Killing the messenger has been an ancient trope, that has accompanied humanity throughout its history.
It can be traced as far back as the Warring States period in China between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC.
It also appeared in Plutarch’s and Sophocles’ literature, while the first native English language record of punishing the messenger can be linked to Shakespeare who included the trope both in Henry IV, Part 2 and Antony and Cleopatra.
The phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” started appearing in print during the 19th century, when firearms became widely available in the United States.
“Don’t shoot the messenger” has been a popular colloquialism since the 1800’s, with countless cases of its use occurring in a wide variety of contexts, from literature to spoken word interactions and mass media.
The phrase was adopted as the title of an Anglo-Dutch documentary about activists, which premiered in the Netherlands on September 30th, 2013.