Full fathom five (catchphrase)

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"Full fathom five" is a catchphrase deriving from a verse passage, beginning with those words, in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Its original context, during a storm and shipwreck, is the drowning, in water about 30 feet (five fathoms) deep, of the father of the character to whom the lines are addressed.

This three-word phrase has been repeatedly used in English-language culture, alone or in the context of larger parts or the whole of the passage, or referred to via abridgements of it, over the four centuries since its composition.

  • Large portions
    • The whole of the stanza was set for choir by Ralph Vaughan Williams as one of his Three Shakespeare Songs.
    • Martin Amis's quotation of most of "Full Fathom Five", in his novel The Pregnant Widow', is among its many Shakespeare references.
    • "The Fathom Five Matter" is a five-episode case in the radio serial Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar; it uses the poem in full in the first episode.
    • "Full Fathom Five" is an episode from the first season of the TV series Hawaii Five-O; a character recites the poem in full (albeit with a couple of misquotations) during the episode.
    • May Sinclair's Mary Olivier: a life contains (in Book Three "Adolescence", chapter viii) the first six lines of the song[1]
    • The stanza is quoted in, and provides the title for, the Doctor Who audio drama Full Fathom Five
    • Used in the Interlude ("The Investigator") between chapters three and four of "Cibola Burn" - book 4 of 'The Expanse' series by James S. A. Corey
    • Laurie Anderson's 1984 album Mister Heartbreak includes the track "Blue Lagoon", which contains the second stanza starting "Full fathom five thy father lies ..." but replaces the end line "Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong. Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell." with "And I alone am left to tell the tale. Call me Ishmael."
    • The whole of the stanza was also set for Unaccompanied Choir by Michael McDermott in 1999 as part of his "Festival of The Sea" Suite. The work was performed in The Royal Albert Hall, London by a choir made up from students at The Royal Marines School Of Music in Portsmouth, UK.
  • First clause
    • James Joyce's Ulysses contains the clause "Full fathom five thy father lies"
    • Stephen King uses the clause "Full fathom five my father lies" in The Tommyknockers, when protagonist James "Gard" Gardner sees a demonstration of a special typewriter.
    • John Cheever uses the clause "full fathom five my father lies" towards the end of the short story "Goodbye, My Brother".
    • Sting's song "Pirate's Bride" uses the modified clause "Full fathom five my true love lies".
  • The phrase
    • "Full fathom five" is the opening line to the song "Anchor Me" by the New Zealand band The Mutton Birds, written by Don McGlashan
    • Full Fathom Five is the title of a 1947 painting by Jackson Pollock, containing dark blues that evoke the depths of the ocean.
    • "Full Fathom Five" is the title of the B-side to the Stone Roses' 1988 single "Elephant Stone".
    • Full Fathom Five is the title of a 1994 album by British band Sub Sub.
    • Full Fathom Five is the title of the 1965 book by John Stewart Carter which won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award.
    • Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible refers to the poem' following the news of the death of patriarchal character Nathan Price.
    • Edgar Freemantle's psychologist in Stephen King's Duma Key sinks "full fathom five" into his sofa.
    • Gordon Comstock, protagonist of George Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying, "was in the soup, full fathom five" (with reference to the loss of his job, and unravelling of his life).
    • "Full fathom five" are the opening spoken lyrics of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich's song, "The Wreck of the 'Antoinette'".
    • The song "Big News I" by American rock band Clutch contains the line "She's sunk full fathom, five, five, five." A live album by the band is also called Full Fathom Five.
    • "Shake, Shudder, Shiver", a song from the Faces' album First Step, includes the lines "There's a man wants to show me the river / Full fathom five, I'll be more dead than alive"
    • "Full Fathom Five" is a 1958 poem by Sylvia Plath.
    • The phrase "Full fathom five" appears in Nadine Gordimer's 1999 short story "Loot".
    • Full Fathom Five is a 2014 novel by Max Gladstone.
    • "Full Fathom Five" is the title of Episode 1, Season 1[2] of the original Hawaii Five-O.
    • "Full fathom five, the Kid is alive!" is a line used in the song Tomahawk Kid by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
    • "Full Fathom Five" is the title of a 2017 album by Scottish musician Simon J. Crawford.
    • "Full fathom five" is spoken by Ernie at the Lodge bar in Episode 3, Season 1 of the AMC television show, Lodge 49.
  • Part of the phrase


  1. ^ May Sinclair, p.111, Mary Olivier, The Macmillan Company, 1919
  2. ^ Benedict, Richard (1968-09-26), Full Fathom Five, retrieved 2016-10-26

See also[edit]