Have you ever really wanted to insult someone? Usually, we revert to the usual jabs—“idiot,” “dummy,” or other less polite terms. How boring. But Shakespeare? He knew how to craft the perfect insult. The Shakespeare insults list you’re about to read is the result of collecting and collating the best of these burns.
The List of Shakespeare Insults
Shakespeare had an insult for every occasion. The eight categories of insults below give you a sense of how wide-ranging and creative his insults could be. Some insults reference donkeys. Others cast aspersions on one’s mother. One insult even brings mustard into the picture. Whatever the category or occasion, each insult is both clever and cutting.
Insults about Intelligence
Shakespeare’s characters knew how to call someone a “moron” or “idiot” without ever stooping to such simplistic terms. Who but Shakespeare could create insults out of elbow, biscuit, and mustard metaphors?
- Four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature. (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 1)
- They have a plentiful lack of wit. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
- It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5)
- His wit’s as thick as a Tewkesbury mustard. (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone. (Coriolanus, Act 2, Scene 1)
- If thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. (Shakespeare insult 10: Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1)
- More of your conversation would infect my brain. (Coriolanus, Act 2, Scene 1)
- Thou sodden-witted lord! Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows! (Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 1)
- Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage. (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7)
- If you spend word for word with me, I shall make your wit bankrupt. (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 2, Scene 4)
- He has not so much brain as ear-wax. (Troilus and Cressida Act 5, Scene 1)
- Thou art the cap of all the fools. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)
Insults about Character
One catch-all category of Shakespearean insults is the character category. Many insults are in some way attacks on a person’s virtue or character, but these insults bring character assault to a whole new level.
- There’s small choice in rotten apples. (Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Scene 1)
- Away thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant. (The Taming of the Shrew, Act 4, Scene 3)
- Foul spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dares perform. (Titus Andronicus, Act 2, Scene 1)
- Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver’d boy. (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 3)
- You, minion, are too saucy. (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 1, Scene 2)
- I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all markets. (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 5)
- I scorn you, scurvy companion. (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Was the Duke a flesh-monger, a fool and a coward? (Measure For Measure, Act 5, Scene 1)
- You are not worth another word, else I’d call you knave. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 2, Scene 3)
- Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter! (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2)
- Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade. (Measure For Measure, Act 3, Scene 1)
- A fool, an empty purse. There was no money in’t. (Cymbeline, Act 4, Scene 2)
- Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile. (Cymbeline, Act 3, Scene 4)
- Away, you mouldy rogue, away! (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)
- I do desire that we may be better strangers. (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2)
- You are as a candle, the better burnt out. (Henry IV Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2)
- Drunkenness is his best virtue, for he will be swine drunk, and in his sleep he does little harm, save to his bedclothes about him. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 4, Scene 3)
- You are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion, where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard. (Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 2)
- Threadbare juggler! (The Comedy of Errors, Act 5, Scene 1)
- Eater of broken meats! (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2)
- Saucy lackey! (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 2)
Insults about Honesty
Calling someone a “liar” is always an insult. Shakespeare took the liar insult to new heights with these attacks on one’s honesty.
- Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell. (Othello, Act 4, Scene 2)
- Thou subtle, perjur’d, false, disloyal man! (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 4, Scene 2)
- Thine forward voice, now, is to speak well of thine friend; thine backward voice is to utter foul speeches and to detract. (The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 2)
- Dissembling harlot, thou art false in all. (The Comedy of Errors, Act 4, Scene 4)
- There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune. (Henry IV Part 1, Act 3, Scene 3)
- A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 3, Scene 6)
Insults that Include Animals
To make an insult really sting, you might have to invoke the animal kingdom. Shakespeare’s myriad animal insults include references to dogs, donkeys, toads, loons, spiders, parrots, worms, weasels, pigeons, and many more.
- I do wish thou were a dog, that I might love thee something. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 4)
- What an ass! (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
- What a thrice-double ass! (The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1)
- Poisonous bunch-backed toad! (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3)
- Here is the babe, as loathsome as a toad. (Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2)
- Like the toad; ugly and venomous. (As You Like It Act 2, Scene 1)
- Thou cream faced loon! (Macbeth. Act 5, Scene 3)
- Bottled spider! (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3)
- A rare parrot-teacher! (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Scene 1)
- Come, come, you froward and unable worms! (The Taming Of The Shrew, Act 5, Scene 2)
- A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen as you are toss’d with. (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 3)
- Pigeon-liver’d and lack gall. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
Insults about Physical Characteristics
Shakespeare’s characters weren’t above calling each other “ugly,” but they did so with remarkable cleverness.
- She hath more hair than wit, and more faults than hairs, and more wealth than faults. (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act 3, Scene 1)
- 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)
- You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness. (Much Ado About Nothing, Act 5, Scene 4)
- I am sick when I do look on thee. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Act 2, Scene 1)
- Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes. (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2)
- Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood. (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 4)
- The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril. (The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 3, Scene 5)
- The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes. (The Comedy of Errors Act 5, Scene 4)
- Her face is not worth sunburning. (Henry V, Act 5, Scene 2)
- Thou art as fat as butter. (Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Thou lump of foul deformity (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2)
Insults with Threats
Sometimes, an insult comes in the form of a threat. These insults combine a character assault with a menace to one’s well-being.
