Unidade 1: Shakespeare Speaks
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  1. 1 Shakespeare Speaks
  2. 2 Shakespeare Speaks - the extras


As dead as a doornail

completely dead
not working (of electrical equipment)


  • Old Marley was as dead as a doornail (Charles Dickens)
  • Oh no! I forgot to charge my phone. It's as dead as a doornail.

Extra vocabulary

to hit the nail on the head
to be exactly right

to hammer something home
to make certain something is understood

to nail it
to complete a task successfully

dead easy
very easy

dead to the world
sleeping deeply

drop-dead gorgeous
very very attractive

I wouldn’t be seen dead...
I would never do it, usually because it would be too ​embarrassing. 
Note: This phrase is followed by verb-ing or preposition + noun phrase.

a dead ringer for...
looks very similar to...
Note: This phrase is usually followed by a person.

over my dead body!
I will never let that happen!

Practise using As dead as a doornail


I'll send him packing

I'll send him away


  • I've no patience when people try to sell me things at the door. I usually send them packing.
  • This is our chance to do it and we should send them packing with their tails between their legs.

Extra vocabulary

practise a play or piece of music for later public performance.

Synonyms for 'send someone packing'

get rid of someone
show someone the door
send someone on their way

Ways to say 'go away':

get out of my sight!
get lost!
sling your hook!
on your bike!
jog on!
do one!

Practise using I'll send him packing


All that glisters is not gold

The phrase all that glisters is not gold warns us not to be fooled by people or things that look good - because they might not be as good as they look on the surface!

Example sentence

  • Well that car looks fantastic, but all that glitters is not gold. Check the engine before you buy it.

In modern English, the word glisters is often changed to glistens or glitters.

Extra vocabulary

don’t judge a book by its cover
you shouldn’t judge the value of something or someone based on their appearance

looks can be deceiving
people and things are often different from how they appear

beauty is only skin deep
a person’s character is more important than their appearance

every cloud has a silver lining
there’s a positive side to every sad or difficult situation

as good as gold
very, very good

worth its weight in gold
very useful or valuable

Practise using All that glisters is not gold


Strange bedfellows

These days, the phrase strange bedfellows describes two people or groups that are connected in a particular activity, even though they are very different and are not usually seen together.

Example sentence
You think Miley Cyrus and Michael Bublé should write a song together? Well, they'd be strange bedfellows… but it might just work.

Strange bedfellows is often used for political alliances.

Example sentence

  • Israel, Hamas strange bedfellows when it comes to reining in ISIS in Gaza.

Extra vocabulary

like chalk and cheese
an expression to describe two people who are very different from each other

an odd couple
two people who are in a relationship, but seem very different and not well-suited

a match made in heaven
a perfect combination of people or things

made for each other
a perfect match

two of a kind
two people with very similar characters

violent storm

a type of large raincoat

a person/people who belong to the same group or who share a situation

people who share a bed or who are closely involved with each other in a particular situation

Practise using Strange bedfellows


Though this be madness, yet there is method in't

The modern version of the phrase is: there's method in his madness – or her madness, or my madness – and it means: there's a sensible reason for something that seems crazy.

Example sentence

  • My mum's desk is covered in papers. There's method in her madness, though. She knows where everything is!

We can also say there's method to his madness.

Mad means crazy, silly or stupid in British English.

In American English, mad means angry or upset.

Extra vocabulary

a practice of a play for later public performance

a terrible situation, often involving suffering or death

harm that you do to someone because they have harmed you

Informal ways to say that someone's idea or behaviour is really strange or outrageous:

You're out of your mind!
You're absolutely bonkers!
You're off your rocker!
You're nuts!
You're losing it!
You're losing the plot!
You're losing your marbles!

Practise using There's method in his madness


Wild-goose chase

In modern English, a wild-goose chase isn't about horses, or geese: it describes a situation where you foolishly chase after something that is impossible to get - or doesn't exist at all.

Example sentence

  • We looked for the restaurant for hours, but it was a wild-goose chase: turned out that it closed down years ago!

