Sources of Titles Drawn from Shakespeare

background image 33


Here are the sources of the titles given in yesterday’s post.

1. The Moon Is Down, John Steinbeck
BANQUO: How goes the night, boy?
FLEANCE: The moon is down. I have not heard the clock. —Macbeth, II.i

The remark adds to a sense of evil foreboding; Macbeth is on his way to murder Duncan.

2. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
ANTONY: …Come,
Let’s have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let’s mock the midnight bell. —Antony and Cleopatra, III.xiii

Antony is speaking to Cleopatra. Their end is nigh, but they’re going to party.

3. Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy
Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me,
And turn his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see No enemy
But winter and rough weather. —As You Like It, II.v

Jaques and the other forest dwellers listen to Amiens sing about their idyllic life.

4. And Be a Villain, Rex Stout
HAMLET: O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables–meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain —
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark. —Hamlet, I.v

Hamlet is talking about his uncle/stepfather Claudius, the murderer of his father.

5. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ray Bradbury
SECOND WITCH: By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. [Knocking]
Open locks,
Whoever knocks!
[Enter Macbeth] —Macbeth, IV, i

This is the second scene with the witches. The first time, they accosted Macbeth. This time he is seeking them out. He has begun the downward path into evil.

6. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
TIMON: The sun’s a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea: the moon’s an arrant thief
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun. —Timon of Athens IV, iii

Misanthrope Timon is discoursing on his view that everyone’s a crook.

Nabokov’s story is about the creative fire of the poet. An echo of the “pale fire” from the Timon of Athens quotation is in a line spoken by the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Morning is approaching and he must return to Purgatory:

GHOST: Fare thee well at once!
The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
And ‘gins to pale his uneffectual fire:
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me. [Exit] —Hamlet, I,v

7. Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose
HENRY V: This story [of Agincourt] shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers —Henry V, IV.iii

Henry is giving his discouraged men a pep talk before a last desperate assault on the French.

8. The Dogs of War, Frederick Forsyth
ANTONY: And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war —Julius Caesar, III.i

Antony, speaking at Caesar’s funeral, desires to stir up the populace against the assassins. After describing the horrors of civil war, he depicts the ghost of Julius Caesar leading the attack.

9. There is a Tide, Agatha Christie
CASSIUS: There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea re we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. —Julius Caesar, IV, iii

Cassius is trying to persuade Brutus that they must fight at Philippi.

10. By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Agatha Chrstie
See Number 5 above.

11. Not in Our Stars, M. M. Marshall
CASSIUS: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. —Julius Caesar, I,ii

Cassius is urging Brutus to act against Julius Caesar.

12. Chimes at Midnight, Terence White
SHALLOW: Ha, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that that this knight and I have seen! Ha, Sir John, said I well?

FALSTAFF: We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow. —Henry IV part 2, III,ii

Falstaff and Shallow, in the company of Silence, are reminiscing about their youth. Only rowdies and people up to no good would have stayed out late enough to hear the clock strike midnight.

13. The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie
CLAUDIUS: Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in ‘t?
HAMLET: No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i’ the world.
CLAUDIUS: What do you call the play?
HAMLET: The Mouse-trap. — Hamlet, III, ii

Hamlet has hired actors to present a play with which he hopes to “catch the conscience of the king.” Uncomfortable as the play proceeds, Claudius asks Hamlet for more information.

14. Twice-Told Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne
LEWIS (Louis, Dauphin of France)

 There’s nothing in this world can make me joy: 
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale 
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man; 
And bitter shame hath spoil’d the sweet world’s taste 
That it yields nought but shame and bitterness. —King John, III,iv

Lewis is depressed because the fortunes of war have turned against France. His meaning is that a “twice-told” tale is boring and tedious. Hawthorne and other writers used “twice-told tales” in another sense: old stories retold for modern readers.

15. A Muse of Fire, A.D. Harvey
PROLOGUE: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment…
…can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt? —Henry V, Prologue

Kenneth Branagh opens his film version of the play with an actor declaiming these lines on an Elizabethan stage. Then the scene opens out into the “vasty fields of France” and the realistic action that movies excel in. Shakespeare had to do it all with words and a few stage props.

16. Strange Snow, Steve Metcalfe
PHILOSTRATE [reading]: A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.

THESEUS: Merry and tragical! Tedious and brief! That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow. How shall we find the concord of this discord?
Midsummer Night’s Dream, V, i

Theseus is reacting to the comical, contradictory description of the play of Pyramus and Thisbe offered as wedding entertainment by Bottom the weaver and the other “mechanicals.”

17. Walk the Night, Robert C. Reinhart
GHOST: I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. –Hamlet, I,v

18. A Plague on Both Your Houses. Robert. W. Whitaker
MERCUTIO: I am hurt.
A plague o’ both your houses! I am sped.
Is he gone, and hath nothing? —Romeo and Juliet, III, i

Romeo’s friend Mercutio has been in a fight with Tybalt, a Capulet. Tybalt has escaped without a scratch, but Mercutio is fatally wounded. With his dying breath he curses the senseless hostility between the Montagues and the Capulets that has ended his life.

19. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
MACBETH: To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. —Macbeth V,v

Macbeth has come to the end of the road. Lady Macbeth is dead, and MacDuff is at the gates of Dunsinane Castle. All his scheming and criminal behavior amount to a pile of ashes.

20. “Dagger of the Mind,” Star Trek episode
MACBETH: Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision*, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? —Macbeth, II,i

Macbeth is on his way to murder King Duncan. He’s hallucinating because of the guilt he feels.

*Fatal Vision, true crime book by Joe McGiniss; Fatal Vision, TV miniseries starring Karl Malden

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

7 thoughts on “Sources of Titles Drawn from Shakespeare”

  1. “Today is April 23. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SHAKESPEARE!”

    April 23 is the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, not his birthday.

  2. Great collection of titles based on Shakespeare’s plays and its verses. Nice way to congratulate him on his birthday!

  3. Maeve ~ This was fantastic ~ Thank you!
    I read through it before starting work today and the words and memories of the books and plays have inspired me.
    I will probably be daydreaming all day.

Leave a Comment