In the present chapter are collected together the chief proverbs either quoted or alluded to by Shakespeare. Many of these are familiar to most readers, but have gained an additional interest by reason of their connection with the poet's writings. At the same time, it may be noted, that very many of Shakespeare's pithy sayings have since his day passed into proverbs, and have taken their place in this class of literature. It is curious to notice, as Mrs Cowden Clarke remarks, how "Shakespeare has paraphrased some of our commonest proverbs in his own choice and elegant diction." Thus, "make hay while the sun shines," becomes—
"The sun shines hot; and if we use delay,
Cold biting winter mars our hoped-for hay,"
a statement which applies to numerous other proverbial sayings.
"A black man is a jewel in a fair woman's eyes."—In the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (v. 2), the following passage is an amusing illustration of the above:—
"Thurio. What says she to my face?
Proteus. She says it is a fair one.
Thurio. Nay then, the wanton lies; my face is black.
Proteus. But pearls are fair; and the old saying is,
Black men are pearls in beauteous ladies’ eyes."
In "Titus Andronicus" (v. 1), there is a further allusion to this proverb where Lucius says of Aaron:—
"This is the pearl that pleased your empress’ eye."
"A beggar marries a wife and lice."—So in "King Lear" (iii. 2), song—
"The cod-piece that will house,
Before the head has any,
The head and he shall louse;
So beggars marry many."
Thus it is also said—"A beggar payeth a benefit with a louse."
"A cunning knave needs no broker."—This old proverb is quoted by Hume in "2 Henry VI." (i. 2):—
"A crafty knave does need no broker."
"A curs’t cur must be tied short."—With this proverb we may compare what Sir Toby says in "Twelfth Night" (iii. 2) to Sir Andrew:—
"Go, write it in a martial hand; be curst and brief."
"A drop hollows the stone," or "many drops pierce the stone."—We may compare "3 Henry VI." (iii. 2), "much rain wears the marble," and also the messenger's words (ii. 1), when he relates how "the noble Duke of York was slain"—
"Environed he was with many foes,
And stood against them, as the hope of Troy
Against the Greeks that would have enter’d Troy.
But Hercules himself must yield to odds;
And many strokes, though with a little axe,
Hew down and fell the hardest timber’d oak."
"A finger in every pie."—So in "Henry VIII." (i. 1), Buckingham says of Wolsey:—
"No man's pie is freed
From his ambitious finger."
To the same purport is the following proverb 1—"He had I a finger in the pie when he burnt his nail off."
"A fool's bolt is soon shot."—Quoted by Duke of Orleans in "Henry V." (iii. 7), With this we may compare the French—"De fol juge breve sentence."
"A friend at court is as good as a penny in the purse."—So in "2 Henry IV." (v. 1), Shallow says—
"A friend i’ the court is better than a penny in purse."
The French equivalent of this saying is—"Bon fait avoir ami en cour, car le procès en est plus court."
"A little pot's soon hot."—Grumio in "Taming of the Shrew" (iv. 1), uses this familiar proverb—"Were not I a little pot and soon hot, my very lips might freeze to my teeth," &c.
"A pox of the devil."—"Henry V." (ii. 1.)
"A smoky chimney and a scolding wife are two bad companions."—There are various versions of this proverb—Ray gives the following:—"Smoke, raining into the house, and a scolding wife, will make a man run out of doors."
Hotspur, in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 1), says of his father,—
"O, he is as tedious
As a tired horse, a railing wife;
Worse than a smoky house."
"A snake lies hidden in the grass."—This, as Mr Green remarks, is no unfrequent proverb, and the idea is often made use of by Shakespeare. Thus in "2 Henry VI." (iii. 1), Margaret declares to the attendant nobles—
"Henry my lord is cold in great affairs,
Too full of foolish pity: 1 and Gloucester's show
Beguiles him as the mournful crocodile
With sorrow snares relenting passengers,
Or as the snake, roll’d in a flowering bank,
With shining checker’d slough, doth sting a child,
That for the beauty thinks it excellent."
Lady Macbeth (i. 5), tells her husband,—
"Look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’t."
Juliet ("Romeo and Juliet," iii. 2), speaks of
"Serpent heart, hid with a flowering face."
"A staff is quickly found to beat a dog."—Other versions of this proverb are,—
"It is easy to find a stick to beat a dog."
"It is easy to find a stone to throw at a dog."
So in "2 Henry VI." (iii. 1), Gloucester says,—
"I shall not want false witness to condemn me,
Nor store of treasons to augment my guilt;
The ancient proverb will be well effected:
'A staff is quickly found to beat a dog.'"
"A wise man may live anywhere."—In "Richard II." (i. 3), John of Gaunt says,—
"All places that the eye of heaven visits,
Are to a wise man ports and happy havens."
"A woman conceals what she does not know."—Hence Hotspur says to his wife in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 3),—
"Constant you are,
But yet a woman: and for secrecy,
No lady closer; for I well believe
Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know,
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate."
"All men are not alike."—"Much Ado about Nothing" (iii. 5).
"All's Well that Ends well."
"As lean as a rake."—So in "Coriolanus" (i. 1), one of the citizens says,—"Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes."—So Spenser in his "Faerie Queene" (bk. ii. can. it),—
"His body leane and meagre as a rake."
This proverb is found in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" (i. 289),—
"Al so lene was his hors as is a rake."
"As thin as a whipping post" is another proverb of the same kind.
