I read a sentence in "The Tempest" which was:

Lead, monster; we’ll follow. I would I could see this taborer. He lays it on.

And it is translated to:

Lead on, monster. We’ll follow. I wish I could see this drummer. He's very good.

But I couldn't find anywhere the idiom being used to mean "very good".


The Free Dictionary has an entry for lay on, but how Shakespeare uses it may be a bit different from modern use.

In MacBeth, Shakespeare uses “lay on” to mean to pummel or attack with blows, so it may mean the drummer is a very energetic player, and so is very entertaining. I think “very good” gives you a correct sense in this context, but that translation probably can’t be extrapolated to contexts that don’t have to do with a drummer.

I’ve found this modern use on the gear page forum, where it seems to mean to play loudly:

yeah a good drummer can dial it back and play quietly. jazz drummers especially have strong technique to do that. but alot of drummers don't do that - one of the best drummers I've worked with, who spent years with Roomful of Blues, is also the loudest drummer I've worked with. He's an enthusiastic guy who loves his work and lays it on.

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It's a translation of meaning from Shakespeare.

A similar variation comes from SparkNotes:

Lead us, monster; we’ll follow. I wish I could see this invisible drummer. He really plays well.

As a modern idiom, lays it on (or lay it on) it means something specifically different:

: to speak in a way that is exaggerated and not sincere
// You should compliment her cooking but don't lay it on too thick or she'll know you don't mean it.
// He laid it on pretty heavily and pretended to be interested in what she said.

But translations are seldom word-for-word literal, and they are somewhat open to interpretation. (Many foreign-language classics have multiple translations.)

In this case, the idiom as we know it today may well not have existed in Shakespeare's time—or lays it on may have been thought of as goes all out and used in a positive sense rather than the somewhat deprecatory sense it has now.

But at least in the context of the original, he's very good seems like a good translation—and certainly better than he's exaggerated and insincere.

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