- O you beast! I’ll so maul you and your toasting-iron, That you shall think the devil is come from hell. (King John, Act 4, Scene 3)
- By mine honour, if I were but two hours younger, I’d beat thee. Methink’st thou art a general offence, and every man should beat thee. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 2, Scene 3)
- I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands. (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)
- Would thou wouldst burst! (Timon of Athens, Act 4, Scene 3)
Insults about Gender
Insulting one’s masculinity, one’s mother, or one’s gender was just as common in Shakespeare’s time as it is in ours.
- Thou hateful wither’d hag! (Richard III, Act I, Scene 3)
- You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so. (Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3)
- My wife’s a hobby horse! (The Winter’s Tale Act 1, Scene 2)
- You poor, base, rascally, cheating lack-linen mate! (Henry IV Part II, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Whoreson caterpillars, bacon-fed knaves! (Henry IV Part I, Act 2, Scene 2)
- This woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 5, Scene 3)
- Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese. (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 1)
- Villain, I have done thy mother. (Titus Andronicus Act 4, Scene 2)
- Away, you three-inch fool! (The Taming of the Shrew, Act 4, Scene 1)
Insults that Defy Categorization
The vituperations in this list are not single jabs; they are nonstop thrashings. Take a look at number nine in this list, where Shakespeare strings together twenty pejoratives in a row!
- That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years? (Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket thou! (The Taming of the Shrew, Act 3, Scene 3)
- Thou art unfit for any place but hell. (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2)
- Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch! (Henry IV Part 1. Act 2, Scene 4)
- Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat. (Henry V, Act 4, Scene 4)
- Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog! (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 3)
- Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch! (Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
- Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, 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. (King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2)
- You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe! (Henry IV Part 2, Act 2, Scene 1)
- Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)
- Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish! You tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck! (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4)
Shakespeare Insults – Ultimate Resource List
To round out this blog post, we’ve assembled a list of some of the best links, articles, insult generators, and quizzes on the subject. If you want to deepen your knowledge of funny Shakespeare insults, consider this the beginning of your research.
Shakespeare Insults Lists
- 15 Shakespearean Insults To Replace Your Boring Ones – Because lists with gifs are better than lists without, here’s Buzzfeed’s take on the topic.
- 15 Great Insults Which Are Better Than Swearing. I love this piece from The Telegraph. They feature a Shakespeare insults list of only fifteen, but their commentary is spot-on: “These are all far more cutting and verbose than swearing, and won’t make you known for having a potty mouth.” Indeed!
- Insults Kitsch – If you’re really into insults, then you may want to stock up on some Shakespeare insult merch. There are spiral-bound insult generator books, Shakespeare insult socks, create-your-own Shakespeare kits, Shakespeare insult coffee mugs, Shakespeare insults calendar, and, yes, even Shakespeare insults bandages. Who knew that a Shakespearean insult could cover a wound? Amazon isn’t giving us any affiliate income for that link, by the way.
For some reason, Shakespeare insult generators comprise a vast number of the Shakespeare insult resources available. One of the reasons for the appeal is probably the humor behind using Elizabethan English to trash talk someone. Here are some of the most popular insult generators.
- Shakespearean Insults Generator from Literary Genius – Simply click “next insult!” to keep the opprobrium rolling.
- Insult your friends, Shakespeare style – The literary folks at CNN have their own Shakespeare insult generator. This Insult-o-Meter is special. You get to select gender and severity to unleash a customized barb.
- Mr. William Shakespeare’s Insult Generator – For a 16th-century look and feel, check out this generator. The interface features a casino-style spinner to hurl forth its vituperations. The page is a “prop” from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 2013, the RSC and Google teamed up to stream the play to an online audience.
- The Shakespeare Insult Kit from MIT – The most famous Shakespeare insult resource is called the “Shakespeare Insult Kit,” and was produced by some enterprising collegiates at MIT, way back in the day. There are many iterations of the Shakespeare insult generator, but this one is a true classic. Check out its bare-bones HTML page!
There are 124,950 permutations of Shakespeare insults available via MIT’s Insult Kit alone, so you should have enough ammunition for the next time you have a political conversation over Thanksgiving dinner or a civil conversation with the neighbor who owns the demon-possessed dog. You can, of course, use the automatic Shakespearean insults generator from MIT as well.
Shakespeare Insults Definitions
What do Shakespeare’s insults mean? What was he really saying? Here are some resources to better understand the meaning behind many of Shakespeare’s most famous insults.
- The Shakespeare insults dictionary on Slideshare – Someone has created a slideshow that lists out Shakespeare’s insults with modern English translations. Now you can easily figure out what “coxcomb” really means (and if you should use it).
- Shakespearean Insults on Quizlet – Look, if you’re serious about learning these insults, you better get yourself some flashcards. Here’s a ready-made pack of insulting flashcards on Quizlet.
- 22 of the Best Shakespearean Insults That Still Sting Today – The Reader’s Digest has their own selection of Shakespearean insults. Each one is accompanied by a one-line modern English translation, plus a stylized image.
- 7 Shakespearean Insults to Make Life More Interesting – My favorite article on insults definitions is from Merriam-Webster.com. The authors discuss the cultural, culinary, and literary history that makes Shakespeare’s insults so, well, insulting.