Why is Shakespeare so cool? One reason is because Shakespeare allows you to time travel- in more ways than one!  Go “Back to the Future” as you play in the world of Shakespearean language- at once a link to the past- AND to the future (that’s all of us!) which it then became!  Mind Boggling?  Well, check out the info below as

The Iowa Shakespeare Experience helps



The Iowa Shakespeare Experience believes that one of the best ways to understand Shakespeare, or to get to know his work better, is through attending one of our plays! Shakespeare’s work was meant to be seen and heard- and the ISE specializes in making the Bard make sense!  We promise- come to one of our shows, relax, and take it all in- you will be richly rewarded!  The “inner circle” awaits!


All the Shakespeare you remember:

told so freshly, you'll never forget!

Shakespeare is fun because his work lends itself to a maximum amount of interpretation - meaning that each time you see a show, you can find fresh insights and fresh understandings - and it can truly be like seeing a work for the first time.  There are many reasons for this phenomenon- one being that his stories tell immortal tales of profoundly human truths, ponderings, and situations.  But there are also historical reasons for Shakespeare's flexibility.  For example, Shakespeare wrote at a time when there were no dictionaries- indeed, few could read.  Orignal Shakespearean actors almost certainly changed the text every night- rehearsals and scripts were a very limited commodity.  Shakespeare himself created words when he needed them - and for hundreds and hundreds of year, directors and actors have responded to this vast "auora borealis" in Shakespeare- bringing countless fascinating meanings and interpretative explorations to these amazing works. 

For more information on interpreting Shakespeare, we encourage you to go to our "White Paper" sections, where you will find the reason that most folks feel there is no such knowable animal as "traditional" Shakespeare - these stories were originally "all over the map" - as Shakespeare himself wrote them, studded with dance and music and set in countries all around the world- in a dizzying array of different time periods, too - sometimes in the very same play! 

Meanwhile, for other helpful hints that can also prepare you for appreciating the Bard, we refer you to our friends at “About.com”, where among other resources, you will find information like the following excellent material from Duncan Fewins on “Understanding Shakespeare”.

Mr. Fewins notes that: 

“Shakespeare has had a huge influence on the English language. Some people today reading Shakespeare for the first time fear that the language is difficult to read and understand, yet we are still using hundreds of words and phrases coined by William Shakespeare in our everyday conversation.  

And- Shakespeare’s language is beautiful! Still, for many, beautiful tho it is, language is the biggest barrier in understanding Shakespeare. (This is true even for Actors.) Perfectly competent performers can be paralysed with fear when they see bizarre words like “Methinks” and “Peradventure” – something I call Shakespearaphobia. 

As a way of trying to counter this natural anxiety, I often begin by telling new students or performers that speaking Shakespeare aloud isn’t like learning a new language –it’s more like listening to a strong accent and your ear soon adjusts to the new dialect. Very soon you are able to understand most of what is said. 

Even if you are confused about some words and phrases, you should still be able to pick up meaning from the context and the visual signals you receive from the speaker. 

Watch how quickly children pick up accents and new language when on holiday. This is evidence of how adaptable we are to new ways of speaking. The same is true of Shakespeare and the best antidote for Shakespearaphobia is to sit back, relax and listen to the text spoken and performed.

Phrases Coined by Shakespeare

Mr. Fewins continues: “You have probably quoted Shakespeare thousands of times without realizing it. If your homework gets you “in a pickle”, your friends have you “in stitches”, or your guests “eat you out of house and home”, then you’re quoting Shakespeare!”

Here are some of the most popular Shakespeare phrases in common use today:

  •  A laughing stock (The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • A sorry sight (Macbeth
  • As dead as a doornail (Henry VI
  • Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2
  • Fair play (The Tempest
  • I will wear my heart upon my sleeve (Othello
  • In a pickle (The Tempest
  • In stitches (Twelfth Night
  • In the twinkling of an eye (The Merchant Of Venice
  • Mum's the word (Henry VI, Part 2
  • Neither here nor there (Othello
  • Send him packing (Henry IV
  • Set your teeth on edge (Henry IV
  • There's method in my madness (Hamlet
  • Too much of a good thing (As You Like It
  • Vanish into thin air (Othello

(And the Iowa Shakespeare Experience points out more familiar phrases first coined by Shakespeare, like these:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose 

The lady doth protest too much 

If music be the food of love, play on 

All the world's a stage 

To be, or not to be 

To sleep, perchance to dream 

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? 

Such stuff as dreams are made on 

Parting is such sweet sorrow 

The winter of our discontent 

What a piece of work is a man 

Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind 

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark 

Out, damned spot 

All that glisters is not gold 

Et tu, Brute? 

Cowards die many times before their deaths 

The play's the thing 

What light through yonder window breaks? 

The course of true love never did run smooth 

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears 

Nothing can come of nothing 

The quality of mercy is not strained 

A plague on both your houses 

Blow, blow, thou winter wind 

Beware the ides of March 

Method in the madness 

O happy dagger! 

The world's mine oyster 

A lean and hungry look 

Off with his head! 

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps 

Be not afraid of greatness, for some are born great…

Lord, what fools these mortals be 

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie 

Is this a dagger which I see before me 

 Get thee to a nunnery 

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

Eye of newt, and toe of frog 

I am constant as the northern star 

The green-eyed monster 

The most unkindest cut of all 

What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living? 

