Shakespeare’s language is our language - Michigan Shakespeare Festival

By David Blixt

Every year the Michigan Shakespeare Festival tours productions of Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth to high schools all over the state. After every performance, the actors do a question and answer session with the students, most of whom have never seen live professional theatre before. There are standard questions we get asked: “How do you memorize all those lines?”  “How long did it take to learn all the fighting?” “Are you two really dating?”

But one question invariably pops up, and it’s our favorite. “Who translated it for you? Because I didn’t understand it when I read it, but when you said it, it made sense!”

Yeah. That’s because Shakespeare wrote plays, not books. His words were written to be spoken. And when they’re spoken aloud, they’re the best expression of what it is to be alive and human we have. He was so good at expressing what’s inside us, he invented words and phrases that we use every single day.

For example, here are a few words invented by Shakespeare: amazement, assassination, bandit, bedroom, blanket, blushing, bet, bump, champion, cold-blooded, dawn, dwindle, elbow, excitement, eyeball, flawed, generous, gloomy, gossip, hint, hush, invulnerable, jaded, lonely, mimic, moonbeam, negotiate, obscene, puking, radiance, swagger, tranquil, unreal, vaulting, worthless, zany.

And a few phrases invented by Shakespeare:

""All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.""

“As good luck would have it”

""As merry as the day is long”

""As pure as the driven snow""

“Bated breath”

“Be-all and the end-all”

""Beware the ides of March""

“Brave new world”

“Break the ice”

“Refuse to budge an inch”

""A countenance more in sorrow than in anger""

“Cold comfort”

“Dead as a doornail”

“A dish fit for the gods”

""Dog will have his day""

""Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble""

“Eaten me out of house and home”

""Et tu, Brute?""

“Faint hearted”


""Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man""

""Fight fire with fire""

“Forever and a day”

“For goodness’ sake”

“Foregone conclusion”

""Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears""

“Full circle”

“The game is afoot”

“Give the devil his due”

“Good riddance”

""Have you prayed tonight, Desdemona?""

“Heart of gold”

“Hoist with his own petard”

""A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!""

""I bear a charmed life""

""I burn, I pine, I perish.""

""I go! I go! Look how I go! Swifter than an arrow from a Tartar’s bow!""

""I have not slept one wink""

“Ill wind which blows no man to good”

“In my heart of hearts”

“In my mind’s eye”

“Kill with kindness”

“Knock knock! Who’s there?”

“Laughing stock”

“Live long day”

“Love is blind”

“Milk of human kindness”

“More sinned against than sinning”

""Oh, that way madness lies""

""O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo""

“One fell swoop”

""Parting is such sweet sorrow""

""A plague on both your houses""

“Play fast and loose”

""A rose by any other name would smell as sweet""

“Set my teeth on edge”

""Shall I compare thee to a summer's day""

""Some are born great, others achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em""

""Something is rotten in the state of Denmark""

""Spotless reputation""

""This is very midsummer madness""

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve”

“Wild-goose chase”

""The world's my oyster""

""You’ve got to Be Cruel to Be Kind""


Shakespeare understands us, even if we don’t always understand him. The first ten minutes of any Shakespeare show is about letting your ear get used to his language. It’s like musical theatre – people in real life don’t break into song. Just the same, people in Shakespeare’s time didn’t talk the way he wrote. He was writing his own special language, one that gives us an advantage over all the people of his time. Because we already know the words he created. We use them every day.

So dive in and attach your favorite Shakespeare quote to your favorite animal photo. We at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival have been doing it for years, and we’ve run out of ideas. We’re dying to see yours, to find our inspiration again, and to bring smiles to all our faces. Shakespeare wouldn’t mind in the least. Whenever he could, he’d work a dog into a play. Because, even if he didn’t coin the phrase “man’s best friend”, he certainly understood it. And us.

Shakespeare Pets Meme Contest

Our pets are pretty funny and sometimes a little dramatic. So is Shakespeare. Enter our Shakespeare Pets Meme Contest to win Michigan Shakespeare Festival tickets at the Potter Center at Jackson College, July 9-24. Click here for details on how to enter the Shakespeare Pets Meme Contest.

About David Blixt

Author and playwright David Blixt's work is consistently described as ""intricate,"" ""taut,"" and ""breathtaking."" A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. Learn more at

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