Extra vocabulary

star-crossed lovers
very unlucky lovers

to have a crush on someone
to like someone - in a romantic way

unrequited love
when someone is in love with someone who doesn't feel the same way

a rat race
a way of modern life in which people compete for wealth and power

to have a whale of a time
to enjoy yourself very much

to be in the doghouse
to be in trouble - normally with your partner!

pigs might fly!
that will never happen!

hold your horses!
wait! Be patient!

to be on your high horse
to behave in a superior or conceited manner

get off your high horse!
stop behaving in a superior manner!

don't count your chickens...
don't make ​plans that ​depend on something good ​happening before you ​know that it will really happen

Practise using Wild-goose chase


What's done is done

People still use Shakespeare's exact phrase: what's done is done, usually to say that there's no benefit in feeling bad for a long time about past mistakes.

Example sentence

  • Just explain you meant to send the email to a different Sophie - and then forget about it. What's done is done.

Extra vocabulary

a superstition
a supernatural belief that certain things will bring good or bad luck

to get over something
to accept something that happened in the past and move on

to have your eye on someone
to admire someone in a sexual way

don't cry over spilt milk
don't waste your time worrying about small mistakes or accidents that you cannot change

let bygones be bygones
forget about disagreements that happened in the past

not causing any guilt

guilty pleasure
something you enjoy, but feel guilty or embarrassed about liking

to guilt-trip someone
to make someone feel bad about something they have done, so that they then do something that you want them to do

a guilty conscience
a feeling of guilt when you have done something wrong

Practise using What's done is done


The world's mine oyster

Today, the phrase has become the world's my oyster - or your oyster - and it describes situations that contain wonderful opportunities. It can describe the opportunities that open up when you take risks, have money or learn new skills.

Example sentence

  • If you learn foreign languages, the world's your oyster.

Extra vocabulary

(here) the place where a King or Queen and their family and servants are living

the period of time that someone is a king or queen

to do something behind someone's back
to do something without letting someone know

a pearl of wisdom
a clever saying or a very good piece of advice

to be in a world of your own
to not be aware of what's happening around you

what a small world!
used to show surprise when you meet someone you know at an unexpected place

to have the best of both worlds
to have the advantages of two different things at the same time

to do someone the world of good
to make someone feel much healthier or happier

to not be the end of the world
to not be the worst thing that could happen

Practise using The world's my oyster


A tower of strength

The phrase a tower of strength describes someone who is strong, reliable, trustworthy, dependable and good in a crisis.

Example sentence

  • My husband was a tower of strength when I had that operation - he really looked after me well.

Extra vocabulary

a baddie
a bad character in a story, film or play

a battle
a ​fight between ​armed ​forces

to stick with someone through thick and thin
to support a friend or partner through difficult experiences as well as good ones

to have got someone’s back
to be prepared and ready to support or defend someone

to stand by someone
to support someone

my rock
describes a person who is supportive and helps you when times are difficult

to count on someone
to depend on someone

to be there for someone
to be available to provide support and comfort for someone

a pillar
a large post that helps to hold something up

Practise using A tower of strength


Spotless reputation

These days, the phrase spotless reputation describes a person or organisation that has a good, clean character and behaves decently and honestly.

Example sentence

  • Another athlete caught taking drugs? I'm surprised at this one though – she always had a spotless reputation.

Extra vocabulary

the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the king or queen

plot (verb)
to make a ​secret ​plan to do something ​wrong or illegal

to be spot on
to be completely accurate or correct

to hit the spot
to be exactly right

to tarnish someone's reputation 
to damage someone's reputation

to have a good track record
to have a good reputation, based on the things that you have done

to be squeaky clean
to always behave in a completely moral and honest way

someone's name is mud
describes someone who has a bad reputation or who people are angry with

to lose face
to lose your status and the respect of others 

to give something / someone a bad name
to damage the reputation of something / someone

Practise using spotless reputation


The green-eyed monster

The phrase the green-eyed monster is still used today to describe the dangers of uncontrolled jealousy in relationships.

Example sentence

  • I thought I'd got over my ex, but when I saw him with his new girlfriend, the green-eyed monster got me.

Extra vocabulary

a type of beer

to drown your sorrows
to drink alcohol to forget your problems

green with envy
very angry and jealous because someone has something you want for yourself

with flying colours
very successfully


to feel blue
to feel sad

to see red
to become angry

the black sheep (of a family)
someone who doesn't fit in with a group and often causes embarrassment.

to catch (someone) red-handed
to catch someone doing something wrong or illegal

out of the blue
unexpectedly or surprisingly

a white lie
a lie about something unimportant that is told to avoid hurting someone

the grass is always greener on the other side
other people always seem to be in a better situation than you

Practise using the green-eyed monster


In a pickle

Nowadays, when someone says they are in a pickle they mean that they are in a mess - a very difficult situation.

