6 Times Shakespeare Mastered the Insult

By: Sam Fletcher, August 23rd, 2023 10:08 am.

William Shakespeare‘s gift for words is no secret. And what a waste his gift would be if he wasn’t finding new and inventive ways to tell people they were jerks?

Right to their face!

You can also be sure that if you’re put down by the chief bard himself, you aren’t getting back up. So what are some of his insults and classic one-liners that still hit hard?


You’re so Fat – The Comedy of Errors

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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, Act 3, Scene 2.

The Pharcyde can step over, as the classic bard isn’t above spitting a few fat jokes.

Aimed at the maid Nell, Dromio of Syracuse insults his sister-in-law’s size to Antipholus of Syracuse. He then assigns different countries to different parts of her anatomy. Working down her entire body, he provides a series of similes in an extended riff.

Because sometimes saying someone’s big just isn’t enough.

It’s a cheap shot in this early Shakespeare farce. In a play filled to the brim with gags, this is one of the more outright lethal exchanges.


Get Lost – King Richard III

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‘Out of my sight! Thou dost infect my eyes.’ – Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2.

Telling someone to get lost because they’re giving you conjunctivitis is pretty harsh.

Still, it’s understandable, considering Lady Anne Neville believes Richard is a murderer. And she’s right. Here she’s attending to the body of King Henry VI, another of Richard’s victims. Not wasting any time, he confesses to murdering him. Then Richard delivers the final insult by asking for and receiving her hand in marriage.

And that’s after killing her father and husband.

The description given of Richard is that he’s an ‘ugly hunchback,’ so it’s cutting. Regardless, telling the future king that he’s hideous to look at seems tame in light of everything.


I Did Your Mom – Titus Andronicus

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‘Villain, I have done thy mother.’ – Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2.

Alright, this isn’t all that erudite, especially not by Shakespeare’s standards. But come on, who doesn’t love the idea of one of the history’s greatest wordsmith’s giving an ‘effed your mama’ line? Fair enough, he did a few mama jabs, but this is a straight-up school-yard insult at its basest.

Following his secret affair with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, Aaron, a Moor, gives the insult. For obvious reasons, their liaison is scandalous for its era. On top of this, she gives birth to his mixed-race child. Later Tamora’s other son Chiron confronts Aaron with, ‘thou hast undone our mother.’ And Aaron drops that on him.

Ouch!

It’s Shakespeare’s ‘less esteemed’ play (seen as his Tarantino), but this line slaps.


Look, I Plain Don’t Like You – King Lear

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‘Thou art a boil, a plague-sore or embossèd carbuncle in my corrupted blood.’ – King Lear, Act 2, Scene 4.

Sometimes you need to spell it out to folks.

Here Lear is informing his eldest daughter Goneril she’s a leech. He even finishes by telling her to sort herself out at her own pace because he doesn’t expect much from her. Unfortunately for him, she is his ‘flesh and blood,’ so he’ll have to grin and bear it.

That’s one way to get your kids out the house!

This line is no surprise in a play where few consider the cost of their casual cruelty. Still, it gives all the other characters a run for their money.


You’re big-boned – Henry IV, Part 1

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‘Thou art as fat as butter.’ – Henry IV, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 4.

As we said, Bill wasn’t above spitting a few more fat jokes.

Here the sheriff is looking for Falstaff, who he suspects of robbery. Entering a tavern, he gives the description of ‘a gross fat man’ to Prince Henry. Backing the sheriff up, his carrier, Mugs, cuts in with ‘as fat as butter.’ It’s short, sharp, and vivid, getting the point across fast. Luckily for Falstaff, not only is he hiding, he’s fast asleep.

Passed out drunk.

As with much of Shakespeare’s language, it’s simple and creative. Using a basic visual flourish, he says so much.


Get a backbone – Macbeth

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‘Thou cream-faced loon.’ – Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 3.

In simple terms, the line says, ‘go to hell, you look like a coward.’

Macbeth chastises his servant for letting him know the English Army is waiting outside. Ten thousand upset soldiers busting for a fight. But that’s no cause for concern, according to Macbeth, because of some witches’ prophecy.

He also calls the servant whey-face, which is straight-up funny.

Luckily, he didn’t start strutting around like a chicken. To be fair, the king is losing it at this point. And crazy royals was something Shakespeare did better than anyone.

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