The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.


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Shakespeare Did It First!

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He may not have been the Trope Maker or even the Ur Example, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he did it before you! Whatever great invention, character or plot device you come up with, Shakespeare is always the guy who has already done it and done it better than you could ever hope to. Note that he wasn't the first to use a lot of these conventions, however he's the earliest writer most people know who used so many of them.

His fans have been aware of this long before the Internet. Horace Walpole, widely recognized as the inventor of the Gothic Horror genre, proudly admitted he borrowed most of the ingredients for the Gothic recipe from his idol.

Shakespeare was not only the first to use many a trope, but the first troper. That is, the first to comment on it. Some examples:

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"He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man;"

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"So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them...
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,
Their virtues else -- be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo --
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault."

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  • Black Comedy: The gravedigger scene in Hamlet. Plus the protagonist's explanation of what he did with Polonius' body:
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Claudius: Now Hamlet, where is Polonius?
Hamlet: At supper.
Claudius: At supper! Where?
Hamlet: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him.

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"But this denoted a foregone conclusion: 'Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be but a dream."

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"Nor do not saw the air too much with your hands, but suit the action to the word, the word to the action."

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"If this were acted upon the stage I would condemn it as an improbable fiction."

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"Do not infest your mind with beating on
The strangeness of this business"

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“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

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"Out, damned spot! out, I say!"

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Puck: If we shadows have offended / Think but this, and all is mended
That you have but slumbered here / While these visions did appear
And this weak and idle theme, / no more yielding, but a dream
take my hand, if we be friends / and Robin shall restore amends

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"How many times shall this our lofty scene be acted o'er? In states unborn and accents yet unknown".

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  • Show Within a Show: Many times.
  • Sock Puppet: The use of multiple user ID's to pretend to be someone else or create artificial support for one side in a debate is usually associated with the Internet era, but the same trick was used in Julius Caesar Act 1 Scene 2 by creating hardcopy messages "in different hands" (ie: by forging the handwriting to appear to be multiple other people) and physically throwing them through Brutus' window. Yes, a character uses a made-up persona in a play set in ancient Rome and written in Elizabethan England. It's also an early example of Astroturfing.
  • Spin-Off: The character of Falstaff, from Henry IV parts 1 and 2, was given his own play, at Royal request.
  • The Starscream:
    • Cassius in Julius Caesar; he succeeds in killing Caesar, but his plot to take over Rome fails.
    • Possibly the title character of Macbeth (not enough is known about Duncan to label him a villain). Macbeth succeeds in his plot to assassinate Duncan, but never controls all of Scotland and is himself overthrown and slain by Macduff.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The Bard had five plays that made use of this plot - As You Like It, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Cymbeline - long before the Trope Namer was written. Was pretty easy for a playwright to use this Trope during a time period where female characters were always played by men anyway.
  • Your Mom:[1]
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Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?
Aaron: That which thou canst not undo.
Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.
Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.

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Painter: Y'are a dog.
Apemantus: Thy mother's of my generation. What's she, if I be a dog?

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  1. Yes, Shakespeare did your mom first.