Shakespeare Smack Talk

“Shakespeare Insults” is one of the most popular Shakespeare-related topics out there.  The problem is that most of those sites are, in fact, just random phrase generators that result in funny-sounding insults that never actually were used in Shakespeare’s works.

Shakespeare is well-known for his sharp wit and clever insults, which have become iconic in popular culture. Some of his funniest and most memorable insults include lines like “Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood” from King Lear and “I do desire we may be better strangers” from As You Like It. Other memorable insults include “Thou art a flesh-monger, a fool and a coward” from Measure for Measure, and “Thou art a natural coward without instinct” from Henry IV, Part 1. Shakespeare’s insults were often used to mock and ridicule characters who were seen as foolish, vain, or cowardly, and they have since become a hallmark of his plays, adding humor and entertainment to the already rich and complex narratives.

Last night during Othello, I heard one that I don’t think I can call an insult, but it certainly goes under the banner of good “smack talk”.  Othello is listening to Cassio talk about Desdemona (so he thinks).  Where Cassio cannot hear him, Othello says, “O, I see that nose of yours, but not that dog I shall throw it to.” Nice! Who talks the best game in the works of Shakespeare? 

12 thoughts on “Shakespeare Smack Talk

  1. Aaron and Tamora have had an ongoing affair throughout the play. Tamora is married to the Emperor and has just given birth. This becomes a problem when the baby is born black, like his father Aaron and not like his mother's husband. Demetrius and Chiron, Tamora's grown sons, confront Aaron about it:

    Demetrius. Villain, what hast thou done?

    Aaron. That which thou canst not undo.

    Chiron. Thou hast undone our mother.

    Aaron. Villain, I have done thy mother.

    In Shakespeare, you can almost always assume that if you think there is a joke and insult there, an Elizabethan audience would have too.

    Titus is wonderful and if you haven't seen Julie Taymor's version, you should look into it.

  2. another favorite:

    you are a fishmonger.

    -Hamlet to Polonius, Hamlet

    And to add salt to the wound. When Polonius replies that he is not, Hamlet says:

    "Then I would you were so honest a man."

  3. I was wondering about that one, Monica. It sounds good, and people get a good giggle out of Shakespeare inventing that yo mama joke, but in play context does it mean what we like to think it means? I'm not familiar enough with Titus and not going to go through it just to find out. 🙂

  4. Two of the best mud slingers in a Shakespearean comedy are Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.
    One of my favorite exchanges:
    Messenger: "I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books." Beatrice: "No, and he were, I would burn my study."
    Beatrice has a wicked barbed tongue! I LOVE her!

  5. Queen Margaret does a number on Richard III. She calls him, among other things, "that bottled spider," "that poisonous, bunchbacked toad" and, in one of my all-time favorite insult-laden speeches, lays some serious smack on Richard's mother (Love the kennel/womb metaphor!):

    "Thou hadst a Clarence too, and Richard kill'd him.
    From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept
    A hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death:
    That dog, that had his teeth before his eyes,
    To worry lambs and lap their gentle blood,
    That foul defacer of God's handiwork,
    That excellent grand tyrant of the earth,
    That reigns in galled eyes of weeping souls,
    Thy womb let loose, to chase us to our graves.
    O upright, just, and true-disposing God,
    How do I thank thee, that this carnal cur
    Preys on the issue of his mother's body,
    And makes her pew-fellow with others' moan!

  6. Polonius: … My honorable / lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.
    Hamlet: You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will / more willingly part withal.


  7. For the threat of actual violence to come, I really like the dialog in the middle of Much Ado. Claudio should be quaking in his boots after some of the things that are said to him.

  8. The reason I didn't bring up Hamlet originally is because I had more of a "stuff's about to go down" image in my head, like the kind of smacktalk that precedes a buttkicking. Compare Othello telling Cassio that he'll cut the nose off his face, and Hamlet talking circles around Polonius? Different context altogether.

    Not that I limited the question. Just saying that Hamlet did come to mind when I wrote it, and that's why I didn't mention him.

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