All that glitters is not gold;note
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Not everything that looks valuable on the surface is actually valuable. A bright facade on a house can conceal a rotting foundation. Makeup can conceal age and illness. A bright smile can hide deceit and hostility. Appearances can be deceiving.
The most well-known example is fool's gold (iron pyrite). A bright shiny rock that looks like polished gold, but is in fact worthless. Indeed, true gold is a dull color, and may not look valuable at all to the ignorant.
Whenever a character is deceived by surface appearances into overestimating the value of something this trope is in play.
In works that wish to teach the Aesop that material wealth is not the true wealth we should seek for, it might be actual gold and jewels that "glitter" and deceive characters into choosing them over less obvious wealth such as love or honor.
See also Number One Dime
Contrast Worthless Yellow Rocks
, Simple Yet Opulent
Anime and Manga
Film - Live Action
- A little short story in the Ouran High School Host Club manga dealt with the host club trying to find the perfect soup that their principal had sampled when he was younger. Turns out it was a very common soup and that the one giving the soup to the principal would later be his wife.
- The Castle of Cagliostro has a lost treasure, which counts as a partial example. The Roman ruins' enormous value is purely cultural, but the international attention they'll receive from academics and tourists will be useful for Clarisse and her country's economy. Lupin, however, wistfully notes that it's too big for his pocket.
- In Detective Conan, Conan and the Detective Boys get a treasure map from Dr. Agasa and go look for its treasure and get in serious trouble when a buch of adult thieves set out to find it first. The treasure was... a picture and a a 20-something-years-old handwritten note by someone named Yusaku Kudo. The Detective Boys are disappointed, but Conan is ultimately fine - because Yusaku Kudo is his father, meaning that Yusaku made exactly the same treasure hunt when he was a child.
- In Fruits Basket, this trope is Ren Sohma's biggest punishment. The box belonging to her dead husband Akira... the same that she manipulated Rin over (leading her to get really badly punished by Akito, and then she tried to kill Akito over? It's empty.
- In the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jones selects the grail by choosing a crappy-looking, badly tarnished bronze cup, and saying "That's the cup of a carpenter," an insult to carpenters everywhere, and in ignorance of the fact that Jews made a point of getting nice stuff specifically for Passover use, and didn't necessarily make every single thing they used by hand. But at any rate, everyone in the audience knew which cup it was going to be at first glance because of this trope. The only suspense was whether or not anyone besides Indy was aware of the trope.
- Don Quixote, written about eight years after The Merchant of Venice, refers to this trope as "a saying" (Ch. 33), providing another indication that it's really even older.
- The saying, in various phrasings, dates back to at least the 12th century; the earliest reference to it in English is by Chaucer.
- Inverted in The Lord of the Rings, in a poem about Aragorn, where the normal phrasing is reversed:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring.
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
- The original saying means "Just because it glitters doesn't mean it's gold," and this example means "Just because it doesn't glitter doesn't mean it's not gold".
- The motto itself is inverted in Discworld - the motto of the Alchemists Guild is "OMNIS QVI CORVSCAT EST OR" note . Of course, the chief discovery of the guildmembers in fact being 'how to turn gold into less gold.'
- A season two episode of Eureka uses this trope as its title and features a bacteria-eating virus which starts turning things to gold (and then to rust).
- An episode of seaQuest DSV has the resident conartist loading the boat up with glowing blue crystals. That turn out to be bioluminescent squid poop.
- Sarah initially feels this way about taking over Beth's life in Orphan Black - Beth has a stable job, a nice apartment, a hot boyfriend, and $75,000 in an account her boyfriend doesn't know about to steal. Then it turns out Beth is a cop on suspension for shooting a civilian, and is in deep with Clone Club. The $75,000 belongs to another clone.
- One One Life to Live, after discovering his wife's duplicity (she'd pretended to be pregnant to get him to marry her), Todd compared to a piece of artwork in their living room, picking it up, describing its beauty, then smashing it to the floor, saying, "But when you get right down to it, it's nothing but cheap crap."
- Little House on the Prairie had an episode where Laura and a friend think that they've found gold but when they bring their haul into town, they find out it's only pyrite (fool's gold).
- On M*A*S*H, Charles finds a small vase among a peddler's wares and thinks it's a priceless antique. As he doesn't have the money to buy it (this was the episode where a goat ate the payroll), he borrows the money from Rizzo, at the "simple" interest rate of 100% per day. Not only does the vase not turn out to be valuable, but Charles winds up broke having to pay back Rizzo for several days of "interest".
- An early episode had Radar prospecting for gold in the mountains near camp, as Korea is one of the largest gold-producing nations. He doesn't find any but Hawkeye and Trapper use the story about there being gold nearby to convince Frank to give up a transfer (after Frank and Margaret both asked to be transferred because of Hawkeye and Trapper's practical jokes, Henry put the two captains on double duty until they get replacements).
- A song by Dan Seals talks about a man who loved a beautiful rodeo woman, but she doesn't even want to have anything to do with him or their daughter. This song's name? Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold).
- The name of this trope comes from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (though, in the original play, the line was "all that glisters is not gold"). When Bassanio figures out the riddle, he gains Portia's hand in marriage, having learned that he should appreciate her for her mind rather than her beauty. (Of course, she was very wealthy, so in winning the hand he got the gold too.)
- In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the pivotal confrontation between Big Daddy and his son Brick invokes this trope. Brick tells his father that he isn't impressed with his vast wealth and all he wanted was a father not a boss. Big Daddy retorts that what was there that he didn't buy him when he was growing up? Brick then screams that you can't buy love and proceeds to destroy a vast collection of art that Big Daddy had purchased in an auction to show that none of the material stuff really mattered to him, he only wanted his father's love. Big Daddy says that he does love him he just wanted what was best for him because he grew up poor and his own father left behind nothing of value that would be worth remembering other than an old suitcase with a Military uniform in it. Brick disagrees saying that his grandfather left behind love for Big Daddy, moved to tears Big Daddy agrees and promises to try better as a father for Brick.
- Sponge Bob Squarepants uses a variation of the trope in one episode. Spongebob replacing his old spatula with a high-tech one, then crawls back to his old one after his new one declares it's too good for him. Spongebob even says "all that glitters is not gold". And the episode title is... * drumroll* All That Glitters.
- The Smurfs episode "All That Glitters Isn't Smurf", where Gargamel kidnaps Smurfs in order to make gold, and Papa Smurf lures the evil wizard to a mountain of fake gold coins made from Smurfette's hair in order to rescue his little Smurfs.
- The trope name is dropped in an episode of Tiger Sharks. There, it is played very literally - what looks like a hoard of golden spheres is actually dangerous toxic waste causing Rapid Aging in anyone touching it. Both the heroes and one of the major villains have a problem because of it... the other villain learned his lesson many years ago.