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«  April 2015  »
Home » 2015 » April » 10 » Shakespeare’s Insults - International Week Activity for Students and Staff (by Sharon Ahern)
Shakespeare’s Insults - International Week Activity for Students and Staff (by Sharon Ahern)

Shouting and being rude can be educational and fun.

Shakespeare, is in my opinion, one of the greatest, if not THE greatest English playwright and poet. He has enriched the English language beyond measure. He has an amazing understanding of the human spirit and creates characters who seem so realistic and believable whatever the time and place. His works have been translated into countless languages and his plays are regularly performed all over the world more than 400 years after his death. If you have never seen one then I urge you to do so as soon as possible.

I have taught Shakespeare’s plays for the last sixteen years and each time I find something new about them or better still, one of my students makes an observation during a lesson or in an essay which stops me in my tracks and makes me think again.

International Week! What a perfect opportunity to introduce the joys of Shakespeare’s language to students and teachers at NIS. From my own experience I know that foreign language learners need courage to use the words they have been introduced to. So I decided to use an activity familiar to many English Literature teachers and students – ‘Shakespeare’s Insult Activity’. Shakespeare’s language is rich in insults. They are funny, clever, rude and inventive. The activity I chose introduces students to Shakespeare’s language before teaching the play itself begins. It gives them an opportunity to practice their intonation and pronunciation. 

The activity itself is very simple. All students have to do is stand in two lines facing each other and hurl insults at their partner at the tops of their voices.

The students who enjoyed it most were the grade seven’s once they had got over their fear of raising their voices. The teachers never did. All the insults were taken from Shakespeare’s well-known plays. Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet for example. Anyone who knows the story of Romeo and Juliet will know how Juliet’s father behaves when Juliet refuses to marry Paris, the very acceptable young man her father has chosen for her. Why does she refuse? Well, she has already married Romeo in secret. If she married Paris she would be committing bigamy (marrying someone when you are already married to someone else), committing a sin in the eyes of the church and breaking the laws of the land. Juliet’s father is understandably furious and berates his daughter for her disobedience.

As I said, the aim of the activity is for students to speak, hopefully with feeling and some understanding. The grade 7’s couldn’t believe their luck. Shout? In a classroom? To each other? At a teacher? What fun!

I began by asking what they knew about Shakespeare. Then, talked briefly about the use of grammar, see below.

  • Thou/thee = you - singular
  • Ye = you – plural 
  • Thy/thine = your
  • Art = are (present of ‘to be’)
  • Wast = were  (past of ‘to be’)
  • Dost = do
  • Hast = have (present tense)
  • Hath = have (past tense)
  • Will - wilt

I include a list of some of the sentences and phrases I used with their translations.

1. I bite my thumb at you, Sir.

Biting your thumb was very insulting in Italy during the 14th century

2. You are as loathsome as a toad!

You are as unpleasant as a toad

3. Away, thou art poison to my blood!

Go away, you poison my blood!

5. Art thou the slave that with thy breath hast killed?

Aren’t you the poor person whose breath is so bad that it can kill?

6. You are a vain giddy shallow humorous youth!

You are a proud silly young man with no intellect!

8. Peace, you mumbling fool!

Be quiet you stupid fool who can’t speak clearly.

8. You are too hot!

You get angry too quickly

10. Threadbare Juggler!

Threadbare means you are poor and the job of a juggler is very low class.

13. You greensickness carrion.

Carrion is the word for a dead animal’s flesh which goes green when it decays.

14. Thy horrid image doth unfix my hair!

Your ugly face makes my hair stand up and I feel afraid.

16. Ye flibbertigibbet

A flibbertigibbet is someone who keeps changing their mind and is very irritating.

17. Thou art a double-dealer!

A double-dealer is a cheat and a dishonest person, someone not to be trusted.

18. Thou art a puke-stocking!

You are someone who vomits into their own socks and is therefore disgusting.

I gave each person a folded piece of paper on which was written one of the insults. We had a short discussion about the meaning of the phrase or sentence and then the shouting began!

In the end it was the grade 7 students who were uninhibited enough to fully profit from the activity. The adults and the older students found it difficult to raise their voices and be rude to each other even in jest.

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