All That Glitters is Not Gold
All That Glitters Is Not Gold
If there was ever an adage for the ages, it is, “ All That Glitters Is Not Gold.” This phrase is commonly attributed to Shakespeare, but he wasn’t the first to write it.
As far back as 600 BC, Aesop was warning against the danger of being distracted by shiny outward appearances. In his fable The Hen and the Golden Eggs, a farmer has a hen that lays, you guessed it, golden eggs. Thinking that the hen must be filled with gold, he slaughters it, only to find that it’s just an ordinary hen.
The 12th century philosopher Alain de l’Isle advised, “Do not hold everything that shines like gold.” 200 years later, Chaucer introduced this proverb in the Canterbury Tales, “But all thing which that shyneth as the gold Nae is no gold, as I have heard it told.” Even the venerated rock band Led Zeppelin put its own twist on the proverb, “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a Stairway to Heaven.”
Shakespeare knew a good line when he saw one and adapted the expression for his play The Merchant of Venice. The heroine, Portia, instructs her suitors that they must choose which of three caskets contains her picture. One of the caskets is made of lead, one of silver, and one of gold. The first suitor makes the mistake of choosing the one that appears the most valuable, the golden casket. Instead of finding the prize of Portia’s picture, he finds a scroll with a poem that begins, “ all that glisters is not gold” and then he loses the bid for Portia’s hand. The word glister comes from the German “glistern”, which translates to “sparkle”. In modern English, “glitter” has the same meaning.
Shakespeare’s version of this saying has been misquoted countless times.
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