“We will all laugh at gilded butterflies”: Here’s what Shakespeare meant

Shakespeare has a lot of famous quotes. Some have become such a common part of our lexicon, many of us don’t realise they’re from Shakespeare. One Shakesperian phrase that hasn’t become too popular but maybe should is “We all laugh at gilded butterflies.”

What Shakespeare meant by “gilded butterflies”

Shakespeare never said, “We all laugh at gilded butterflies”. But in King Lear, he says, “…tell old tales, and laugh At gilded butterflies,…” In this quote, a gilded butterfly is referring to something that looks nice, but is in reality, a bit rubbish.

To gild something is to plate it in gold. Do this a butterfly, and it might look nice, but it will no longer be able to fly, and you will have wasted your gold.

The phrase “We all laugh at gilded butterflies” is not by Shakespeare. It’s a tattoo on Megan Fox.

The plot of King Lear

For those of you who never studied King Lear when you were at school, allow me to give you an outline. Understanding the plot of the play could help you understand gilded butterflies.

King Lear is dying, so he divides his Kingdom up for his daughters. However, when they start undermining his authority, he starts to go insane, and the play sees him go from stable king to nutter.

“Gilded butterflies” in context

The king says the term “gilded butterflies” when one of his daughters decides to join forces with him in order to fight against her other sisters. However, the two of them risk spending the rest of their life in jail.

King Lear is saying that he is happy to die in prison as it will enable him to spend his final days with his daughter. Should the two be behind bars, he intends to spend the time gossiping about nonsense and laughing “gilded butterflies”, things that people fight over but aren’t actually that good.

Examples of gilded butterflies

Even though Shakespeare lived a very long time ago, today, there are more “gilded butterflies” than before. Things that might look nice but are actually a bit rubbish.

When a new phone comes out, people can riot to be the first to get it. But these phones often last a matter of months before they need repairing.

A lot of the food we see pictures of may look incredible. But in reality, taste bland.

Some people may be very attractive. But talk to them, and they have the personality of a brick.

Why Megan Fox has “gilded butterflies” tattoed on her

If Shakespeare never said, “we all”,, why do people do so? It’s all because of an actress known as Megan Fox. She is a famous actress, known for being the type of women men are into.

It could be argued that Megan Fox has helped revive an old Shakesperian phrase. Perhaps Megan is interested in Shakespeare and decided to get that tattoo because she found it to be something she can strongly relate to. I can imagine in her industry, there are plenty of gilded butterflies.

Her tattoo is written on her upper shoulder in an old fashioned font.

Other Shakesperian idioms

Shakespeare has created several phrases that you have probably heard of and may even have used. Here are just four of them.

Wild goose chase

The pursuit of something unattainable.

It’s Greek to me.

I don’t understand this at all.

You’ve got to be cruel to be kind.

Being a bit tough on people is the only way you can help them.

Love is blind.

Loving someone makes you unable to see their faults.

These are just the first four examples that came to me, but in reality, there are hundreds of phrases that were created by the Bard.

Alternatives to “gilded butterflies”

Of course, there are other ways of talking about things that look nice but are actually rubbish. Here are a couple of the ones we use the most often.

“You can’t polish a turd”. You can do your best to make something seem good, but if it’s super rubbish, there is no point.

“Putting lipstick on a pig”. Clearly, whoever came up with this phrase thinks that pigs are ugly. He’s saying that when you try to make something bad seem good, it has the same impact as putting lipstick on a pig.

A polished turn and a pig with lipstick on might look nice, but they’re still a turd and a pig.

Will “gilded butterflies catch on?”

If so many of Shakespeare’s phrases are now used by us, the question is raised of “will it catch on?”. Surely if it was ever going to catch on, it’s had several hundred years, and it’s even been tattooed onto one of the hottest people on the planet- surely that would make it catch on. But alas, it hasn’t.

Perhaps in the future, more people will develop an interest in Shakespeare, and some of his lesser-known phrases will become popular. But only time will tell.

Does Megan Fox and Shakespeare agree on “gilded butterflies”?

I never thought I’d be doing this, but I want to compare Megan Fox to Shakespeare.

In Shakespeare’s version of the quote, he was only talking about King Lear and his daughter, implying Lear had wisdom few others possessed. Whilst most people would live their lives trying to obtain riches, he and his daughter were the only ones who knew the truth.

However, Ms Fox uses the term “We all”. So she is implying that laughing at gilded butterflies is something we all do, and it’s exclusively for people such as kings.

Essentially, Shakespeare is saying only some are wise enough to laugh at gilded butterflies, Megan Fox is saying everyone laughs at gilded butterflies.


When Shakespeare spoke about gilded butterflies, he was talking about things that look nice but don’t serve many purposes. If you were to put gold on a butterfly, that butterfly would no longer be able to fly.

Today, it’s more known for being a tattoo on Megan Fox’s upper shoulder.

It’s incredible how much of an impact Shakespeare has had on our language, from phrases we use every day to tattoos on famous actresses. Who knows what impact he will continue to have in the future.

Hopefully, now, you know what both Shakespeare and Megan Fox mean when they talk about gilded butterflies.