My youngest daughter is currently appearing in her school’s production of Macbeth and I am very much looking forward to seeing the play tonight. I have great memories of doing Banquo’s ghost scene when I was about 12 and many of its famous quotes are still stuck in my mind so many years on. And, like so much of Shakespeare’s work, those quotes have left a huge legacy.
It is well known how many of our words and phrases were first coined by the Bard; everything from being in a pickle to dead as a door nail. But how much from Macbeth specifically? Lady Macbeth wandering around trying to wash the blood off her hands, out, damned spot, and the witches meeting again with their double double, toil and trouble are obvious examples, but there are a number of other common words and phrases that originated in those Scottish castles of Stratford upon Avon. Mrs & Mrs Macbeth and the crew are even credited with the very first knock knock joke. Not that it was very funny – just Knock, knock! Who’s there? Hmm, okay, moving swiftly on…
One phrase used frequently without perhaps much thought to the original meaning is one fell swoop. When hearing that his family and household have all been killed on Macbeth’s orders, Macduff compares the villain to a bird of prey (hell-kite) swooping down to slaughter his pretty chickens.
—All my pretty ones?
Did you say all?—O hell-kite!—All?
What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam,
At one fell swoop?
Lady Macbeth brings us many memorable lines. When hubby starts to lose it, it is she, his fellow conspirator, who tries to comfort him with words of wisdom, telling him forget the past; what’s done is done:
How now, my lord, why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what’s done, is done.
She is, however, unable to take her own advice and echos the phrase in her infamous hand-wringing, sleep-walking phase:
What’s done cannot be undone.
There are so many more examples, from a sorry sight to be-all and end-all. The play is even thought to have used to drug as a verb for the first time. So, I’m looking forward to familiar lines and sterling performances tonight from the cast and crew at Swavesey Village College. Break a leg, chaps!
Do you have a favourite Shakespeare quote?