We all have our little berserk buttons. Small things that happen in our daily life that most people don’t notice or care about, but which drive us batty. One of mine is when someone quotes a character from a fictional work, and then cites the quote to the author, making it look like it’s something they said. Another is when something is quoted out of context to make it seem like it means something else. And one writer gets both of those applied to him way too much. So now, with my handy guide, the next time someone says, “Well, in the words of Shakespeare…” you can feel free to correct them. Or just punch their stupid face.
“Now is the winter of our discontent.”
What you think it means: “This current time is the winter of our discontent. Metaphorically speaking.”
What it really means: As with many of these, the solution lies in the full line. “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.” Richard is saying that the bad times are over, not present. Of course, he’s also being a sarcastic bitch about it, but hey, it’s Richard, that’s just how he roll.
“Neither a borrower or a lender be… This above all: To thine own self be true.”
What you think it means: “Don’t lend people money. Also, be your own person.”
What it really means: To be fair, these two often-quoted lines do technically mean what they seem to. But the context in which they arrive is to highlight Polonius’s hypocrisy. These aren’t meant to be deep insights, they’re meant to be shallow platitudes that the speaker preaches, but does not practice. "Be true to yourself, son. Now Ophelia, go get yourself tarted up and spy on your boyfriend for me." And the prior line usually has him giving Laertes some money, just to drive the point home.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
What you think it means: “Shut up. You’ll sound smarter.”
What it really means: Ah, another gem from Polonius. Unlike the previous statements, which served to highlight his manipulation of his children, this one was just a joke. “Hey, the guy who won’t shut up is saying that smart people don’t talk much. He’s stupid!”
“If music be the food of love, play on.”
What you think it means: “I love love! Play some lovey music so I can love some more!”
What it really means: You’ll always hear this one quoted as some lovely bit of romance, but once again, we need to look at the whole line. The Duke continues: “Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and die.” He doesn’t want love, so he’s asking the musicians to feed his love so that it will go away, as the appetite for food goes away when you eat. And if you don’t think that ‘sicken’ was a puke joke, then you don’t know Shakespeare.
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
What you think it means: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. I am Shakespeare, and I mean that.”
What it really means: The line is spoken by Dick the Butcher, and you can already see where this is headed. Dick was part of the Jack Cade gang, who are trying to spread chaos in order to usurp the throne. The reason he wanted to kill the lawyers was because they were moral and kept the law and would stop the rebellion in its tracks.
“Rock thy brain”
What you think it means: I can’t be held responsible for what you personally think it means, but it was at one point the slogan of the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey.
What it really means: It’s part of a line from the play-within-the-play in Hamlet, “Sleep rock thy brain, and never mischance come between us twain.” It’s grammatically iffy; it was written, in the context of the play, by a crazy person; and it’s rock as in “Rock-a-bye Baby”, not “Detroit Rock City”. Come on, STNJ. You should know better.