On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
Eight maids a-milking
Well we could go down the maids route again – and god knows that once you start getting into it feels like almost everything Shakespeare wrote was in fact a double entendre – but instead the first thing I thought of was Lady Macbeth.
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature.
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.
“The milk of human kindness” is just one of many phrases which Shakespeare coined or at least (given the distance of time and incomplete oral record) was the first to write down. There are so many others that it is almost impossible to believe haven’t always been part of the English language – full circle, the be-all and end-all, faint-hearted.
Bernard Levin brought them together in a rather fine paragraph – which Shakespeare’s Globe sells as a poster. So study it wisely – and realise how often we are quoting Shakespeare…