Primrose path


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Primrose path'?

The pleasant route through life, of pleasure and dissipation.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Primrose path'?

This phrase was coined by Shakespeare, in Hamlet, 1602. It is evidently a simple allusion to a path strewn with flowers.

Ophelia:
I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

Ophelia is warning her brother take his own advice and not reject the difficult and arduous path of righteousness that leads to Heaven in favour of the easy path of sin.

Shakespeare later used ‘the primrose way’, which has the same meaning, in Macbeth. This variant is hardly ever used now.

Trend of primrose path in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.