Did you know that some words and sayings that we use on a daily basis were written by none other than William Shakespeare himself more than 400 years ago? His quotes on life, love and insults, to name a few, are still highly relevant today. So cherished are The Bard’s quotes that they rank second after the Bible.
Shakespeare’s writings can inspire deep thought, strong feelings or they could brighten your day with their biting wit and humour. My newsletter for this month aims at humouring you, so Shakespeare’s insults it shall be!
Shakespeare was a master in language and literature and played a major role in moulding the English language. When Shakespeare was writing in 1590, modern English language was barely 100 years old with no existing dictionaries. Many documents at the time were still written in Latin.
As a result, he contributed some 1,700 words to the English language. He also used existing words differently, such as using “friend” and “unfriended” (Twelfth Night) as verbs, and “gloomy” (Titus Andronicus) was invented from “gloom”.
Some of Shakespeare’s words commonly used in modern day are as follows:
We have seen better days – (As You Like It) = We are worn out, in poor condition.
Own flesh and blood – (Hamlet) = Part of my family.
Love is blind – (The Merchant of Venice)
A blinking idiot – (The Merchant of Venice)
A dish fit for the Gods – (Julius Caesar) = A high-quality meal.
It’s Greek to me – (Julius Caesar) = It’s unintelligible, I cannot understand.
I have not slept one wink –(Cymbeline) = I did not sleep at all.
Cruel to be kind – (Hamlet) = Tough love, being harsh for their benefit.
A sorry sight – (Macbeth) = an unpleasant-looking view or aspect.
A tower of strength – (Richard III). = A person you can rely on for support.
Wild-goose chase – (Romeo and Juliet) = A hopeless search for something unattainable.
Break the ice – (The Taming of the Shrew) = To reduce the awkward, initial social tension.
Melted into thin air – (The Tempest) = To disappear suddenly, leaving no traces.
Dead as a doornail – (King Henry VI) = Refers to the large nails used to stud doors in medieval buildings. They were nailed flat and therefore no longer useable or “dead”.
All that glitters is not gold – (The Merchant of Venice) = Original word being glisters. Things are not as good as they appear to be.
Have you ever really wanted to insult someone? If so, how many of us have reverted to the usual “swear words” like “idiot,” “fool,” or other less polite terms, and then regretted not having used more appropriate words? Shakespeare, on the other hand, knew how to craft the perfect insult for every occasion.
YouTube video: 24 Ultimate Shakespeare insults and put downs
Shakespearean insults have a three-fold purpose. They help to set the mood, atmosphere and relationships between characters. They helped to unify the entire audience by their brutal, biting or elegant wit.
« You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe! » – (Henry IV Part 2)
“[Thou] sanguine coward, [thou] bed-presser, [thou] horseback-breaker, [thou] huge hill of flesh!” – (Henry IV)
“You starveling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!” – (Henry IV, Part I)
« That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years? » – (Henry IV Part 1)
“Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!” – (Henry IV Part 1)
And the ultimate insult:
Shakespeare’s most vicious and well-worded replies. The quote is from King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2, in which a disguised Kent verbally abuses the chief steward of Goneril’s household.
“[Thou art] a knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service; and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.” – (King Lear)
Create your own insults. Shakespeare Insult Kit: Since 1996, the origin of this kit was listed as anonymous, but in 2014 it was found that the author is an English teacher at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana named Jerry Maguire.
I thoroughly enjoyed compiling this selection of sayings and insults and hope that you enjoyed reading them. In the course of my research on this theme, I came across a myriad of interesting information on The Bard. I was also transported to my schooldays when I read excerpts of a few of his plays.
There is so much that we can say about Shakespeare. One of these days I may just write a newsletter on another aspect of Shakespeare!
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