BRITAIN’s top 10… Shakespearean insults

Britain magazine
William Shakespeare

You may think Shakespeare is the cornerstone of high culture but he was also a master of the snarky put-down. Here are our top 10 fabulous Shakespearean insults.


1 Hermia calls Helena a “painted maypole” – presumably because she is tall and thin – in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

2 Maria calls Malvolio “a time-pleaser, an affectioned ass” – a follower of fashion and a pretentious idiot in Twelfth Night.

3 The Welsh Captain describes Pistol as a “rascally, scald [scabby], beggarly, lousy, pragging [show-off] knave” in Henry V.

4 Sebastian calls the Boatswain a “bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog” in The Tempest.

5 Kent says Oswald is a “knave, beggar, coward, pander [pimp], and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch” in King Lear.

6 Antonio describes Claudio and Don Pedro as “scambling, outfacing, fashion-monging boys” – quarrelsome, bluffing and dandified in Much Ado About Nothing.

7 Sir Toby calls Sir Andrew “an ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!” – a simpleton in Twelfth Night.

8 Kent describes Oswald as a “base foot-ball player” – a game of the gutter that nobles would never dream of playing in King Lear.

9 Prince Hal calls Falstaff a “whores on impudent embossed rascal” –  the son of a prostitute, who’s swollen or bulging like a boil in Henry IV Part 1.

10 Doll harangues the Beadle who is about to arrest her: “thou damned tripe-visaged rascal … thou paper-faced villain” in Henry IV Part 2.

Read more great Shakespeare features.

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