"As mad as a march hare."—"The Two Noble Kinsmen" (iii. 5). We may compare the expression "hare-brained,"—"I King Henry IV." (v. 2).
"As sound as a bell."—So in "Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 2), Don Pedro says of Benedick,—"He hath a heart as sound as a bell."
"As the bell clinketh, so the fool thinketh."—This proverb is indirectly alluded to in "Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 1), in the previous passage, where Don Pedro says of Benedick that "he hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper, for what his heart thinks his tongue speaks."
Another form of the same proverb is—"As the fool thinks, the bell tinks."
"As true as steel."—This popular adage is quoted in "Troilus and Cressida" (iii. 2)—
"As true as steel, as plantage to the moon."
We may also compare the proverb:—"As true as the dial to the sun."
"At hand, quoth pickpurse," "1 Henry IV." (ii. 1).—This proverbial saying arose, says Malone, from the pickpurse, always seizing the prey nearest him.
"Ay, tell me that and unyoke" ("Hamlet," v. I).—This was a common adage for giving over or ceasing to do a thing; a metaphor derived from the unyoking of oxen at the end of their labour.
"Baccare, quoth Mortimer to his sow."—With this Mr Halliwell-Phillipps compares Gremio's words in "The Taming of the Shrew" (ii. 1)—
"Saving your tale, Petruchio, I pray,
Let us, that are poor petitioners, speak too:
Baccare! you are marvellous forward."
Mr Dyce (Glossary, p. 23) says the word signifies "go back," and cites one of John Heywood's epigrams upon it:—
"Backare, quoth Mortimer to his sow;
Went that sowe backe at that bidding, trow you."
"Barnes are blessings."—"All's Well that Ends Well" (i. 3).
"Base is the slave that pays," "Henry V." (ii. 1).
"Bastards are born lucky."—This proverb is alluded to in "King John" (i. 1), by the bastard, who says:—
"Brother, adieu; good fortune come to thee!
For thou wast got i’ the way of honesty."
Philip wishes his brother good fortune, because Robert was not a bastard.
"Beggars mounted run their horses to death." —Quoted by York in "3 Henry VI." (i. 4). We may also compare the proverb:—"Set a beggar on horseback, he'll ride to the devil."
"Begone when the sport is at the best."—Mr Halliwell-Phillipps quotes Benvolio's words in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 5) .—
"Away, begone; the sport is at the best."
To the same effect are Romeo's words (i. 4):—.
"The game was ne’er so fair, and I am done."
"Be off while your shoes are good."—This popular phrase still in use, seems alluded to by Katharine in "Taming of the Shrew" (iii. 2), who says to Petruchio:—
"You may be jogging whiles your boots are green."
"Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."—Quoted by the clown in "Twelfth Night" (i. 5).
"Better fed than taught."—This old saying may be alluded to in "All's Well that Ends Well" (ii. 2) by the clown, "I will show myself highly fed and lowly taught;" and again (ii. 4) by Parolles:—
"A good knave, i’ faith, and well fed."
"Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale."—Quoted by Launce as a proverb in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (iii. 1).
"Blush like a black dog."—This saying is referred to in "Titus Andronicus" (v. 1)
"First Goth. What, canst you say all this, and never blush?
Aaron. Ay, like a black dog, as the saying is."
"Bought and sold," "Troilus and Cressida" (ii. x).—A proverbial phrase applied to anyone entrapped or made a victim by treachery or mismanagement. It is found again in the "Comedy of Errors" (iii. 1); in "King John" (v. 4); and in "Richard III." (v. 3).
"Bring your hand to the buttery-bar and let it drink." "Twelfth Night" (i. 3), Mr Dyce quotes the following explanation of this passage, although he does not answer for its correctness:—"This is a proverbial phrase among forward Abigails, to ask at once for a kiss and a present. Sir Andrew's slowness of comprehension in this particular gave her a just suspicion at once, of his frigidity and avarice." The buttery-bar means the place in palaces and in great houses whence provisions were dispensed; and it is still to be seen in most of our Colleges.
"Brag's a good dog, but Hold-fast is a better."—This proverb is alluded to in "Henry V." (ii. 3), by Pistol:—
"Hold-fast is the only dog, my duck."
"Bush natural, more hair than wit."—Ray's Proverbs—So in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (iii. 1), it is said, "She hath more hair than wit."
"By chance but not by truth." 2 "King John" (i. 1).
"Care will kill a cat; yet there's no living without it." So in "Much ado about Nothing" (v. 1), Claudio says to Don Pedro:—"What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care."
"Come cut and long tail," "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iii. 4).—This proverb means, "Let any come that may, good or bad"; and was, no doubt, says Staunton, originally applied to dogs or horses."
"Comparisons are odious."—So in "Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 5), Dogberry tells Verges:—
"Comparisons are odorous."
"Confess and be hanged."—This well known proverb is probably alluded to in the "Merchant of Venice" (iii. 2):—
Bassanio. "Promise me life, and I'll confess the truth."
Portia. "Well then, confess and live."
We may also refer to what Othello says (iv. 1):—"To confess, and to be hanged for his labour; first, to be hanged, and then to confess. I tremble at it."
In "Timon of Athens" (i. 2), Apemantus says:—"Ho, ho, confess’d it! hang’d it, have you not?"
"Cry him, and have him." So Rosalind says in "As You Like It" (i. 3), "If I could try 'hem' and have him."
"Cry you mercy, I took you for a joint-stool." "King Lear" (iii. 5). It is given by Ray in his "Proverbs" (1768); see also "Taming of the Shrew" (ii. 1).
