Shakespeare's Insults and Innuendo and Why They Matter - Shakespeare Month

Shakespeare's Insults and Innuendo and Why They Matter – Shakespeare Month

Part of this year’s Shakespeare Month. Sorry about the sweatiness – my lights were hotter than usual.

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This should be fun. [ Rimsky-Korsakov's "Procession of the Nobles" Plays ] So just a heads up, I'm going to swear a lot in this video. Like some fun swears and some not-so-fun swears. I won't be wild about saying all of them,
but I will try to say as many as I can, because I have a point to make, so Duck it, let's start. I don't you about you, but a good part of my education on the Bard has been getting me to appreciate how dirty he was. Not just the usual sorts of insults like; "Why thy clay-brained guts…" "Thou knotty-pated fool…" "Thou whoreson, obscene…" "Greasy, tallow-catch!"
"Art thou mad?!" I know plenty of schools have used the "Shakespeare Insult Generator" Thou "Frothy" um… "Sheep-biting" uh… "Hugger-mugger" And those are fun I mean, hell, the 'Epic Rap Battles' guys used it "En garde, thou artless, beetle-headed, flax-wench!" But I was also taught Shakespeare via his hilariously layered, dense, innuendo. I'll never forget being 11 years old, reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and finding this speech: And then of course, there's The Taming of Shrew. I'll let Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton handle this one; No translation needed. And just to be clear; these dirty jokes don't just show up in comedies or romances or even as jokes. Like that weird line in Macbeth, where Lady MacBeth tells her husband to… That makes a bit more sense in context. (Getting It On Music) And even in his Histories, In Henry V, King Henry is gifted a treasure chest, from the French Ambassador filled with; "Tennis balls, my leige" And Henry immediately rebutts with, Yeah The King of England just threatened the King of France with a whack to the nards. So if you're in high school, and you're an adolecent and you're just now getting used to the idea of swearing it makes sense to play up Shakespeare's insult game. Which is considerable. I mean; "Thou hast undone our mother!" "Villain, I have done they mother." And on the flip side, if you're an academic, trying to convince adults of Shakespeare's brilliance it makes sense that you would downplay the innuendo in favour of the startling insights into human character and yada yada yada But intersect the two, what's the academic value of looking at a dirty joke? Well, if you're looking at the way a language evolves over time, dirty jokes are a great way to do that. Here's why. If you're a human, and you use language, And you have a very, very, very strong feeling that you have to put into words because you need other humans to share your feeling, often you don't feel like you can do that just by adding a few dozen more 'very's
in front of your emotion adjective So, you use language to express your feeling with words as fresh and as weighty as the feeling itself. You're not just "sad" You're "so sad" Or you use words to show that there aren't any or its shorthand Or you start punching it up Or you give in to the feeling And try to make it as beautiful as possible. And that's where poetry comes in. You can't say, "My heart is aching" because everyone's heart aches. Your heartache feels so much more real, visceral, you feel it in your body, No. No like, the sadness I feel is in my body
but it needs to be bigger, um… Oh, that's better. Self image feeling washed away. Yes, my sadness feels like bad
weather, but felt in my body. There. That is my sadness. Linguist Jon McWhorter
described this poetic escalation as The need to accentuate superlatives when older ones have worn down. Think of how the word 'terrible' feels so weak next to words like 'hellish' or 'fucked up'. And this is especially true when you really
really want to hurt someone's feelings. Cause nothing feels more pathetic than
when you get insulted and your only comeback is, "Shut up!" Oh no no no no, it has to hit. And it has to hit hard. "You asshole." "You son of a bitch." "You motherfucker." But even those have become tame. Seriously, when's the last time you used 'motherfucker' to talk about someone who actually fucks their mother? And so, we get pretty surreal ones; "Ass-hat!" "Douche-canoe!" "Shit lord!" "Shit Bird!" "Shit Goblin!" "Cock bite!" "Fuck Ass!" "Nerf herder!" "CUCK!" Have we reached the point where
'cuck' has become meaningless? Cause, we really need to reach that point. Now just as much as we need to escalate, there's also a counter need to deescalate. Cause even worse than a lame insult, is an insult that makes you look worse, than the person being insulted. Everything I said before, I could probably get away with, but if I used an insult like The one spelled F A And then a third letter. I um, I would be over. I would be cancelled. I would cancel myself if I ever used language like that. Because it does too much harm. Too many people have had their lives threatened, or even ended with the power of that word. If I were to use it, I would essentially be excusing myself from polite society. I mean, it says plenty about how far
attitudes towards gay rights have come that, that word has been entirely replaced with 'cuck' as the go-to insult for someone's
perceived lack of masculinity. I mean 'cuck' has a lot of problems with it too, And I wish more people knew about those problems And if you're watching this video at a time when 'cuck' has been entirely stigmatized, Good. Linguist and cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, coined the phrase to show this opposing force. To retain a sense of politic and neutrality
when discussing sensitive topics. A classic example being; The R Word. And the many euphemisms
people use to try to replace it. Each of which, in turn, have become taboo themselves. And that same push and pull
is also true for sexual innuendo "Push and Pull" Whenever you're joking about sex, get too clinical, the joke dies in fire. Get too explicit, the joke dies in frost. I am good at metaphors. You're trying to suggest, without being explicit, hint without exposing, and also without diminishing
what you're actually alluding to. Its like, How does that one Patton Oswald bit go? "Which, right there, that's totally G-rated…" So with any joke, insult, or innuendo, it is always a social act,
which either assimilates or alienates. It draws the boundaries of social groups by marking behaviour as either acceptable or mockable. So its not just that a joke can become stale or overused its that a joke has to accommodate
new stigmas, biases, and new social norms. It's how they keep being funny. So if you're writing for a very culture savvy audience, who want to see their own feelings expressed in words that cut, but not too deeply, Writing a good joke is amazingly hard. You're aiming for the bullseye
of a target in constant motion. But in looking at the history of popular entertainment, you can start to track the movement of that target. So in something like; the works of William Shakespeare, or really any work of fiction ever made, you have these frozen moments of language where you can still savour the sting of a phrase like; "Son and heir of a mongrel bitch" before it got diluted down into, "Son of a bitch". Or savour the shade of a sentence like; "I do desire we may become better strangers." Or have everyone know
exactly what you mean when you say; "Country Matters." And sure, you may personally not find it funny, And trust me, you're not alone. "That is for every school boy and school girl," "for the next 400 years." "Hours spent at school desks, trying to find one joke" "In a Midsummer Night's Dream…" Should I do "Blackadder" next year, I don't know… But if you've ever tried telling a joke to
a live audience, or a YouTube audience, or even just to your own friends, you know that seeing what lands, and what bombs, is always surprising. Funny, ain't it? "This sanguine coward, this horse back breaker, this huge hill of flesh!"


