Readers of Shakespeare know that the Bard wrote with a wink and a burn. The reason most schools put off teaching Shakespeare until high school isn’t just the difficulty of language, but that it is awkward for teachers to explain the bawdy jokes to preteens bursting into adolescence. My teachers were all nuns until sixth grade, so thinking about the sex jokes in Shakespeare would have had its own chilling effect. But the awkwardness will be there whether it is a hot young twentysomething straight out of teacher’s college or a decaying soul as likely to die before a chalkboard as before a priest or doctor. Teaching Shakespeare to kids is a minefield of classroom guffaws and surprise parent-teacher conferences—long, difficult conferences where a parent isn’t as thrilled by Johnny’s newly expanded vocabulary as the teacher might be.
But Shakespeare has resources for the teacher besieged by the over-protective parent. In that situation, the teacher should say to the parent, “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage” (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7). Or would that go badly? How about “Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows” (Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 1)? Perhaps Shakespearean insults are not the right response for every situation.
Plus, not every teacher has the time to mine Shakespeare for essential insults for incurious parents and overly-officious school board Presidents and circuit court judges. Fortunately, No Sweat Shakespeare has put together the top 50 insults gleaned from the plays. I’ve included a few of my favourites below, but the link has more. Plus, they have a “Shakespeare Insult Generator,” for the creative folk, and a brilliant poster by Charley Chartwell.
Can you believe that a guy name Chartwell makes charts well? I love the world.
So, this post is for Shakespeare lovers. And for that one brilliant moment where the curious and bright kids in class caught on to the inappropriate joke before the mob. And, obvsiously, this post is not for luxurious mountain goats (Henry V, Act 4, Scene 4) or knotty-pated fools (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4).
Shakespeare insult 2: Henry IV Part I (Act 2, Scene 4)
“Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish!”
Shakespeare insult 3: The Taming of the Shrew (Act 3, Scene 3)
“Away, you three-inch fool!”
Shakespeare insult 6: Henry IV Part 2 (Act 2, Scene 4)
“His wit’s as thick as a Tewkesbury mustard.”
Shakespeare insult 11: Timon of Athens (Act 4, Scene 3)
“I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands.”
Shakespeare insult 12: All’s Well That Ends Well (Act 2, Scene 3)
“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.”
Shakespeare insult 16: Richard III (Act 1, Scene 3)
“Poisonous bunch-backed toad!”
Shakespeare insult 17: The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act 3, Scene 5)
“The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril”
Shakespeare insult 18: The Comedy of Errors (Act 5, Scene 4)
“The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.”
Shakespeare insult 19: Henry IV Part 1 (Act 3, Scene 3)
“There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.”
Shakespeare insult 21: Henry IV Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4)
“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?”
Shakespeare insult 22: Henry V (Act 5, Scene 2)
“Thine face is not worth sunburning.”
Shakespeare insult 31: Henry IV Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4)
“Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!”
Shakespeare insult 33: Richard III (Act 1, Scene 3)
“Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!”
Shakespeare insult 42: Timon of Athens (Act 4, Scene 3)
“Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon”
Shakespeare insult 47: Henry IV Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4)
“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!”
Oh, and here is another insult infographic I stole from my wife’s Pinterest account.