"Cucullus non facit monachum."—So in "Henry VIII." (iii. 1), Queen Katharine says:—
"All hoods make not monks."
Chaucer thus alludes to this proverb:—
"Habite ne maketh monk ne feere;
But a clean life and devotion
Maketh gode men of religion."
"Dead as a door nail."—So in "2 Henry VI." (iv. 10), Cade says to Iden:—"I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead as a door-nail, I pray God I may never eat grass more."
We may compare the term, "dead as a herring," which Caius uses in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (ii. 3), "By gar, de herring is no dead so as I vill kill him."
"Death will have his day." "Richard II." (iii. 2).
"Delays are dangerous."—In "1 Henry VI." (iii. 2), Reignier says—
"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends."
"Diluculo surgere," &c. "Twelfth Night" (ii. 3).
"Dogs must eat."—This with several other proverbs is quoted by Agrippa in "Coriolanus" (i. 1).
"Dun's the mouse," "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 4).—This was a proverbial saying, of which no satisfactory explanation has yet been given. Nares thinks it was "frequently employed with no other intent than that of quibbling on the word done." Ray has, "as dun as a mouse." Mercutio says—"Tut, dun's the mouse, the constable's own word."
"Empty vessels give the greatest sound."—Quoted in "Henry V." (iv. 4).
"Every dog hath his day, and every man his hour."—This old adage seems alluded to by the Queen in "Hamlet" (v. 1).
"The cat will mew and dog will have his day."
"Every man at forty is either a fool or a physician." 2—This popular proverb is probably referred to in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iii. 4), by Mistress Quickly, who tells Fenton how she had recommended him as a suitor for Mr Page's daughter instead of Doctor Caius:—"This is my doing now: 'nay,' said I, 'will you cast away your child on a fool, and a physician? Look on Master Fenton:' this is my doing."
"Familiarity breeds contempt."—So in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 1), Slender says, "I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt."
"Fast bind, fast find."—In "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 5), Shylock says—
"Well, Jessica, go in:
Perhaps I will return immediately:
Do as I bid you; shut doors after you:
Fast bind, fast find;
A proverb never stale in thrifty mind."
"Finis coronat opus."—A translation of this Latin proverb is given by Helena in "All's Well that Ends Well" (iv. 4):—
"Still the fine's the crown."
In "2 Henry VI." (v. 2), too, Clifford's expiring words are—"La fin couronne les œuvres." We still have the expression to crown, in the sense of to finish or make perfect. Mr Douce remarks that "coronidem imponere is a metaphor well known to the ancients, and supposed to have originated from the practice of finishing buildings by placing a crown at the top as an ornament; and for this reason the words crown, top and head, are become synonymous in most languages. There is reason for believing that the ancients placed a crescent at the beginning, and a crown, or some ornament that resembled it, at the end of their books." In "Troilus and Cressida" (iv. 5), Hector says
"The fall of every Phrygian stone will cost
A drop of Grecian blood: the end crowns all,
And that old common arbitrator, Time,
Will one day end it."
Prince Henry ("2 Henry IV.," ii. 2) in reply to Poins, gives another turn to the proverb:—"By this hand, thou thinkest me as far in the devil's book as thou and Falstaff for obduracy and persistency: let the end try the man."
"Fly pride, says the peacock."—This is quoted by Dromio of Syracuse in "The Comedy of Errors" (iv. 3) 2—
"Friends may meet, but mountains never greet."—This is ironically alluded to in "As You Like It" (iii. 2), by Celia—"It is a hard matter for friends to meet; but mountains may be removed with earthquakes and so encounter."
"Give the devil his due."—In "Henry V." (iii. 7) it is quoted by the Duke of Orleans.
"God sends fools fortune."—It is to this version of the Latin adage, "Fortuna favet fatuis" ("Fortune favours fools"), that Touchstone alludes in his reply to Jaques, in "As You Like It" (ii. 7)—
"No, sir, quoth he;
Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune."
Under different forms the same proverb is found on the Continent. The Spanish say, "The mother of God appears to fools;" and the German one is this, "Fortune and women are fond of fools."
"God sends not corn for the rich only."—This is quoted by Marcius in Coriolanus (i. 1).
"Good goose, do not bite."—This proverb is used in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 4)—
"Mercutio. I will bite thee by the ear for that jest.
Romeo. Nay, good goose, bite not."
"Good liquor will make a cat speak."—So in the "Tempest" (ii. 2) Stephano says—"Come on your ways: open your mouth; here is that which will give language to you, cat; open your mouth."
"Good wine needs no bush."—This old proverb, which is quoted by Shakespeare in "As You Like It" (v. 4, "Epilogue")—"If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no epilogue"—refers to the custom of hanging up a bunch of twigs, or a wisp of hay at a roadside inn, as a sign that drink may be had within. This practice, "which still lingers in the cider-making counties of the west of England, and prevails more generally in France, is derived from the Romans, among whom a bunch of ivy was used as the sign of a wine shop." They were, also, in the habit of saying, "Vendible wine needs no ivy hung up." The Spanish have a proverb—"Good wine needs no crier."
"Greatest clerks not the wisest men."—Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, in his "Handbook Index to Shakespeare" (391), quotes the following passage in "Twelfth Night" (iv. 2), where Maria tells the Clown to personate Sir Topas the curate—"I am not tall enough to become the function well, nor lean enough to be thought a good student; but to be said an honest man and a good housekeeper goes as fairly as to say a careful man and a great scholar."
