Origin of All That Glitters is Not Gold
William Shakespeare is popular for using this phrase in his play, The Merchant of Venice. The original version reads, “…all that glisters is not gold.“ Later in modern renditions, writers replaced “glisters” with “glitters.” In Act II, Scene VII of the play, the phrase comes from the puzzle arranged in Portia’s boxes, and it reads out: “There is a written scroll! I’ll read the writing. / All that glitters is not gold.”
Meaning of All That Glitters is Not Gold
It means not every shiny and superficially attractive thing is valuable. Simply, it implies that appearances could be deceptive, and people or things that sound and look valuable could be worthless. The shiny appearance of various things in life may deceive us. In reality, they can be deceptive, such as a hypocrite who appears sincere, but who actually proves otherwise when the time comes. Thus, it means a vice wearing the dress of a virtue.
Usage of All That Glitters is Not Gold
Today the “glitter” version of this phrase has superseded Shakespeare’s “glister” version. As it is used universally, it has become a very popular saying that implies that anything looking precious and shiny may turn out to be the opposite. We find it in literature, as well as in everyday life. People apply it for other people, things, or places that look different than they actually are. Often, people use this phrase to describe hypocrites, politicians, and persons or things with outward shiny appearances, while inwardly they are not so pretty. Besides, many songwriters also have used this line in their songs.
Literary Source of All That Glitters is Not Gold
This phrase appears in Act II, Line 62, Scene VII of Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, where Prince Morocco opens a gold casket and reads the following inscription:
“O hell! what have we here?
A carrion Death, within whose empty eye
There is a written scroll! I’ll read the writing.
All that glitters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold…
Your answer had not been inscroll’d:
Fare you well; your suit is cold.”
(Act II, Scene VII, Lines 65-81)
Prince Morocco scrutinizes every inscription, and creates reasons to himself, deciding that a lead casket is worthless, and silver is less valuable than gold, thus, only gold is worthy enough to get Portia’s picture. However, gold proves to be crossbones, and an image of a skull instead.
Literary Analysis of All That Glitters is Not Gold
In The Merchant of Venice, it goes thus, that Prince Morocco comes into a chance to win a contest, and marry a beautiful, smart, and rich princess named Portia. Portia’s father sets up a puzzle for all those young men wishing to marry her. According to the deal, each suitor must choose one casket out of three caskets: lead, silver, and gold.
Prince Morrow carefully inspects all of the boxes, and finally decides to open the golden casket, but there he finds crossbones and a photo of a skull, with a written inscription of this popular line. This throws light on the entire play, as what he has chosen is not what he wanted. There is an equal chance of getting what is not gold. If a thing is shining, it does not mean that it always good. If the Jew is rich, it does not meant that he would distribute that wealth among all others.
- Metaphor: Glitter is a metaphor for things having shiny appearances, and gold for the worth or value of persons or things.
It's actually a less optimistic quote than its modern-day usage tends to be. We tend to imply the sense "even poor-looking things can have worth", hence that the LEAD casket is more valuable than the GOLD. Yet what Shakespeare says is the glass-half-empty alternative: "sometimes worthless things glitter like gold does".
It strikes me as quite a pessimistic quote in a pessimistic play. Is there anyone we like in "The Merchant of Venice"? Portia brutally dismisses Morocco on account of his "complexion" at the end of a double-scene which begins with him asking for racial equality ("Mislike me not for my complexion"). The Christians seem a pretty vicious bunch, all (Bassanio included) wealth-obsessed: and Shylock, despite modern critics reclamation of him, is still a volatile and extremely dislikable figure in the final trial.
I've always thought of the quote above in a generic sense about the play itself: it has all the ingredients of a comedy (look at the collocations Shakespeare draws in Act 5, Scene 1) but rather than a glittering romance about witty young people getting married, it's an unpleasant, capitalistic play about people obsessed with money. "The Merchant of Venice" glitters like a golden comedy, but - after that first impression - turns out to be something rather more leaden.