Michael Macrone

Best of the Bard

(The Canberra Times, November 3, 1990)
By Michael Macrone.
Harper & Row. 235 pp. $25.
Reviewer: Ralph Elliott

SHAKESPEARE, as we know, is full of quotations, and many people (myself included) lose no opportunity to show them off in conversation. Occasionally we get them wrong, but that will never happen again after brushing them up with the help of Michael Macrone’s enjoyable romp through just about all the best-known passages in the Bard’s plays and poems.

Alphabetically ordered from “All the World’s a Stage” to Hamlet’s “Poor Yorick,” Macrone lists the quotations in their context (“To be, or not to be” is given in full), and adds explanatory comments in an easy colloquial style with cross references to other quotations as appropriate. Occasional critical hints offer insights into some of the plays: the abundance of images of melting in Antony and Cleopatra, for instance, or the abnormal frequency of words beginning with un- in Macbeth.

The book aims to record Shakespeare as the first user of the phrases in question, like “for goodness’ sake” or “what the dickens!” (“referring not to Charles, but to Satan”); and to add further to the Bard’s fame us “a regular phrase-coining machine” Macrone has added a lengthy list of “household words” (this from Henry V) coined by Shakespeare, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

To complete the record Macrone appends a catalogue of phrases often mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare, although he was happy enough to use them, as well as a list of titles of the many books, plays musicals, even advertisements, like Brave New World or Kiss Me Kate, shamelessly borrowed from the Bard

Shakespeare was indeed an inveterate borrower, lender, and above all coiner, and along with the King James Bible remains an invaluable pepperpot for people’s (including my own) conversations If Shakespeare was ruined for you at school, here is your chance to make friends with him, not least with the help of Tom Lulevitch’s irresistibly comic illustrations.

– 30 –

First published in The Canberra Times (November 3, 1990)

Canberra Times story

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