"Happy man be his dole."—("Taming of the Shrew," i. 1; "1 Henry IV." ii. 2). Ray has it, "Happy man, happy dole;" or, "Happy man by his dole."
"Happy the bride on whom the sun shines."—Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, in his "Handbook Index to Shakespeare" (p. 392), quotes as an illustration of this popular proverb, the following passage in the "Twelfth Night" (iv. 3), where Olivia and Sebastian having made "a contract of eternal bond of love," the former says—
"—And heavens so shine,
That they may fairly note this act of mine."
"Happy the child whose father went to the devil." 1—So, in "3 King Henry VI." (ii. 2), the King asks interrogatively—
"And happy always was it for that son,
Whose father for his hoarding went to hell?"
The Portuguese say, "Alas, for the son whose father goes to heaven."
"Hares pull dead lions by the beard."—In "King John" (ii. 1), the bastard says to Austria—
"You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard."
"Have is have, however men do catch."—Quoted by the bastard in "King John" (i. 1).
"Heaven's above all."—In "Richard II." (iii. 3). York tells Bolingbroke—
"Take not, good cousin, further than you should,
Lest you mistake the heavens are o’er our heads."
So, too, in "Othello" (ii. 3), Cassio says—
"God's above all."
"He is a poor cook who cannot lick his own fingers."—Under a variety of forms, this proverb is found in different countries. The Italians say, "He who manages other people's wealth does not go supperless to bed." The Dutch, too, say, "All officers are greasy," that is, something sticks to them. In "Romeo and Juliet" (iv. 2), the saying is thus alluded to—
"Capulet. Sirrah, go hire me twenty cunning cooks.
Sec. Ser. You shall have none ill, sir; for I'll try if they can lick their fingers.
Cap. How canst thou try them so?
Sec. Ser. Marry, sir, ’tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers: therefore he that cannot lick his fingers goes not with me."
"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath."—"King Lear" (iii. 6).
"Heroum filii noxæ."—It is a common notion that a father above the common rate of men, has usually a son below it. Hence in the "Tempest" (i. 2), Shakespeare probably alludes to this Latin proverb—
Like a good parent, did beget of him
A falsehood, in its contrary as great
As my trust was."
"He knows not a hawk from a handsaw."—Hamlet says (ii. 2)—"When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."
"He may hang himself in his own garters."—So, Falstaff, ("1 Henry IV." 2), says—"Go hang thyself in thy own heir-apparent's garters."
"He that is born to be hanged will never be drowned."—In the "Tempest" (i. 1), Gonzalo says of the boatswain:—"I have great comfort from this fellow: methinks he hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his hanging: make the rope of his destiny our cable, for our own doth little advantage. If he be not born to be hanged, our case is miserable."
The Italians say, "He that is to die by the gallows, may dance on the river."
"He that dies pays all debts."—"Tempest" (iii. 2.)
"He who eats with the devil hath need of a long spoon."—This is referred to by Stephano in the "Tempest" (ii. 2), "This is a devil, and no monster: I will leave him; I have no long spoon." Again, in the "Comedy of Errors" (iv. 2), Dromio of Syracuse says, "He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil."
The old adage which tells how:—
"He who will not when he may,
When he wills he shall have nay,"
is quoted in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 7), by Menas—
"Who seeks, and will not take when once ’tis offer’d,
Shall never find it more."
"Hold hook and line."—"2 King Henry IV." (ii. 4). This, says Dyce, is a sort of cant proverbial expression which sometimes occurs in our early writers ("Glossary," p. 210).
"Hold, or cut bow-strings." 1—"Midsummer Night's Dream" (i. 2).
"Honest as the skin between his brows."—"Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 5).
"Hunger will break through stone walls."—This is quoted by Marcius in "Coriolanus" (i. 1), who, in reply to Agrippa's question, "What says the other troop?" replies—
"They are dissolved: hang 'em!
They said they were an-hungry; sigh’d forth proverbs,
That hunger broke stone walls," etc.
According to an old Suffolk proverb, "Hunger will break through stone walls, or anything, except Suffolk cheese."
"I scorn that with my heels."—"Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 4). A not uncommon proverbial expression. It is again referred to in the "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 2), by Launcelot, "Do not run; scorn running with thy heels." Dyce thinks it is alluded to in "Venus and Adonis,"—
"Beating his kind embracements with her heels."
"If you are wise, keep yourself warm."—This proverb is probably alluded to in the "Taming of the Shrew" (ii. 1)—
"Petruchio. Am I not wise?
Katharine. Yes; keep you warm."
So, in "Much ado about Nothing" (i. 1)—
"That if he has wit enough to keep himself warm."
"I fear no colours."—"Twelfth Night" (i. 5).
"Ill gotten goods never prosper."—This proverb is referred to by the King ("3 Henry VI.," ii. 2)—
"Clifford, tell me, didst thou never hear
That things ill got had ever bad success."
"Illotis manibus tractare sacra."—Falstaff, in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3), says, "Rob me the exchequer the first thing thou doest, and do it with unwashed hands too."
"Ill will never said well."—This is quoted by Duke of Orleans in "Henry V." (iii. 7).
"In at the window, or else o’er the hatch."—("King John" (i. 1). Applied to illegitimate children. Staunton has this note: "Woe worth the time that ever a gave suck to a child that came in at the window!" ("The Family of Love," 1608). So also in "The Witches of Lancashire," by Heywood and Broome, 1634, "It appears you came in at the window." "I would not have you think I scorn my grannam's cat to leap over the hatch."
