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’s Sayings

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”.

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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.
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  • 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.

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Shakespeare’s Insults

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.

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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.

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YouTube video: Insults by Shakespeare – TED Ed

Here are a few categories of insults below that portray his creativity with such elegance.

This reminds me of Winston Churchill’s quote: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

Tact and wit are the essence of some of Shakespeare’s insults. They are clever, witty and even polite until you scratch the surface to discover their true meanings!

Insults by Category

Insults about Intelligence:

Shakespeare’s characters knew how to call someone a “moron” or an “idiot” eloquently!

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  • « They have a plentiful lack of wit. » – (Hamlet)

  • “You speak an infinite deal of nothing.” – (The Merchant of Venice)

  • « He has not so much brain as ear-wax. »- (Troilus and Cressida)

  • « Your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone. » – (Coriolanus)

  • « Thou art the cap of all the fools. » – (Timon of Athens)
  • “How well he’s read, to reason against reading!” – (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
  • “You are thought here to the most senseless and fit man for the job.” – (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”- (Macbeth)
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Insult better. Quote Shakespeare @Grammarly

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  • “Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in his own house.” – (Hamlet)

  • “Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.”- (Troilus and Cressida)

  • “Here comes a pair of very strange beasts, which in all tongues are called ‘fools’.” – (As You Like It)

Insults about Character:

Many Shakespearean insults attack a person’s virtue or character in an entirely different way.

  • « Drunkenness is his best virtue, for he will be swine drunk, and in his sleep he does little harm, save to his bedclothes about him. » – (All’s Well That Ends Well)
  • A gentleman that loves to hear himself talk, and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month.” – (Romeo and Juliet)

  • “A fool, an empty purse. There was no money in’t.” (Cymbeline )

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  • “You are not worth another word else I’d call you knave” – (All’s Well That Ends Well)

  • “God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.” – (Hamlet)
  • “Away, you mouldy rogue, away!” – (Henry IV, Part 2)
  • “There’s small choice in rotten apples.” (Taming of the Shrew)

  • “Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon.” (Timon of Athens)

  • “You, minion, are too saucy.” (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)
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Insults about Honesty:

Calling someone a “liar” is always an insult. Shakespeare took the insult to new heights with the following attacks on one’s honesty.

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  • A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality. – (All’s Well That Ends Well)

  • “Thine forward voice, now, is to speak well of thine friend; thine backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract.” – (The Tempest)

  • “Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell.” – (Othello)
  • “Thou subtle, perjur’d, false, disloyal man!” – (The Two Gentlemen of Verona)

Insults that include Animals:

Animals are used in almost every culture to make an insult really sting. Shakespeare’s insults in this field include all sorts of animals as you will read below.

  • “Like the toad; ugly and venomous.” – (As You Like It)
  • “What an ass!” – (Hamlet)
  • « Thou art the son and heir of a mongrel bitch. » – (King Lear)

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

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  • « Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket thou! » – (The Taming of the Shrew)

  • “I do wish thou were a dog, that I might love thee something.” – (Timon of Athens)
  • Here is the babe, as loathsome as a toad.” – (Titus Andronicus)
  • « Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat. » – (Henry V)
Insults about Physical Traits:

Shakespeare’s characters did not call each other “ugly” to their face, but they did it with remarkable cleverness.

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(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

  • “Thou art as fat as butter.” – (Henry IV)
  • Thine face is not worth sunburning.” – (Henry V)
  • “Thou lump of foul deformity!” – (Richard III)
  • “[Thou] foul defacer of God’s handiwork.” – (Richard III)
  • “Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes.” – (Richard III)
  • “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.” – (The Comedy of Errors)
  • O, let me kiss that hand!’… ‘Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.’” – King Lear
  • “Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.” – (King Lear)
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  • “No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip, she is spherical, like a globe, I could find out countries in her.” – (The Comedy of Errors)
  • “You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness.” – (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • « She hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults. » – (Two Gentlemen of Verona)
  • « Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon! » (Timon of Athens)

Insults with Threats:

An insult can come in the form of a threat. These insults deface personal character and threaten one’s well-being.

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  • « Methinks’t thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee. » (All’s Well That Ends Well)
  • « Thou art unfit for any place but hell. » – (Richard III)
  • “I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands.” – (Timon of Athens)

Insults on Gender:

Insulting one’s masculinity, one’s mother, or one’s gender was common in Shakespeare’s time, and is still the case today.

  • “Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese.” – (All’s Well That Ends Well)
  • “You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.” – (Macbeth)
  • “Thou hateful wither’d hag!” – (Richard III)
  • « This woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure. » – (All’s Well That Ends Well)

When You Want to Give Someone a Mouthful:

Have you ever been so angry and so frustrated at someone that ranting a load of foul words helped to empty your chest and therefore calmed you?!

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  • “Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!” – (Hamlet)
  • « 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)
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  • “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)

Want to read and understand some more insults? Read this article « 7 Shakespearean Insults to Make Life More Interesting » here.

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Fun Trivia

Learn more about Shakespeare in an amusing way.

Insult Generators:

The humour behind Shakespeare’s insults have led to a vast number of insult resources available online. Here are some of the most popular insult generators.

  • 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.

Resources:

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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!