If you can't say something nice...

While many appreciate Shakespeare for his lyrical romantic heroes and sweeping soliloquies, the meaner and more misanthropic among us can’t help but also appreciate his gift for the art of insult. On the Elizabethan stage, the rule seemed to be: the bawdier the better.

Droeshout portrait, 1623. With slight edits by Sam Zavieh, 2014. 

I thought I might compile a list of my personal favorite of the Bard’s zingers with helpful annotations for when they might be used in everyday life:

  1. A perfect final Facebook message just before the axe of un-friending:
    I do desire we may be better strangers
    —As You Like It

  2. For the insulter with culinary inclinations:
    There's no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.
    —Henry IV, Part 1
  3. For he who believes in the power of a good rant:
    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 deniestthe least syllable of thy addition.
    —King Lear

  4. Appropriate, or at least unsurprising, when used in almost any news story comments section:
    Methinks, thou art a general offence, and every man should beat thee.
    —All's Well That Ends Well

  5. When one needs to be short and to the point. Excellent for strangers on public transportation:
    Thou lump of foul deformity!
    —Richard III

  6. This one should be used sparingly. You will know when the time is right:
    A fusty nut with no kernel.
    —Troilus and Cressida

  7. To be used in literally almost any circumstance:
    You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!
    —Henry IV, Part 2

  8. For the eco-conscious disparager:
    You are as a candle, the better burnt out.
    —Henry IV, Part 1

  9. For the oenophile insulter:
    The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes

  10. Only for the very hippest of haters, who prefers to be inscrutable:
    Brass, cur! Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat
    —Henry V

Hopefully, you will find this guide helpful. I have to say, by comparison, the random insults I hear shouted about (mostly on the subway) seem wholly uncreative. If you’re going to be nasty anyway, you may as well kick your diction up a notch. So tell me readers, what’s your favorite Shakespeare insult?