Happy Birthday Shakespeare

Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. One year ago I made this blog post to wish him well. AJ, Melissa and the Misfit-Inc crew asked me to contribute to this years wishes with the Shakespeare Birth Trust.

As my last post showed, I am not such a fanatic follower of Shakespeare and I was fearful of what to write, without repeating myself. I spoke to Jessie at Misfit who suggested checking out this link. It has many day-to-day phrases we use that were created by Shakespeare. As I looked down the list I was surprised how many of them I not only knew, but used regularly.

For example ‘a foregone conclusion’ was used in Othello to explain that a decision had been made without the use of any evidence. I can be regularly heard saying this whilst watching my favourite football team – Tottenham Hotspurs. “This match is a forgone conclusion, we are clearly going to lose again.”

Another phrase I like is ‘make your hairs stand on end’. This is first found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1602:

“I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine.”

The meaning is when someone is frightened, but for me the use is different. I most relate to this phrase when I arrived in Sydney, Australia in 2005 after months of saving, planning and then travelling for 36 hours. Tired and jetlagged I stumbled across the botanical gardens, the opera house and the harbour bridge. In realising I had achieved a life ambition and to see such a beautiful site, my hairs literally stood on end.

‘Too much of a good thing’ struck a chord with me, but my view is that you can never have too much of a good thing, right? I also live and die by the ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’ ethos.

I could go on and on about how I use these phrases and what they mean to me, but instead can you do me a favour? Please tweet #happybirthdayshakespeare and tell me (@martynsibley) what your favourite phrase is.

Shakespeare is so prevalent in our everyday language and the extent of this surprised me. The more I dip back into his world, post GCSE’s, the more I am interested in how his works have formed parts of our cultures. Who knows, next year I may have even read something from Billy to review… Please checkout www.happybirthdayshakespeare.com for other people wishes!


  1. You couldn´t have choose another better topic for me. I keep on working on “The Language of Shakespeare” See you this afternoon

  2. ‘make your hairs stand on end’ here in Spain we say “Salvar los muebles” something like “To save the furniture”, take care of your own so at the end you are not damaged.

  3. Love this post. It’s overwhelming to think how much the world would not have had, in large and small ways, had Shakespeare never sat down to write. 🙂

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