"It is a foul bird which defiles its own nest."—This seems alluded to in "As You Like it" (iv. 1), where Celia says to Rosalind, "You have simply misused our sex in your love-prate: we must have your doublet and hose plucked over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest."
"It is a poor dog that is not worth the whistling."—So Goneril in "King Lear" (iv. 2), "I have been worth the whistle."
"It is a wise child that knows its own father."—In the "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 2), Launcelot has the converse of this, "It is a wise father that knows his own child."
"It is an ill wind that blows nobody good."—So, in "3 King Henry VI." (ii. 5), we read—
"Ill blows the wind that profits nobody."
And in "2 Henry IV." (v. 3), when Falstaff asks Pistol "What wind blew you hither?" the latter replies—
"Not the ill wind which blows no man to good."
"It is easy to steal a shive from a cut loaf."—In "Titus Andronicus" (ii. 1), Demetrius refers to this proverb. Ray has, "’Tis safe taking a shive out of a cut loaf."
"It's a dear collop that's cut out of my own flesh." Mr Halliwell-Phillipps thinks there may be possibly an allusion to this proverb in "1 Henry VI." (v. 4), where the shepherd says of La Pucelle:—
"God knows thou art a collop of my flesh."
"I will make a shaft or a bolt of it." In the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iii. 4), this proverb is used by Slender. Ray gives, "to make a bolt or a shaft of a thing." This is equivalent to:—"I will. either make a good or a bad thing of it; I will take the risk."
"It is like a barber's chair." "All's Well that Ends Well" (ii. 2).
The following passage in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (iii. 2):—
"Jack shall have Jill;
Nought shall go ill;
The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well."
refers to the popular proverb of olden times, says Staunton, signifying "all ended happily." So, too, Biron says, in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2)—
"Our wooing doth not end like an old play;
Jack hath not Jill . . . .
It occurs in Skelton's poem "Magnyfycence" (Dyce, ed. i. 234)—
"Jack shall have Gyl."
And in Heywood's "Dialogue" (Sig. F.3, 1598)—
"Come, chat at hame, all is well, Jack shall have Gill."
"Kindness will creep where it cannot go." Thus, in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (iv. 2), Proteus tells Thurio how "Love will creep in service where it cannot go." There is a Scotch proverb, "Kindness will creep whar it mauna gang."
"Let the world slide," "Taming of the Shrew" (i., Induc.).
"Let them laugh that win." Othello says (iv. 1)—
"So, so, so, so; they laugh that win."
On the other hand the French say—
"Marchand qui perd ne peut rire."
"Like will to like, as the devil said to the collier." With this we may compare the following passage in "Twelfth Night" (iii. 4), "What, man! ’tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan: Hang him, foul collier!"—collier having been in Shakespeare's day a term of the highest reproach.
"Losers have leave to talk." Titus Andronicus (iii. 1), says—
"Then give me leave, for losers will have leave
To ease their stomachs with their bitter tongues."
"Maids say nay, and take." So Julia, in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (i. 2), says—
"Since maids, in modesty, say 'no' to that
Which they would have the profferer construe 'ay.'"
In the "Passionate Pilgrim" we read—
"Have you not heard it said full oft,
A woman's nay doth stand for nought."
"Make hay while the sun shines." King Edward, in "3 King Henry VI." (iv. 8), alludes to this proverb—
"The sun shines hot; and, if we use delay,
Cold biting winter mars our hoped-for hay."
The above proverb is peculiar to England, and as Trench remarks, could have its birth only under such variable skies as ours.
"Many talk of Robin Hood that never shot in his bow." So, in "2 Henry IV." (iii. 2), Justice Shallow, says Falstaff, "talks as familiarly of John a Gaunt as if he had been sworn brother to him; and I'll be sworn a’ never saw him but once in the Tilt yard; and then he burst his head for crowding among the marshal's men."
"Marriage and hanging go by destiny."—This proverb is the popular creed respecting marriage, and under a variety of forms is found in different countries. Thus, in "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 9), Nerissa says—
"The ancient saying is no heresy,
Hanging and wiving goes by destiny."
Again in "All's Well that Ends Well" (i. 3), the clown says—
"For I the ballad will repeat,
Which men full true shall find;
Your marriage comes by destiny,
Your cuckoo sings by kind."
We may compare the well known proverb—"Marriages are made in heaven," and the French version, "Les mariages sont écrits dans le ciel."
"Marriage as bad as hanging."—In "Twelfth Night" (i. 5), the clown says—"Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage."
"Marry trap."—"Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 1), this, says Nares, "is apparently a kind of proverbial exclamation, as much as to say, 'By Mary,' you are caught."
"Meat was made for mouths."—Quoted in "Coriolanus" (i. 1).
"Misfortunes seldom come alone."—This proverb is beautifully alluded to by the king in "Hamlet" (iv. 5.)—
"When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions."
The French say —"Malheur ne vient jamais seul."
"More hair than wit."—"Two Gentlemen of Verona" (iii. 2), a well known old English proverb.
"Mortuo leoni et lepores insultant."—This proverb is alluded to by the Bastard in "King John" (ii. 1), who says to the Archduke of Austria;—
"You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard."
"Much water goes by the mill the miller knows not of."—This adage is quoted in "Titus Andronicus" (ii. 1), by Demetrius:—
"More water glideth by the mill
Than wots the miller of."