  1. read this exchange between hamlet and ophelia from act three scene two, keeping in mind that "nothing" was elizabethan slang for female genitalia:

    Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
    Lying down at OPHELIA's feet
    No, my lord.
    I mean, my head upon your lap?
    Ay, my lord.
    Do you think I meant country matters?
    I think nothing, my lord.
    That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
    What is, my lord?

  2. fun homework: google "david tennant reading insult tweets" It's too good. "you ludicrous tangerine ballbag" and "Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay, you toupeed fucktrumpet" or "Scotland voted remain, you weapons-grade plum" – Something about a Scot reading them that just elevates it right into the sweet spot. lol

  3. In the far-future of two years from the video…

    I don't know if "cuck" has really been stigmatized, but I (at least) find being called a "cuck" a lot less insulting than "the kind of person who uses 'cuck' unironically."

  4. I came here because I read A Midsummer Night's Dream in the eighth grade. Our teacher was an actor and knew how to get us to engage with five-hundred year old material. Not just understand it, but also laugh at it. I've tried reading his plays since and although I enjoy the tragedies, my reaction to Shakespearean comedy is usually just a little "I get it" at the most. There's nothing wrong with that. I just wish I got more examples than you gave.

  5. Does anyone else not get the joke in that first passage from Midsummer Night's Dream? Like, is he alluding to ejaculating into her mouth? On her face/neck? Does the "roasted crab" bit symbolize something (like a body part)? Maybe I'm just naive, but I find myself having to work rather hard to read anything sexual into that passage. At best, it sounds like the fairy just tricks the woman into kissing him.

  6. Please please please do Blackadder, more people should know and watch this series. When people abroad speak of British shows it's always Monty Python, I wish it was Blackadder that came to mind instead

  7. I was, at first, confused with the conflation of retarded and disabled as insults. Now I realise it's referring to the fact that some prefer to be called "differently abled". Frankly, that's even more insulting. Disabled people are allowed to choose our own terms and the majority identify as disabled. If someone feels their abilities are "different" rather than taken away, good for them, but it's insulting to say that I need a stick to walk in a straight line or that I take pills in the morning to not become a sobbing mess because I'm just ~different~. It's a disadvantage, its something that I lost, and I don't need anyone minimising my loss.

  8. Hey, coming at you from the future: with the recent tragedy in Toronto, certainly "cuck" has become one of those words that should not be used unless you wish to "be the bad guy". At least locally as far as I'm aware. It was strange to hear you say it, so I'm glad you included an explanation for context!

  9. One of my favourite examples of that was when I read Tamburlaine. Wrong playwright, I know, but thats the point, finding a joke where one character says "Well, here I swear by my royal seat-" and another character rebuts "You may do well to kiss it, then" shows that kind of humor was the norm in Early Modern theater.

    Feel like that should've been mentioned just out of the reasoning of "if you have a hard time selling Shakespeare to someone because of dirty humor, he was far from the only one".

  10. It's interesting that you bring up "chuck" replacing "fa*", because I've noticed a new trend as well. "Autistic" is the new "gay". I've seen it hurled in Internet comments often enough. As an autistic person, I'm not every enthused about this new development.

  11. While I realize WHY Kyle only implied words that were explicitly derogatory rather than showing them, I feel like it kind of detracts from the greater meaning, that it's not the words themselves that are hurtful, but the ideas behind them.

    Honestly, if it were me, I'd have left those words uncensored (or at least showed them on screen without saying them out loud) but put a strong CW at the beginning.

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