Example sentence

  • Most of the time if I'm in a pickle I'll call one of my brothers. They've usually got somewhat uplifting advice.

Nowadays, people can say I'm pickled if they have drunk too much alcohol.

Extra vocabulary

(here) the place where a King or Queen and their family and servants are living

a jester
a man whose job was to entertain people by doing silly things and telling jokes


in a sticky situation
in a difficult situation

in a tight spot
in a difficult situation

in a bind
in a difficult situation

between a rock and a hard place
in a very difficult position, often facing a difficult decision

he's legless
he's completely drunk

completely drunk

a little drunk

a little drunk and feeling happy

Practise using in a pickle


Forever and a day

The phrase forever and a day means the same as it did in Shakespeare's day: something – either good or bad – will last indefinitely, or for a very, very long time.

Example sentence

  • Oh, look at that queue! We'll be waiting forever and a day. Let's come back tomorrow.

British English speakers sometimes write forever as two words: for ever. 

Extra vocabulary

in disguise
the state of changing someone's appearance to hide their true identity

behave as if something is true when it is not true

make something ​seem ​larger, more ​important, ​better, or ​worse than it really is

the most basic (meaning of a word)

I nearly died of embarrassment
I was very embarrassed

killing me
hurting me

millions of

very hungry

dying for

sick to death of
fed up with

Practise using forever and a day


Give no words but mum

The phrase give no words but mum is usually simplified to just keep mum. It means: don't tell anyone - it's a secret.

Example sentence

  • Mark Hamill to keep mum amid Star Wars Skywalker speculation

Another version of the phrase is mum's the word.

Example sentence

  • Don't tell anyone you saw me here. Mum's the word!

Extra vocabulary

your secret’s safe with me
I won't tell anyone your secret

keep it under wraps
keep it secret

don't tell a soul
don't tell anyone

I won’t breathe a word
I won't tell anyone your secret

my lips are sealed
I won't tell anyone your secret

keep your mouth shut
keep a secret

reveal a secret

let the cat out of the bag
reveal a secret (usually by accident)

let it slip
reveal a secret (usually by accident)

spill the beans
reveal a secret

give the game away
reveal a secret

a blabbermouth
someone who reveals secrets

Practise using mum's the word


A pound of flesh

Modern English speakers use the phrase a pound of flesh when someone says they want justice, but the punishment they're asking for is so severe that it seems more like revenge.

Example sentence

  • I apologised and paid for the repairs after I crashed his car, but it isn't enough for him. He wants his pound of flesh. I think he's going to call the police…

In modern day usage, we can also use a pound of flesh to talk about something which is owed, but will be hurtful or difficult to provide.

Example sentence

  • My boss is making me work so hard at the moment, he really wants his pound of flesh.

Extra vocabulary

give something to someone with the understanding that it will be returned

receive something from someone with the understanding that it will be returned

the soft part of the human body

something that you do to hurt or punish someone because they have hurt you or someone else

a formal, legal meeting where decisions are made about a crime

revenge is a dish best served cold
it's more satisfying to wait until the time is right to get revenge

don't get mad, get even
get revenge instead of getting angry about something

get your own back
get revenge

it's payback time
it's time to get revenge

revenge is sweet
it feels good to get revenge

forgive and forget
don't try to get revenge, forget and forgive people's mistakes instead

price-fix scandal
an agreement between companies to keep prices high

Practise using a pound of flesh


A fool's paradise

These days, the phrase a fool's paradise describes any situation that somebody thinks is good, without realising that it won't last – or that it's actually bad.

Example sentence

  • Jack's work is terrible. He's living in a fool's paradise if he thinks he's getting a pay rise.

Extra vocabulary

star-crossed lovers
very unlucky lovers

a fool
a silly person

fool someone
trick or deceive someone

have your way with someone
have sex with someone

do right by someone
treat someone well and fairly

come back to earth (with a bump)
to accept reality again after a pleasant experience or a hopeful dream

to have your head in the clouds
to be unaware of what is happening around you in the real world

a wishful thinker
a person who has hopes and plans that are unlikely to happen in reality

living in a dream world
having ideas or hopes which are not practical and are not likely to be successful

a pipe dream
a hope or wish which is impossible to achieve or not realistic

sensible and realistic

someone who has the ability to think clearly and realistically and makes good decisions

to have your feet on the ground
to be sensible, practical and realistic

Practise using a fool's paradise


Not budge an inch

The phrase not budge an inch is used these days to describe objects that won't move, and also people who won't change their minds.

