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Home School Life Journal ........... painting by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Understanding Shakespearean English, Part Three: The Language of Loathing and Loving

 "Vanish like hailstones, go! Trudge away on th' hoof, seek shelter, pack!" -Falstaff

The Elizabethans admired a sharp tongue and a razor wit. They admired colorful and creative insults.
Here is a mixed bag of colorful Shakespearean quotes to give you an idea...

Get you gone, you bead, you acorn...thou shalt be whipped with wire, and stewed in brine, smarting in lingering pickle...thou halfpenny purse of wit...thou cream-faced loon...Thou globe of sinful continens...You poor, base rascally, cheating lack-linen mate!...You bottle ale rascal!...Standest thou there the lyingest knave in Christendom...Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, a threadbear juggler and a fortune-teller, a needy hollow-eyed, sharp-looking wretch, a living dead man...

A good rule of thumb is if you see the word Thou and two colorful adjectives and a choice noun, you can guess that it is probably an insult. You may not get the full meaning of each word, but you can get the general sense.


Swearing or the use of oaths was commonly used to emphasize statements. Examples are using God's name,  references from classical mythology such as "By the Strength of Hercules" or "By Minerva and her Wisdom", using manly characteristics such as "By my honor!" or "Upon this sword.", or using the tool of the trade such as "By my shears" or "By my plough and horse".

Many Elizabethans invoked the saints and which one depended on the person's trade, or what they wanted such as protection from ailments. Sometimes it is interesting to look up which saint it is to give you a clue to what is important to the character or on the character's mind.

On the flip side, the Elizabethans also liked to flatter and charm. They loved to use terms of endearment such as "my darling" or "love" but they sometimes used flattery sarcastically. Here are some uses of charming phrases,
"O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!"
"So sweet a kiss the gold sun gives not..."
"Wiser than Minerva is she."
"Thy beauty does outbrag e'en Aphrodite."
"Wiser than Solomon art thou."
"His wife must have a patience of Job."



Exercises for you students might be to write a scene with the characters that they had in their meeting scene. They may add additional characters as well. Have them give their characters a problem to further the story. If they  have trouble writing in the Elizabethan dialect, then have them write the scene as they would talk and then have them go back and change the wording. Another fun thing is if you have more than one student (or you could play too) is to have a volume of Shakespeare's works per student and have them have a race to see who can find the most colorful Shakespearean quotes, or the longest. All of this working with them makes it so he is more comfortable when he confronts them and so are not a stumbling block. He can also begin to see them in his works instead of them just being part of a large jumble of incomprehensible words.

4 comments:

  1. LOLOL Love the Shakespeare insults. I just 'hurled' a few at Kei and she was like "Huh"? :)

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  2. I have enjoyed this series so much! You have cleared the fog and inspired me to seek out and read Shakespeare now that I have a much clearer picture of what the heck is being said.

    Thank you for sharing.

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  3. I always loved Shakespeare even though it was challenging to read. I love your idea to assimilate some of the dialect into life. As with most languages, insults are always the first ones to be absorbed!

    You have so many wonderful ideas. Do these come from any particular curriculum resource? If so, what age would you recommend in starting?

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  4. HI..I'M NISA..I COME FROM INDONESIA...I LOVE YOUR WRITING ABOUT SHAKESPEAREN ENGLISH

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