An early appearance of the phrase in print occurs in Shakespeare's 1602 play Hamlet (Act I, Scene III), where Ophelia, rebuffing her brother Laertes' insistence that she resist Hamlet's advances, accuses Laertes of hypocrisy:
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.
Variations of the phrase, such as "primrose way" and "primrose lane" are known. In Macbeth, the Porter speaks of "the primrose way to th'everlasting bonfire".