Example sentence

  • That stupid dog refused to move. I kept pulling on the lead, but he wouldn't budge an inch.

Extra vocabulary

an inch
2.54 centimeters


the battle of the sexes
the fight for power between men and women

change something wild so that it is easier to control

someone who refuses to change their ideas or behaviour

not easily influenced by others

stand your ground
refuse to change your opinion or plans, even when other people disagree with you

dig your heels in
refuse to change your ideas or behaviour

back down
admit that you are wrong

No way!
Definitely not!

not even if you paid me!
I would never do that, even if you gave me a lot of money

it's out of the question
it's impossible / I won't let it happen

never in a million years
absolutely never

not in a month of Sundays
absolutely not

Oh go on then
I agree to do or allow something that I didn't want to do before

I suppose so
I agree to something that I am not certain or happy about

Practise using not budge an inch


I must be cruel, only to be kind

In modern English, Shakespeare's phrase is usually shortened to I must be cruel to be kind. Or just cruel to be kind. People say it when they do something unkind that will actually benefit someone.

Example sentence

  • I know I upset her when I told her to get a haircut, but it was such a mess: I had to be cruel to be kind.

Extra vocabulary

listen (here)
to pay attention to what someone tells you and do what they suggest

the natural way words go together

put down (an animal)
kill in a humane way

a vicious circle
a repeating situation in which one problem causes another problem that makes the first problem worse

tough love
a strict way of dealing with someone who has a problem

a cold-blooded killer
a killer who shows no sympathy

a nasty look
looking at someone in a unkind way

a harsh punishment
make someone suffer in a cruel way for something bad that they have done

a mean streak
unkind behaviour which is part of someone's personality

Practise using I must be cruel, only to be kind


Wear my heart on my sleeve

Nowadays, the phrase to wear your heart upon - or on - your sleeve still means: to make your feelings and emotions obvious, even if it makes you vulnerable.

Example sentence

  • I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I'm in a mood, my mood shows.

Extra vocabulary

in disguise
the state of changing someone's appearance to hide their true identity

always reliable and very supportive

easily hurt or harmed

a mask
a covering used to hide or disguise your face

bend the truth
say something that is not true (usually not a serious lie)

be economical with the truth
say things that are not true, or to not tell everything that you know

keep your cards close to your chest
not tell people what you are thinking or planning

a poker face
a facial expression that doesn't show your thoughts or feelings

lay/put (all) your cards on the table
tell people exactly what you are thinking

above board
completely honest and legal

completely honest and not hiding anything

an open book
completely honest and not hiding anything

pour your heart out
tell someone all your secrets and worries

my heart sank
I suddenly felt very sad and disappointed

his/her heart's in the right place
he/she only has good intentions

my heart's not in it
I don't feel very interested and enthusiastic

by heart
from memory

a heart of gold
a kind and generous character

a heart of stone
an unfriendly and unkind character

Practise using wear my heart on my sleeve


Greek to me

The phrase It was Greek to me has become It's all Greek to me in modern English, and it's used when something – not just a foreign language – is difficult to understand. 

Example sentence

  • I'll never understand the rules of cricket: out for a duck, silly mid-off, googlies… It's all Greek to me!

Extra vocabulary

things that cannot be explained by science 

fortune teller
someone who tells you what they think will happen to you in the future

have your fortune told
have your future predicted

someone who studies the stars and planets and uses it to tell people how it will affect their lives

crystal clear
very easy to understand

get the gist
understand the general meaning

as clear as mud 
very difficult to understand

very difficult to understand (often because there are too many technical words)

go over somebody's head
be too difficult for someone to understand

can’t make head nor tail of something
can't understand something

get the picture

spoken or written words that have no meaning or are difficult to understand

go Dutch
agree to share the cost of something, especially a meal

talk for England!
talks a lot

when in Rome...
when you are visiting another country, you should behave like the people in that country

an Indian summer
a period of warm, dry weather that sometimes happens in the early autumn

excuse my French
sorry for using a word that may be considered offensive (said humorously)

Dutch courage
the confidence that some people get from drinking alcohol before they do something scary

Practise using Greek to me