Idioms in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

'As good luck would have it,' this lesson is all about idioms - specifically those found in William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' In this lesson, we'll look at some famous sayings from the comedy.

What is an Idiom?

''For goodness' sake!''

''Good riddance!''

''Kill them with kindness.''

Have you ever heard, or maybe even said, one of those phrases? Believe it or not, you have a certain author who lived more than 400 years ago to thank for those sayings and countless others.

Renowned English poet and playwright William Shakespeare invented thousands of words and phrases we still use in our everyday speech. He was also responsible for many idioms like the ones from the opening of the lesson and scores of others, like ''All's well that ends well'' and ''Fight fire with fire.'' An idiom is a saying or expression that has a figurative meaning separate from its literal meaning. For example, when something is described as ''a piece of cake,'' it's not a literal piece of cake, but rather something that is easy.

Hermia & Lysander in A Midsummer Nights Dream

Shakespeare introduced idioms in many of the plays he wrote, including A Midsummer Night's Dream. This play is a comedic romp through the relationships of four young lovers and the events surrounding wedding preparations in a magical forest. Let's take a look at some of the idioms given to us in this Shakespearean writing.

Idioms in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Ever heard someone described as ''footloose and fancy-free?'' Yes, you guessed it: William Shakespeare is responsible for that one, too. In fact, it comes from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Let's take a look at a few more popular idioms from this comedic play.


Imagine that Saturday is coming up. You have no responsibilities, no errands to run and nothing on your calendar. You might call yourself fancy-free, meaning you have no responsibilities or commitments to attend to. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare attributes the phrase to the character Oberon the fairy king, who uses it to describe the misdirection of one of Cupid's arrows. Today we use it to describe someone without a care in the world.

Here is a portion of his speech:

''But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft

Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon,

And the imperial votaress passed on,

In maiden meditation, fancy-free.''

''Apple of his eye'':

Today, we use the phrase, ''Apple of my eye'' to describe someone we really love or who we cherish. Years ago, the phrase was used to describe, quite literally, to describe something anatomical. The apple of the eye was believed to be pupil, or center, of the eye because it is round in shaped and originally believed to be a solid object. An apple was a commonly known solid round object, so it was used to describe the central part of the eye.

Shakespeare used it in another quote from Oberon, describing an arrow from Cupid hitting the central part, or apple, of someone's eye.

From the play:

''Flower of this purple dye,

Hit with Cupid's archery,

Sink in apple of his eye.''

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