtue in If," "at a pin's fee," "what's in a name?" "brevity is the soul of wit," "last, but not least," "every inch a king," "the tyrant custom," "single blessedness," "as easy as lying," "the short and the long of it," "a lion among ladies," "for ever and a day," "give the devil his due," "in my mind's eye," "the game is up," "forget and forgive," "cudgel thy brains," "what's done is done," "the pink of courtesy," "parting is such sweet sorrow," "I'll not budge an inch," etc.

With the exception of "The Merchant of Venice" and "Macbeth," probably none of the plays has contributed more familiar phrases to our speech today than "Hamlet." Here are some of the most important. Others may be found in Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations." It will interest you to try to place them by recalling when and where and by whom they were spoken. How many of them had you heard of before you studied the play?

1. For this relief much thanks.

2. But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad.
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill.

3. A little more than kin, and less than kind.

4. Customary suits of solemn black.

5. O, that this too too solid flesh would melt.

6. How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

7. Hyperion to a satyr.

8. Frailty, thy name is woman !

9. Thrift, thrift, Horatio ! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

10. In my mind's eye.

11. He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

12. In the dead vast and middle of the night.

13. More in sorrow than in anger.

14. Sweet, not lasting.

15. The primrose path of dalliance.

16. Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

17. Rich not gaudy.

18. Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

19. To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

20. To the manner born.

21. More honoured in the breach than the observance.

22. I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul.

23. The secrets of my prison house.

24. Sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head.

25. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

26. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

27. The time is out of joint: O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right.

28. Brevity is the soul of wit.

29. 'T is true 't is pity;
And pity 't is 't is true.

30. Caviare to the general.

31. Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.

32. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

33. The play's the thing.

34. The devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape.

35. To be, or not to be; that is the question.

36. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

37. The thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.

38. 'T is a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
Ay, there 's the rub.

40. When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

41. The whips and scorns of time.

42. The insolence of office.

43. The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns.

44. Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.

45. Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

46. The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observed of all observers.

47. Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh.

48. Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.

49. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.

50. Frighted with false fire?

51. They fool me to the top of my bent.

52. I will speak daggers to her, but will use none.

53. O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven.

54. Dead, for a ducat, dead!

55. Lay not that flattering unction to your soul.

56. I must be cruel, only to be kind.

57. 'T is the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar.

58. When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions.

59. There 's such divinity doth hedge a king.
That treason can but peep to what it would.

60. There is pansies, that's for thoughts.

61. Sweets to the sweet: farewell!

62. The cat will mew and dog will have his day.

63. There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

64. There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.

65. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.

66. The rest is silence.

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1921. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2013. < >.


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