5 famous misquotes from literature

I love quotes, particularly ones which have entered the English language; but what I love even more are misquotes. You learn a lot about history and language, and it’s fun finding out where they’ve come from. I did a post before on famous movie misquotes, so these are some of my favourites from literature.

5) “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar).

Actual quote: The quote from Shakespeare’s play is correct, but it’s often incorrectly attributed to Julius Caesar; it’s Mark Antony who says it, delivering his eulogy after Caesar’s assassination by Brutus and the conspirators.

4) “I must go down to the sea again.”
John Masefield (Sea Fever).
Actual quote: The original version of Sea Fever read “I must down to the seas again” but in later editions was changed to either “go” or “sea” or both.

3) “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
William Congreve (The Mourning Bride).
Actual quote: The quote comes from the closing line of Act III: “Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d/Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.” The first line of Act I is also often misquoted: “Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast” (not beast).

2) “Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner).
Actual quote: The line from Coleridge’s poem should read “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” It is also apparently one of the most plagiarised lines, in one competition alone featuring in more than 200 submissions.

1) “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes).
Actual quote: Although Holmes often used “elementary“, the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” doesn’t appear in any of Conan Doyle’s stories; the closest is an exchange in The Adventure Of The Crooked Man: “Excellent!” I cried “Elementary.” said he. Its first appearance is at the end of the 1929 film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.