Off With His Head

Phrases from Shakespeare

Off With His Head


Literal meaning. That is, 'chop off his head'. It is now usually used humorously as a means of mildly reproaching someone.



Shakespeare used the phrase many times in his plays and I can find no record of any earlier usage. For example, in Henry VI Part III, 1593:


Off with his head, and set it on York gates;
So York may overlook the town of York.

Lewis Carroll became the best-known user of the phrase when he included it in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, (published 1865), The Queen of Hearts shrieks the phrase several times in the story - in fact she doesn't say a great deal else:

The players all played at once without waiting for turns, quarrelling all the while, and fighting for the hedgehogs; and in a very short time the Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting' Off with his head!' or 'Off with her head!' about once in a minute.
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