Borrowing from the Bard

I went to a performance of ‘Hamlet’ recently – directed by Jonathan Miller, in the Bristol theatre-in-the-round where I have myself performed a number of times.  The play, of course, is a marathon – for audience and players – and the title role is huge. Jamie Ballard captured the angst and volatility of the character superbly, though perhaps he lacked that princely quality that would have marked him out as a fine future king, had things been otherwise; and his death – directed by Miller with medical accuracy – managed to make a sublime moment somewhat comical.

What particularly struck me though, as I listened to the dialogue, was how many every-day phrases, that we use so often that they  are almost cliches, are derived from Shakespeare’s text. Phrases such as “in my mind’s eye”, “to the manner born”, “more in sorrow than in anger”, “suit the action to the word”, “I must be cruel … to be kind”, “the primrose path” – all come straight from Hamlet. There are others that we use with a vague awareness of literary connections but without realising we are quoting the ‘gloomy Dane’: “frailty, thy name is woman!”, “more honoured in the breach than the observance”, “the time is out of joint”, “brevity is the soul of wit”, “to hold … the mirror up to nature”, “the lady doth protest too much” – the list goes on. Yet most people think the only line they know from ‘Hamlet’ is “To be, or not to be…”

What a debt we owe to WS!

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