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THESE DAYS, one can easily run short of invectives. However, in the spirit of literary recycling, we can learn from a master of the English language, William Shakespeare.
Here’s a selection of Shakespearean insults, many of which, alas, would seem as timely as today’s headlines. I’ve grouped them into handy categories for instant recognition.
On Intellect. “O gull o dolt, as ignorant as dirt” (Othello). “Not so much brain as earwax” and “All eyes and no sight” (both from Troilus and Cressida). This last one is sort of the Bard’s version of “Big hat, no cattle.”
“Idol of idiot-worshippers!” (also from Troilus and Cressida) is double-barreled.
Perhaps in need of definition. “Clod of wayward marl” (Much Ado About Nothing). Hmm…. I know what a clod is, and believe marl has something to do with dirt as well. Merriam-Webster confirms this with marl being “a loose or crumbling earthy deposit (as of sand, silt, or clay) that contains a substantial amount of calcium carbonate.”
More complex is “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian!” (a Falstaff comment in Henry IV, Part 2). I think a scullion works in the kitchen, but the other two evade me. Again, it’s back to Merriam-Webster.
Yep. A scullion is “a kitchen helper.” Its first known use is in 15th-century Middle English sculioun. Like me today, folks back then weren’t very good at spelling.
According to M-W, A rampallian is a “good-for-nothing scoundrel, a wretch.” A wretch (“like me!” in the song) is a “miserable person: one who is profoundly unhappy or in great misfortune.” Wretches go way back to the Old English wræcca, exile, stranger, despicable person.
I believe I’ll get to use rampallian a lot more than wretch.
A fustilarian is “a low fellow, a stinkard, a scoundrel.” It’s related to “fusty” as in Shakespeare’s “A fusty nut with no kernel” (Troilus and Cressida yet again). M-W defines fusty as “1 British: impaired by age or dampness: moldy; 2 saturated with dust and stale odors: musty; and 3 rigidly old-fashioned or reactionary.” Well, Shakespeare was British, you know, but I’m confident I’ll get to use fustilarian often.
On Shakespearean Recycling. Having mentioned “kernel,” I note there’s also “No kernel in this light nut; the soul of this man is in his clothes” (All’s Well That Ends Well). The next line, by the way, is “Trust him not in matter of heavy consequences.”
On Personal Appearance. Shakespeare’s “Dread prince of plackets, king of codpieces” (Love’s Labour’s Lost) reminds me of Glen Newey’s London Review of Books description of Henry VIII as “Donald Trump in a Codpiece.” Also, need I mention really long neckties?
There’s also “Thou cream faced loon” (Macbeth) and “O’Serpent heart hid with flowering face” (Romeo and Juliet). I didn’t know that Tudors used eye makeup too.
When Achilles says, “Thou crusty botch of nature” (another good one from Troilus and Cressida ), I recall Frank Bruni’s wonderful line about Steve Bannon: “a guy who looks like a flea market made flesh….”
On duplicity. More than a few Shakespearean characters are, at one time or another, “False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand” (King Lear). Indeed, some manage all three simultaneously.
And does an “Infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker” (All’s Well That Ends Well) remind you of anyone?
Thank you, William Shakespeare, for helping us when we are seemingly at a loss for words. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018