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The meaning and origin of the expression: When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions

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When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions

What's the origin of the phrase 'When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions'?

Cobbe family portrait of William ShakespeareFrom Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1602:

Claudius:
O, this is the poison of deep grief; it springs
All from her father's death. O Gertrude, Gertrude,
When sorrows come, they come not single spies
But in battalions. First, her father slain:
Next, your son gone; and he most violent author
Of his own just remove: the people muddied,
Thick and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers,
For good Polonius' death; and we have done but greenly,
In hugger-mugger to inter him: poor Ophelia
Divided from herself and her fair judgment,
Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts:
Last, and as much containing as all these,
Her brother is in secret come from France;
Feeds on his wonder, keeps himself in clouds,
And wants not buzzers to infect his ear
With pestilent speeches of his father's death;
Wherein necessity, of matter beggar'd,
Will nothing stick our person to arraign
In ear and ear. O my dear Gertrude, this,
Like to a murdering-piece, in many places
Gives me superfluous death.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.

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