All That Glitters is Not Gold

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Today the “glitter” version of this phrase has superseded Shakespeare’s “glister” version.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.

Literary Devices

  • Metaphor: Glitter is a metaphor for things having shiny appearances, and gold for the worth or value of persons or things.