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 “glitter.” 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.”
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 outlooks may deceive us, and often such outward appearances look charming; however, in reality they could be deceptive, such as a hypocrite may look sincere but actually proves otherwise when the time comes. Thus, it means a vice wearing the dress of a virtue.
Today the “glitter” version of this phrase has superseded Shakespeare’s “glister” version.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 opposite. Besides, many songwriters also have used this line in their songs.
This phrase appears in the line 69 of Act II, Scene VII of Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice” where Prince Morocco opens 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 moves over every inscription and creates reasons to himself, deciding that lead casket is worthless, silver is less valuable than gold, thus, only gold is worthy enough to get Portia’s picture. However, gold gives him crossbones and skull’s picture instead.
In the play, it goes thus that Prince Morocco comes to get a chance to win the contest and marry a beautiful, smart and rich princess, Portia. Her father sets up a puzzle for all those young men, wishing to marry her. According to the deal, a suitor has to opt one casket out of three caskets: lead, silver, and gold. Prince Morrow carefully sees all boxes, and finally decides to open golden casket, but there he finds crossbones and a photo of skull with a written inscription with this popular line, which throws light on the entire play that what he has come to get is not what is in his mind. There is an equal chance of getting what is not gold. If a thing is shining, it does not mean that it always god. If the Jew is rich, it does not meant that he would distribute that wealth among all other.
- Metaphor: Glitter is a metaphor for things having shiny appearances, and gold for the worth or value of persons or things