"My cake is dough."—("Taming of the Shrew," v. I). An obsolete proverb repeated on the loss of hope or expectation: the allusion being to the old fashioned way of baking cakes at the embers, when it may have been occasionally the case for a cake to be burnt on one side and dough on the other. In a former scene (i. 2), Grumio had before said—"Our cake is dough on both sides." Staunton quotes from "The Case is altered," 1609—
"Steward, your cake is dough, as well as mine."
"Murder will out."—So in the "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 2), Launcelot says—"Murder cannot be hid long; a man's son may, but at the length truth will out."
"Near or far off, well won is still well shot."—"King John" (i. 1).
"Needs must when the devil drives."—In "All's Well that Ends Well" (i. 3), the clown tells the countess—"I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives."
"Neither fish nor flesh, nor good red herring." —Falstaff says of the Hostess in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3), "Why, she's neither fish nor flesh; a man knows not where to have her."
"One nail drives out another."—In "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 2), Benvolio says:—
"Tut, man, one fire burns out another's burning,
One pain is lessen’d by another's anguish;
Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning:
One desperate grief cures with another's languish
Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
And the rank poison of the old will die."
The allusion, of course, is to homoeopathy. The Italians say, "Poison quells poison."
"Old men are twice children;" or, as they say in Scotland, "Auld men are twice bairns." We may compare the Greek Δὶς παῖδες οἱ γεροντες. The proverb occurs in "Hamlet" (ii. 2):—
"An old man is twice a child."
"Out of God's keeping into the warm sun."—So Kent says in "King Lear" (ii. 2):—
"Good king, that must approve the common saw,
Thou out of heaven's benediction comest
To the warm sun."
"Patience perforce is a medicine for a mad dog."—This proverb is probably alluded to by Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 5)
"Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting
Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting."
And again in "Richard III." (i. 1):—
"Glo. Meantime, have patience.
Clar. I must perforce. Farewell."
"Pitch and Pay." "Henry V." (ii. 3). This is a proverbial expression equivalent to "Pay down at once." It probably originated from pitching goods in a market, and paying immediately for their standing. Tusser, in his "Description of Norwich," calls it—
"A city trim,
Where strangers well may seem to dwell,
That pitch and pay, or keep their day."
"Pitchers have ears."—Baptista quotes this proverb in "Taming of the Shrew" (iv. 4)
"Pitchers have ears, and I have many servants."
According to another old proverb:—"Small pitchers have great ears."
"Poor and proud! fy, fy."—Olivia, in "Twelfth Night" (iii. 1), says:—
"O world, how apt the poor are to be proud!"
"Praise in departing." "Tempest" (iii. 3). The meaning is:—"Do not praise your entertainment too soon, lest you should have reason to retract your commendation." Staunton quotes from "The Paradise of Dainty Devises," 1596:—
"A good beginning oft we see, but seldome standing at one stay.
For few do like the meane degree, then praise at parting some men say."
"Pray God my girdle break." 2 "1 Henry IV." (iii. 4).
"Put your finger in the fire and say it was your fortune."—An excellent illustration of this proverb is given by Edmund in "King Lear" (i. 2):—"This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, we make guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains on necessity; fools, by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves and treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion," etc.
"Respice finem, respice furem."—It has been suggested that Shakespeare ("Comedy of Errors," iv. 4) may have met with these words in a popular pamphlet of his time by George Buchanan, entitled "Chamæleon Redivivus; or, Nathaniel's Character Reversed"—a satire against the Laird of Lidingstone, 1570, which concludes with the following words, "Respice finem, respice furem."
"Seldom comes the better."—In "Richard III." (ii. 3), one of the citizens says—
"Bad news, by’r lady; seldom comes the better:
I fear, I fear ’twill prove a troublous world."
A proverbial saying of great antiquity. Mr Douce cites an account of its origin from a MS. collection of stories in Latin, compiled about the time of Henry III.
"Service is no inheritance."—So, in "All's Well that Ends Well" (i. 3), the Clown says—"Service is no heritage."
"Sit thee down, sorrow."—"Love's Labour's Lost" (i. 1).
"Sit at the stern."—A proverbial phrase to have the management of public affairs. So, in "1 Henry VI." (i. 1), Winchester says—
"The king from Eltham I intend to steal,
And sit at chiefest stern of public weal."
"She has the mends in our own hands."—This proverbial phrase is of frequent occurrence in our old writers, and probably signifies, "it is her own fault;" or, "the remedy lies with herself." It is used by Pandarus in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 1). Burton in his "Anatomy of Melancholy," writes—"And if men will be jealous in such cases, the mends is in their own hands, they must thank themselves."
"Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace."—"Richard III." (ii. 4).
"So wise, so young, do ne’er live long."—"King Richard III." (iii. 1).
"So like you, ’tis the worse."—This is quoted as an old proverb by Paulina in the "Winter's Tale" (ii. 3).
"Something about, a little from the right."—"King John" (i. 1).
"Sowed cockle, reap no corn."—"Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 3).
"Speak by the card."—"Hamlet" (v. 1). A merchant's expression, equivalent to "be as precise as a map or book." The card is the document in writing containing the agreement made between a merchant and the captain of a vessel. Sometimes the owner binds himself, ship, tackle, and furniture, for due performance, and the captain is bound to declare the cargo committed to him in good condition. Hence, "to speak by the card" is to speak according to the indentures or written instructions.
"Still swine eat all the draff."—"Merry Wives of Windsor" (iv. 2).
