Honored in the Breach

Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Act I

Here, as often happens with this allusion, the great man’s meaning is turned around: "Perhaps it is a saving grace of Russian politics these days that laws and orders are honored more in the breach than in the observance." What the writer meant was that the laws and orders were broken more often than they were obeyed. But Hamlet, who said it first, meant something else. When he described his stepfather’s boozy carryings-on as a custom "more honored in the breach than the observance," he meant it was a bad custom, more honored when violated than when followed. Not the same thing, and the pretty phrase is usable in its original sense.

Other matters Shakespearean appear in "Gild/Paint the Lily"; "Somewhere the Bard Weeps"; and "Raveled Sleave, With an ‘A.’"

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Evan Jenkins wrote the Language Corner column for CJR through the Fall of 2007.