Stratford and the language of Shakespeare – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short introduction to Stratford upon Avon and the language of William Shakespeare – the most famous person born in Stratford. The article also said that many words and phrases that we still use in modern English first appeared in writing when Shakespeare used them in his plays and poems.

This article contains eight phrases from Shakespeare’s plays. There are three challenges for you.

  • The first is: Can you spot all eight phrases?
  • The second is: What do they mean? (Tip: They are all listed as idioms in the Cambridge Dictionary.)
  • The third challenge is more literary: Which of Shakespeare’s plays does each phrase come from?

A very, very short biography of William Shakespeare

What do we know about the most famous writer in English history? William Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon on 23 April 1564. He was married to Anne Hathaway and had 3 children. Although William worked as an actor, writer and theatre manager in London, his family never left Stratford. He wrote or collaborated on 38 plays and also wrote 154 sonnets and other long poems. He retired from acting around 1613 and moved back to Stratford.

First Folio
First Folio in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke

In 1623, Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell collected many of the plays collected into a book called the First Folio.

However, by this time, William was as dead as a doornail.  He died on his fifty-second birthday in 1616. Nobody knows for sure why he died so young. There are many theories including murder most foul.

A quick tour of Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Shakespeare's birthplace
Shakespeare’s birthplace in 2016

There are many places in Stratford upon Avon connected to William Shakespeare.

This is his birthplace (we saw this word in the first article).




Shakespeare's Birthplace in 1847
Shakespeare’s Birthplace, 1847

After the Shakespeare family moved out, the house became a pub called The Swan Maidenhead. By the nineteenth century, the building had seen better days.

When the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought it in 1856 it was a sorry sight. They renovated and opened it; so, Shakespeare’s Birthplace has been a tourist attraction for more than 150 years.

New Place

From 1597 to 1616, the Shakespeare family lived in a large house called New Place. It was right in the centre of Stratford.

Here’s a photo of it from about 100 years ago and another from this year.

New Place in Stratford upon Avon
New Place in 2016
New Place in Stratford upon Avon about 1925
Nash’s House and New Place in about 1925







If you are thinking: what house? then you are right. New Place was demolished in 1759. It’s a strange story.

Even in the seventeen hundreds, tourists came to Stratford. They would knock on the door of New Place and ask for a tour of Shakespeare’s house. When it was one tourist a week, the owner of the house was happy to give tours. When it became several tourists every day, he was in a pickle.

He asked the local government for money to pay a tour guide but they sent him packing. He went back and said that if they didn’t give him any money he would demolish the house. The men of the local government wouldn’t budge an inch.

That’s why tourists visit a house that doesn’t exist anymore.

The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre

This is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The first theatre was built in 1885. Notice it has a tower.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1885
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1885

In 1926, there was a huge fire.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre on fire in 1926
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre on fire

Here’s what the theatre looked like when it reopened in 1932. There was no tower this time.

Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932
Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932

When the theatre was renovated at the start of this century the design came full circle. Today, you can go to the top of the tower and look out at the countryside around Stratford.

Shakespeare Theatre in 2016
Shakespeare Theatre in 2016

Did you spot any of the eight phrases included in the tour? Put your answers in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Don’t forget, they are all used as idioms in modern English. Try and find them in the dictionary.

If you want to find which plays the phrases come from, use the Shakespeare’s Words website.

On Friday, I’ll give the answers and suggest some modern ways of using the phrases.

by Barney

All the historic photographs in this article are from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collection.

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