Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘MacBeth’

What’s Done Is Done

Posted by Admin on June 29, 2010

It’s true that William Shakespeare used the phrase “what’s done is done” in his play, MacBeth (written some time between 1603 and 1607) in Act 3, Scene 2.

LADY MACBETH
With them they think on! Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done, is done.

However, Shakespeare is not responsible for the phrase.  The phrase uses done in the sense of “ended” or “settled” which is a usage dating back from the first half of the 1400s.   It’s actually a derivative of the early 14th Century French proverb:  “Mez quant ja est la chose fecte, ne peut pas bien estre desfecte.”  Translation: ” But when a thing is already done, it cannot be undone.”

That being said, the spirit of the phrase is even older than the early 14th Century, dating back to the works of the Latin poet from the Republican period, Gaius Valerius Catullus (84 BC – ca. 54 BC).  In his poem Carmen VIII, he wrote:

LATIN:
Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire
Et quod vides perisse, perditum ducas.

TRANSLATION:
Poor old Catullus, stop your whining
What you see is over, accept it’s really over
.”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 14th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Milk Of Human Kindness

Posted by Admin on June 10, 2010

The first published version of this phrase appears in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth written sometime between 1603 and 1607.  In Act 1, Scene 5 when Lady Macbeth complains that her husband isn’t ruthless enough with his rivals.

LADY MACBETH
Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness.

Lady Macbeth belittles her husband’s courage and manhood, countering his arguments about sparing Scottish King Duncan’s life until Macbeth finally relents and agrees with her that they should kill their overnight guest.  Of course, from that point on, Macbeth needs no encouragement from his lady to continue with his plans to secure the throne for himself.

There’s a fair bit of discussion about the milk of human kindness in the Old Testament of the Bible however, contrary to popular belief, the phrase itself never appears.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Knock, Knock! Who’s There?

Posted by Admin on June 8, 2010

Surprise, surprise —  it was William Shakespeare who first penned the immortal “Knock, knock! Who’s there?” in his play Macbeth in Act 2, scene 3 written between 1611 and 1612 and first performed in 1623:

PORTER:
Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key.

Knock within.

Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty. Come in time, have napkins enough about you, here you’ll sweat for ’t. 

Knock within.

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.

Knock within.

Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, here’s an English tailor come hither for stealing out of a French hose. Come in, tailor. Here you may roast your goose.

Of course, in the play it was no joke. The famous “knock, knock” jokes didn’t start until more than 300 years later. 

In the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Australia, the U.S.A., Canada, South Africa and India, the “knock knock” jokes are well known.  However, in countries such as Brazil and Germany,  “knock knock” jokes are practically unknown.

The “knock knock” joke has been used in at least 31 pop culture movies such as The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Rocky V (1990), Sixteen Candles (1984), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Carry on Dick (1974), and The Fugitive Kind (1959).

I guess the joke’s on William Shakespeare for having found a phrase that lends itself so well to puns and merriment!  Knock, knock!  Who’s there?

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sorry Sight

Posted by Admin on May 14, 2010

Finally, we have come across a phrase written by Shakespeare for which he and he alone can take credit!   In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth written in 1605, the phrase “sorry sight” makes its first appearance — not once, but twice — in Act 2, Scene 2.

MACBETH:
Hark! Who lies i’ the second chamber?

LADY MACBETH:
Donalbain.

MACBETH:
This is a sorry sight.
[Looking on his hands]

LADY MACBETH:
A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.

Sometimes finding the origins of a phrase, cliché, expression or word is as easy to find as a needle in a haystack.   Sometimes it’s easy as pie!

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »