Monday, February 29, 2016

Shakespeare's Insults : Educating Your Wit

Came in to work the other day and a coworker presented me with a book from her collection, Shakespeare's Insults : Educating Your Wit. I had to admit, I do not have this one in my collection. Bit of history, when I wanted to teach myself Android app development I actually started out with a Shakespeare insult generator.

The book is definitely for reference, rather an a "How to Insult People With Shakespeare" sort of thing. Most of the chapters are a walk through play by play (or is it play-by-play?) listing everything that could be considered an insult. Unfortunately this ends up a case of "quantity over quality" and you get quotes like, "It out-Herods Herod" in the Hamlet section. An insult? Technically, sure, yes.  Does it sound like an insult out of context? Just barely. Or "Get thee to a nunnery?"  "If thou dost marry I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry?"  Not so much insults and generally negative things.

You do what you've got to do to up the page count, I guess. I know that when I made my own statement against "love quote" collections by hand picking only those love quotes that could be used in weddings, I only managed about a 50 page ebook out of it. If a publisher told me to knock out 300 pages I'd probably do the same thing these guys did.

There's about a dozen pages dedicated to insults for particular occasions - including fat, skinny, ugly, burping, get the idea. Not really what I'd think of as "occasions" but I'm just repeating what they called it.

There's also a section in the beginning that's more about how Shakespeare's language worked in general, such as the few paragraphs on what exactly it meant to call somebody a "knave" and a "villain" and all the different variations Shakespeare used.  This part made me recall a conversation with Bardfilm over Coriolanus' use of, "boy!" at the end of the play, how significant that was and how it might be played today.

Certainly a very good reference to add to the collection. There's always opportunity to pull out some Shakespeare insults (just look at the recent Shakespeare Insult Challenge going around in the spirit of the Ice Bucket Challenge!)  It's an older book (1995) so you might get lucky and score it on the cheap if you go hunting.

What's your favorite insult?  I'm particularly fond of Kent's rant in King Lear, mostly because I saw it live last summer and laughed until I cried. Imagine taking a deep breath and trying to do this all in one go:

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable 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, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.
I love how, after all that, including taking a shot at his mother, he ends with "And I'll beat the crap out of you if you deny a word of it."

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