What's gone and what's past help 

 A blinking idiot 

A dish fit for the gods 

A hit, a very palpable hit 

Oh, and here’s some more familiar stuff:


"This above all: to thine own self be true". - (Act I, Scene III).

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.". - (Act II, Scene II). 

"That it should come to this!". - (Act I, Scene II). 

"Brevity is the soul of wit". - (Act II, Scene II).

King Richard III

"Now is the winter of our discontent". - (Act I, Scene I). 

Romeo and Juliet

"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?". - (Act II, Scene II).

The Merry Wives of Windsor

"Why, then the world 's mine oyster" - (Act II, Scene II).

"As good luck would have it". - (Act III, Scene V).

 Julius Caesar

"But, for my own part, it was Greek to me". - (Act I, Scene II).

"Beware the ides of March". - (Act I, Scene II).

"This was the noblest Roman of them all". - (Act V, Scene V).

The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come". - 


"I bear a charmed life". - (Act V, Scene VIII). 

"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." - (Act IV, Scene I).

"Out, damned spot! out, I say!" - (Act V, Scene I).. 

Antony and Cleopatra

"My salad days, when I was green in judgment." - (Act I, Scene V).

Twelfth Night

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - (Act II, Scene V).

"Love sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better" . - (Act III, Scene I).

The Tempest

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep".

A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind". - (Act I, Scene I).


(Now - Back to our friend Mr. Hewins…)

Mr. Hewins continues: 

“In many cases, it is not known if Shakespeare actually invented these phrases, or if they were already in use during his lifetime. In fact, it is almost impossible to identify when a word or phrase was first used, but Shakespeare’s plays often provide the earliest citation.

About.com: Quick and Easy Workshop: 

Understanding Shakespeare’s Words 

It is important to note that when Shakespeare was alive, language was in a state of flux and many modern words were being integrated into the language for the first time. There was, after all, no dictionary at that time- people were quite free to invent words as need saw fit! Shakespeare himself coined many new words and phrases. Shakespeare’s language is therefore a mixture of the old and the new. 

Mr. Hewin has provided modern translations of the top 10 most common Shakespearian words and phrases. 

  1. Thee, Thou, Thy and Thine (You and Your)
    It’s a common myth that Shakespeare never uses the words “you” and “your” – actually, these words are commonplace in his plays. However, he also uses the words “thee / thou” instead of “you” and the word “thy / thine” instead of “your”. Sometimes he uses both “you” and “thy” in the same speech. This is simply because in Tudor England the older generation said “thee” and “thy” to denote a status or reverence for authority. Therefore when addressing a king the older “thou” and “thy” would be used, leaving the newer “you” and “your” for more informal occasions. Soon after Shakespeare’s lifetime, the older form passed away! 
  2. Art (Are)
    The same is true of “art”, meaning “are”. So a sentence beginning “thou art” simply means “You are”. 
  3. Ay (Yes)
    “Ay” simply means “yes”. So, “Ay, My Lady” simply means “Yes, My Lady.” 
  4. Would (Wish)
    Although the word “wish” does appear in Shakespeare, like when Romeo says “I wish I were a cheek upon that hand,” we often find “would” used instead. For example, “I would I were …” means “I wish I were…” 
  5. Give Me Leave To (Allow Me To)
    “To give me leave to”, simply means “To allow me to”. 
  6. Alas (Unfortunately)
    “Alas” is a very common word that isn’t used today. It simply means “unfortunately”, but in modern English there isn’t an exact equivalent. 
  7. Adieu (Goodbye)
    “Adieu” simply means “Goodbye”. 
  8. Sirrah (Sir)
    “Sirrah” means “Sir” or “Mister”. 
  9. -eth
    Sometimes the endings of Shakespearian words sound alien even though the root of the word is familiar. For example “speaketh” simply means “speak” and “sayeth” means “say”. 
  10. Don’t, Do and Did
    A key absence from Shakespearian English is “don’t”. This word simply wasn’t around then. So, if you said “don’t be afraid” to a friend in Tudor England, you would have said “be not afeard.” Where today we would say “don’t hurt me,” Shakespeare would have said “hurt me not.” The words “do” and “did” were also uncommon, so rather than saying “what did he look like?” Shakespeare would have said “what looked he like?” And instead of “did she stay long?” Shakespeare would have said “stayed she long?” This difference accounts for the unfamiliar word order in some Shakespearian sentences. 

Changing Meanings

Over time, many of the original meanings behind the phrases have evolved. For example, the phrase "sweets to the sweet" from Hamlet has since become a commonly used romantic phrase. In the original play, the line is uttered by Hamlet’s mother as she scatters funeral flowers across Ophelia’s grave in Act 5, Scene 1:


(Scattering flowers) Sweets to the sweet, farewell!
I hop'd thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife:
I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid,
And not have strew'd thy grave. 

This passage hardly shares the romantic sentiment in today’s use of the phrase! 

In conclusion:

Shakespeare’s writing lives on in today’s language, culture and literary traditions because his influence became an essential building block in the development of the English language. His writing is so deeply engrained that it is impossible to imagine modern literature –or even modern language-without his influence.”

Duncan Fewins is About.com’s regular “Teaching Shakespeare” columnist. If you would like to follow his monthly advice to teachers and students, please subscribe to the About.com newsletter

For more fun with Shakespeare, don’t miss the fabulous “Talk Like Shakespeare” Day! A rage sweeping the country, brought to you from the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at “TalkLikeShakespeare.org. Prithee go check it out- right now!