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Shakespeare misquotes

January 20, 2012

Following on from my post about one fell/foul swoop, a correspondent (actually it is my old friend Jamie Lyons) writes of the longstanding misquotation, Lead on Macduff. An extraordinarily popular misquote, always used facetiously, this could not be said by anyone who knew the play, Macbeth, from which it comes. It’s said by Macbeth to MacDuff, but why on earth would he ask MacDuff to lead on? They are mortal enemies,and have been so since Macbeth killed MacDuff’s wife and all his children in one fell swoop. It should of course be Lay on MacDuff, which means, roughly, ‘Bring it on!’

Another popular one is Wherefore art thou, Romeo?’ said with the intonation that would be used if wherefore meant where, which of course it doesn’t. Wherefore art thou Romeo? means Why are you Rome? i.e. ‘Why did you, the man I’ve fallen in love with, have to be Romeo – why couldn’t you be someone else, who isn’t a deadly enemy of my family?’ A lovely version of this misquote appeared in a horror film I saw long ago – I think it was Omen II – where some character is envisaging the apocalypse and quotes from an imaginary lost book of the Bible, ‘The Book of Hebron’ (it was found alongside the lost Book of Tel Aviv, no doubt) about how in the end times there will be lamentations and the people will cry out ‘Wherefore art thou, Lord?’ Obviously the writers thought wherefore was just a quaint old fashioned way of saying where – but odd that not one of the army of scriptwriters, script editors, directors and actors involved didn’t know the real meaning.

One more, not from Shakespeare but Congreve. In the shit song Welcome to the Music by shit 70s band Bread, David Gates sings ‘If it’s true what music can do, soothe the savage beast like they say’. That should of course be savage breast. 

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  1. Talking of Bread songs (and I don’t think they were shit at all) my favourite lyric has to be ‘If a man could be two places at one time, I’d be with you tomorrow and today’

  2. Baby I’m a want you
    Let your love go
    Make it with you
    It don’t matter to me

    Classic stuff

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