Thursday, 14 February 2013

Shakespeare's Art of the Insult

Love ... and bitter insults ... in Shakespeare

If you’ve already overdosed on the cheap sentimentality of St. Valentine’s Day, it’s worth recalling that the Great Bard of Love, William Shakespeare, often portrayed love in its most bitter-sweet terms.Typically, love is a kind of sickness, or madness, leading to death.

Have you noticed how quickly romantic, unrequited love turns to death and decay (eros and thanatos) at the opening of his great comedy Twelfth Night?

If music be the food of love, play on; 
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, 
The appetite may sicken, and so die. 
That strain again! it had a dying fall: 
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound, 
That breathes upon a bank of violets, 
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more: 
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before. 
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou, 
That, notwithstanding thy capacity 
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there, 
Of what validity and pitch soe'er, 
But falls into abatement and low price, 
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy 
That it alone is high fantastical.

But if you are really looking for a remedy for love (remedia amoris) why not try out these vile and disgusting insults?

Measure for Measure

Your bum is the greatest thing about you; so that in the beastliest sense you are Pompey the Great

O you beast, O faithless coward, O dishonest wretch. Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice

But it is certain that when he makes water his urine is congealed ice


Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
O vengeance! Why, what an ass am I!

King Lear

You whoreson cullionly barbermonger

Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter

Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood

False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand, hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave;

Henry IV Part 1

From the extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust beneath thy foot, a most toad spotted traitor.

Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!

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?

You starvelling, 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!

Richard III

Thou lump of foul deformity!

A knot you are of damned bloodsuckers.

The Taming of the Shrew

You peasant swain! You whoreson malt-horse drudge!

The Tempest

I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster!

Thou liest, most ignorant monster: I am in case to
Justle a constable. Why, thou deboshed fish thou,
Was there ever man a coward that hath drunk so much
Sack as I to-day? Wilt thou tell a monstrous lie,
Being but half a fish and half a monster?

Further Reading

Shakespeare Declares War on Modesty 

Rude Shakespeare


Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

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