Ray gives—"The still sow eats up all the draught."
"Still waters run deep."—So in "2 Henry VI." (iii. 1), Suffolk says,—
"Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep."
"Strike sail."—A proverbial phrase to acknowledge oneself beaten. In "3 Henry VI." (iii. 3), it occurs—
Must strike her sail and learn awhile to serve
When kings command."
When a ship in fight, or on meeting another ship lets down her topsails at least half mast high, she is said to strike, that is, to submit or pay respect to the other.
"Strike while the iron is hot."—Poins probably alludes to this proverb in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4) My lord, he will drive you out of your revenge and turn all to a merriment, if you take not the heat."
Again, in "King Lear" (i. 1), Goneril adds—
"We must do something, and i’ the heat."
"Take all, pay all"—"Merry Wives of Windsor" (ii. 2). Ray gives another version of this proverb, "Take all, and pay the baker."
"Tell the truth and shame the devil."—In "1 Henry IV." (iii. 1), Hotspur tells Glendower,—
"I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil
By telling truth; tell truth and shame the devil."
"That was laid on with a trowel."—This proverb, which is quoted by Ray, is used by Celia in "As You Like It" (i. 2). Thus we say, when anyone bespatters another with gross flattery, that he lays it on with a trowel.
"The cat loves fish, but she's loth to wet her feet."—It is to this proverb that Lady Macbeth alludes when she upbraids her husband for his irresolution (i. 7),—
"Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i’ the adage."
There are various forms of this proverb. Thus, according to the rhyme,—
"Fain would the cat fish eat,
But she's loth to wet her feet."
The French version is "Le chat aime le poisson mais il n’aime pas à meuiller la patte,"—so that it would seem he borrowed from the French.
"The Devil rides on a fiddlestick"—"1 Henry IV." (ii. 4).
"The galled jade will wince."—So Hamlet says (iii. 2), "let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung."
"The grace o’ God is gear enough."—This is the Scotch form of the proverb which Launcelot Gobbo speaks of as being well parted between Bassanio and Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" (ii. 2),—"The old proverb is very well parted between my master Shylock and you, sir; you have the grace of God, sir, and he hath enough."
"The Mayor of Northampton opens oysters with his dagger." This proverb is alluded to by Pistol in "Merry Wives of Windsor," (ii. 2), when he says—
"Why, then the world's my oyster,
Which I with sword will open."
Northampton being some eighty miles from the sea, oysters were so stale before they reached the town (before railroads or even coaches were known), that the "Mayor would be loath to bring them near his nose."
"The more haste the worse speed."—In "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 6), Friar Laurence says,—
"These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume; the sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite:
Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow."
The proverb thus alluded to seems to be derived from the Latin adage, "Festinatio tarda est." It defeats its own purpose by the blunders and imperfect work it occasions. Hence the French say, "He that goes too hastily along often stumbles on a fair road."
"There is flattery in friendship,"—used by the constable of France in "Henry V." (iii. 7). The usual form of this proverb being, "There is falsehood in friendship."
"There was but one way"—"Henry V." (ii. 3). "This," says Dyce, "is a kind of proverbial expression for death."("Glossary," P. 494.)
"The weakest goes to the wall."—This is quoted by Gregory in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 1), whereupon Sampson adds:—"Women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall."
"There went but a pair of shears between them."—"Measure for Measure" (i. 2), i.e., "We are both of the same piece."
"The world goes on wheels."—This proverbial expression occurs in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 7); and Taylor, the water-poet, has made it the subject of one of his pamphlets: "The worlde runnes on wheeles, or, oddes betwixt carts and coaches."
"Three women and a goose make a market."—This proverb is alluded to in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iii. i):—
"Thus came your argument in;
Then the boy's fat l’envoy, the goose that you bought;
And he ended the market."
The following lines in "1 King Henry VI." (i. 6)
"Thy promises are like Adonis’ gardens
That one day bloom’d, and fruitful were the next,"
allude to the Adonis horti which were nothing but portable earthen pots, with some lettuce or fennel growing in them.
On his yearly festival every woman carried one of them in honour of Adonis, because Venus had once laid him in a lettuce bed. The next day they were thrown away. The proverb seems to have been used always in a bad sense, for things which make a fair show for a few days and then wither away. The dauphin is here made to apply it as an encomium. There is a good account of it in Erasmus's Adagia; but the idea may have been taken from "The Faerie Queene," Bk. iii., cant. 6, st. 42 (Singer's "Shakespeare," 1875, vi. 32).
"To clip the anvil of my sword."—"This expression in 'Coriolanus' (iv. 5) is very difficult," says Mr Green, "to be explained, unless we regard it as a proverb, denoting the breaking of the weapon and the laying aside of enmity. Aufidius makes use of it in his welcome to the banished Coriolanus."
"Here I clip
The anvil of my sword, and do contest
As hotly and as nobly with thy love
As ever in ambitious strength I did
Contend against thy valour."
"To have a month's mind to a thing."—Ray's proverbs. So in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (i. 2) Julia says
"I see you have a month's mind to them."
"’Tis merry in hall when beards wag all." 2—This is quoted by Silence in "2 Henry IV." (v. 3)—
"Be merry, be merry, my wife has all;
For women are shrews, both short and tall;
’Tis merry in hall when beards wag all,
And welcome merry shrove-tide.
Be merry, be merry."
