Wordy Wednesday – “A charmed life”

447 years young!

As you may or may not know, this week Shakespeare will celebrate his 447th birthday! (Whew – he doesn’t look a day over 439 to me.) (OK, bad jokes over now.)

We have some special birthday posts lined up to honour our favourite bard, so check back tomorrow and Saturday for more.

But for today, let’s turn our attention to a phrase that seems to describe Mr. Shakespeare, who is after all the world’s most famous playwright, even if some of his characters don’t have such good luck…

Thou losest labour:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed:
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.

I wonder if Macbeth had one of these…

That’s Macbeth speaking in the 1605 play, Macbeth.The phrase originally meant someone who has a life filled with luck or good fortune, as in someone who is under a good luck spell or charm. That makes perfect sense in a play that starts off with a witch’s spell, right?

Of course, Macbeth is not known as a good guy or even a particularly lucky guy by the end of the play, so the phrase is kind of ironic. It seems more likely that the witches have put him under a bad luck charm when they tell him that he’s destined to be the king of Scotland, because once they tell him, he can’t rest until he actually does become king. And then he has some serious problems to deal with – not such great luck after all. Someone who is really under a good luck charm might just become king by accident!

In this scene, Macbeth is also boasting about his charmed life and good luck, which is generally not a great idea. Everyone knows that the second you admit to having good luck, it will mysteriously vanish and you’ll be visited by seven years of bad luck. (Right? Or does this just happen to me?)

Today people use this phrase all the time, but it’s lost the original sense of being under a spell or charm and instead just means that someone is really lucky (for whatever reason) or fortunate. For example, say you spill tomato sauce everywhere but avoid your new white shirt. “You lead a charmed life,” someone might say. Or what if everyone in your class got in trouble for being noisy, but you were in the bathroom at the time so you escape detention? “What a charmed life that guy (or girl) leads.”

We will see you tomorrow for a special pre-birthday post!


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