This has come to mean being emotionally open but in fact Iago, one of Shakespeare’s most duplicitous characters, said it in Othello. When he says ‘I will wear my heart upon my sleeve,’ he means that he will appear to reveal his true feelings.
A PIECE OF WORK
Nowadays when someone is described as ‘a piece of work’ it usually suggests they are spoiled and difficult but the meaning has changed over the years. When Hamlet says ‘what a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!’ he’s musing on the complexities of God’s creation and the irony that all man amounts to in the end is dust.
This comes from a comic exchange between Sir Hugh Evans and Caius in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Its meaning has remained the same to this day. No one wants to be a laughing stock.
This comes from The Merchant of Venice. Bated is a short form of abated, so the term means talking with in a subdued manner. When Shylock says to Antonio, ‘Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,/with bated breath and whispering humbleness,/Say this:’ he is asking why he should stoop to those who have ill treated him.
A very familiar phrase that was not quite coined by Shakespeare, though in Othello we can find the phrase ‘Go vanish into air, away!’ and in The Tempest, ‘we melted into air, into thin air,’ the term as a whole was not put into print until 1822.
IN A PICKLE
Said by Alonso to the hopelessly drunk jester Trinculo in The Tempest – ‘How camest thou in this pickle.’ Trinculo had become involved in a disastrous, drunken, attempt to overthrow Prospero, thereby getting himself in a complete pickle.
The term derives from a game of horsemanship in which a rider makes a complicated set of manoeuvres, which the other players were obliged to follow. Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet uses it to describe a passage of quick fire banter between himself and Romeo – ‘If our wits run the wild-goose chase.’
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
This is used often and in all innocence these days but when Shakespeare used it in As You Like It, he had an altogether more suggestive intent. It is said by Rosalind to Orlando and ‘thing’ was a common Elizabethan euphemism for genitalia – it needs no further explanation.