"To have one in the wind."—This is one of Camden's proverbial sentences. In "All's Well that Ends Well" (iii. 6), Bertram says—
"I spoke with her but once,
And found her wondrous cold, but I sent to her,
By this same coxcomb that we have i’ the wind,
Tokens and letters which she did re-send."
"To hold a candle to the devil"—that is, "to aid or countenance that which is wrong."—Thus in the "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 6) Jessica says
"What, must I hold a candle to my shames."
—the allusion being to the practice of the Roman Catholics who burn candles before the image of a favourite saint, carry them in funeral processions, and place them on their altars."
"To the dark house," "All's Well that Ends Well" (ii. 3).—A house which is the seat of gloom and discontent.
"Truth should be silent."—Enobarbus in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 2) says:—
"That truth should be silent I had almost forgot."
"To take mine ease in my inn."—A proverbial phrase used by Falstaff in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3), implying, says Mr Drake, "a degree of comfort which has always been the peculiar attribute of an English house of public entertainment."
"Twice away says stay"—"Twelfth Night" (v. 1). Malone thinks this proverb is alluded to by the clown: "Conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make your two affirmatives, why, then, the worse for my friends and the better for my foes;" and quotes Marlowe's "Last Dominion," where the Queen says to the Moor—
"Come, let's kisse.
Moor. Away, away.
Queen. No, no sayes I, and twice away sayes stay."
"Trust not a horse's heel."—In "King Lear" (iii. 6), the fool says, "he's mad that trusts a horse's health." Malone would read "heels."
"Two may keep counsel putting one away."—So Aaron, in "Titus Andronicus" (iv. 2), says—
"Two may keep counsel when the third's away."
"Ungirt, unblest."—Falstaff alludes to the old adage in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3)—"I pray God my girdle break." Malone quotes from an ancient ballad—
"Ungirt, unblest, the proverbe sayes;
And they to prove it right,
Have got a fashion now adayes,
That's odious to the sight;
Like Frenchmen, all on points they stand,
No girdles now they wear."
"Walls have ears."—So in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (v. 1), Thisbe is made to say—
"O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans,
For parting my fair Pyramus and me."
"Wedding and ill-wintering tame both man and beast."—Thus, in "Taming of the Shrew" (iv. 1), Grumio says" Winter tames man, woman, and beast; for it hath tamed my old master, and my new mistress, and myself." We may also compare the Spanish adage—"You will marry and grow tame."
"We steal as in a castle."—"1 Henry IV." (ii. 1). This, says Steevens, was once a proverbial phrase.
"What can't be cured must be endured."—With this popular adage may be compared the following—"Past cure is still past care," in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2). So in "King Richard II." (ii. 3), the Duke of York says—
"Things past redress are now with me past care."
Again, Macbeth (iii. 2) says—
"Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what's done is done."
"What's mine is yours, and what is yours is mine."—"Measure for Measure" (v. 1).
"When things come to the worst they'll mend."—The truth of this popular adage is thus exemplified by Pandulph in "King John" (iii. 4)—
"Before the curing of a strong disease,
Even in the instant of repair and health,
The fit is strongest; evils that take leave,
On their departure most of all show evil?"
Of course it is equivalent to the proverb—"When the night's darkest the day's nearest."
"When? can you tell?"—"Comedy of Errors" (iii. 1). This proverbial query, often met with in old writers, and perhaps alluded to just before in this scene, when Dromio of Syracuse says—"Right, sir; I'll tell you when, an you'll tell me wherefore;" occurs again in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 1)—"Ay, when? canst tell?"
"When two men ride the same horse one must ride behind."—So in "Much Ado About Nothing" (iii. 5) Dogberry says—"An two men ride of a horse, one must ride behind." 1 With this may be compared the Spanish adage, "He who rides behind does not saddle when he will."
"While the grass grows, the steed starves."—This is alluded to by Hamlet (iii. 2)—"Ay, but sir, 'while the grass grows,'—the proverb is something musty."—See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 499.
"Who dares not stir by day must walk by night."—"King John" (i. 1).
"Who goes to Westminster for a wife, to St Paul's for a man, and to Smithfield for a horse, may meet with a queane, a knave, and a jade."—This proverb often quoted by old writers, is alluded to in "2 Henry IV." (i. 2):—
"Falstaff. Where's Bardolph?
Page. He's gone into Smithfield to buy your worship a horse.
Falstaff. I bought him in Paul's, and he'll buy me a horse in Smithfield: an I could get me but a wife in the stews, I were manned, horsed, and wived."
"Wit, whither wilt?"—This was a proverbial expression not unfrequent in Shakespeare's day. It is used by Orlando in "As you Like It" (iv. i)—"A man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say—'Wit, whither wilt? '"
"Will you take eggs for money?"—This was a proverbial phrase, quoted by Leontes in the "Winter's Tale" (i. 2), for putting up with an affront, or being cajoled or imposed upon.
"Words are but wind, but blows unkind."—In "Comedy of Errors" (iii. i), Dromio of Ephesus uses the first part of this popular adage.
"Worth a Jew's eye."—Launcelot in the "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 5), says—
"There will come a Christian by,
Will be worth a Jewess’ eye."
According to tradition, the proverb arose from the custom of torturing Jews to extort money from them. It is simply, however, a corruption of the Italian gióia (a jewel).
"You'll never be burnt for a witch."—This proverb which was applied to a silly person is probably referred to in "Antony and Cleopatra" (i. 1) by Charmian to the sooth-sayer—
"Out, fool; I forgive thee for a witch."
"Young ravens must have food."—"Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 3), Ray has "Small birds must have meat.