It was early in the evening. William Shakespeare is at home. He's expecting a visit from his actor friend Robert Harley.
Robert Harley: Good evening, Mr Shakespeare.
Will: Welcome, welcome Robert! Come in.
Daughter: Good evening Mister Harley…
Robert Harley: Miss Shakespeare… I'm sorry I’m late - I was out horse riding. It was wonderful - so fast, so exciting!
Will: Ahhh, the wild-goose chase! Take care when you race that way young Robert, we don't want to spoil those good looks of yours…
Daughter: Why is it called a wild-goose chase? It's a horse race! They're not chasing geese!
Will: Dear daughter, a wild-goose chase is indeed a kind of horse race. The riders have to follow one horse, keeping up with him wherever he goes, just as wild geese follow the leader when they fly.
Daughter: Ohhh… I expect you kept up with him very well, Robert…!
Will: Thank you, daughter. Now to the play: Romeo and Juliet. Robert, you are playing Mercutio, Romeo's best friend. In this scene, there is a different kind of wild-goose chase. This chase is all about words and jokes. Mercutio and Romeo are competing with each other: each of them trying to tell the cleverest and funniest jokes.
Robert: A competition of intelligence, of wits and quick thinking!
Daughter: Mercutio will win, won't he!? He is handsome - and clever!
Will: Mercutio is indeed quick-witted, but Romeo is better - much better, and Mercutio knows it - so he gives up this wild-goose chase before it even starts, saying: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase…
Robert as Mercutio: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.
We'll leave them there for now. Romeo and Juliet is a play about young love, but it also has lots of fighting, with both weapons and words. Here, Shakespeare compares Romeo and Mercutio's duelling with words to a wild and dangerous horse race, called a wild-goose chase. In modern English, a wild-goose chase isn't about horses, or geese: it describes a situation where you foolishly chase after something that is impossible to get - or doesn't exist at all. Take US writer Bryant McGill, who said:
Endless consumerism sends us on a wild-goose chase for happiness through materialism.
We looked for the restaurant for hours, but it was a wild-goose chase: turned out that it closed down years ago!
Robert: So, no wild-goose chase for Mercutio.
Daughter: You could chase me, though Robert…
Robert: Oh dear… to chase, or not to chase: that really isn't a question.
20 A tower of strength 中流砥柱
18 A fool's paradise 黄粱美梦
17 The world's mine oyster 随心所欲
16 Not budge an inch 毫不让步
15 Forever and a day 永远
14 Spotless reputation 清白的名声
13 Strange Bedfellows 同床异梦的伙伴
12 A pound of flesh 合法但极不合理的要求
11 I'll send him packing 收拾东西走人
10 Give no words but mum 什么都不要说
09 As dead as a doornail 彻底死去
08 I must be cruel, only to be kind 忠言逆耳
07 All that glisters is not gold 闪光的未必都是金子
06 Wear my heart upon my sleeve 表露真心
05 In a pickle 身处困境
04 Though this be madness 看似疯狂 实则有因
03 Greek to me 一窍不通
02 What's done is done 木已成舟
01 The green-eyed monster 嫉妒之心