12 March 2013


Poet and playwright William Shakespeare is widely held to be the greatest writer in the English language.  Even though his known work was produced between 1589 and 1613, the language he employs is gloriously accessible to modern readers.

Shakespeare had a prodigious grasp of human nature and of language ~ he was not only supremely articulate in the lexicon of his time, he also made up over 2,000 words that are still in use today.  His plays should be performed or read at an attentive pace, so that the audience may absorb and savor the wit and nuance in his text.

It would be a mistake to think of Shakespeare as a stilted, formal writer.  He delighted in wordplay.  Nowhere is this more true than in the insults which he devised for one character to sling at another (or for a battle of wits between two or more characters).  Here is a sampling ~ I encourage all to explore the plays for context, and to appreciate the riches with which Shakespeare gifted us.

  • "He has not so much brain as earwax." ~ Troilus and Cressida
  • "No doubt the murderous knife was dull and blunt, till it was whetted on your stone-cold heart." ~ Richard III
  • "Thy mother's name is ominous to children." ~ Richard III
  • "Four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed by one, so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse, for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature." ~ Much Ado About Nothing
  • "You should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so." ~ Macbeth
  • "Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood." ~ King Lear
  • "Foul spoken coward, that thund'rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dares perform." ~ Titus Andronicus
  • "Away, you three inch fool!" ~ The Taming of the Shrew
  • "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
  • "If you spend word for word with me, I'll make your wit bankrupt." ~ The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • "No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip, she is spherical, like a globe, and I could find countries in her." ~ The Comedy of Errors
  • "Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?"  "No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I do bite my thumb, sir." ~ Romeo and Juliet
  • "I do wish thou were a dog, that I might love thee something." ~ Timon of Athens
  • "I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all markets." ~ As You Like It
  • "Thou are a base, proud, shallow, beggardly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave;  a lily-liver'd, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, 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, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongril bitch." ~ King Lear
  • "I'll beat thee, but I should infect my hands." ~ Timon of Athens
  • "I desire that we be better strangers." ~ As You Like It
This is the merest sampling of the bard's rapier imagination.  In theatric comedy, history, tragedy or romance, Shakespeare is equaled by few, and surpassed by none.

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