The Bard’s Barbs

January 12th, 2017

Once it became evident that the entire campaign was going to be about insults, the speechwriters and the candidates should have turned to a favorite source for the right words when their own words were failing them. 

For 400 years, writers have been name dropping Shakespeare into their work here and there to make a point, or to look good by association, or both. I’m doing it right now.

For instance and early on, Marco Rubio might have had better luck with that whole small hands business if he’d known his Shakespeare.

“Away, you three-inch fool.” (The Taming of the Shrew)

Later when Hillary referred to “deplorables” and sent some of us to the dictionary to look up a word, she could have employed this quote and sent all of us to the dictionary to look up three.

“You scullion, you rampallian, you fustilarian!” (Henry IV)

And if you don’t like this column, just let me know.

“Thy words are blunt and so art thou.” (Henry VI)

As published in The Memphis Daily News, January 13, 2017, and in The Memphis News, January 14-20, 2017



So here we are between the election ­– you remember the election – and the inauguration – you know, the upcoming event that even some of the Rockettes can’t raise a leg over – and we’re already exhausted.

“Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade.” (Measure for Measure)

On my right, the Republicans are like kids with three banana splits and nobody to tell them they can’t eat them, so busy gobbling up everything they’ve been denied that they won’t stop until they’ve thrown up all over the last eight years and much of tomorrow.

“Come, come, you froward and unable worms!” (The Taming of the Shrew)

On my left, the Democrats are still so deep in denial, they elected the same dinosaurs to lead them in this Congress that they followed into the minority ice age, the same party powerful that muscled a nomination of the only person cold and condescending enough to make Trump look like a hot ticket.

“I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all markets.” (As You Like It)

On my Twitter feed, the next President of the United States is writing love notes to Putin and Julian Assange and proving with every post to be every bit as deep as his thin skin.

“Methink’st thou art a general offence.” (All’s Well That Ends Well)

On both sides of the conversation, we’re running out of insults so I suggest we elevate things.

Turn to Shakespeare, the English major’s first choice for timeless reference.

Don’t call the guy across the table an empty-headed twit, try “thou hast in thy skull no more brain than I have in mine elbows,” or perhaps, “he hath not so much brain as ear wax,” both from Troilus and Cressida.

For the hypocrisy, lying and holier-than-thouing, turn to Henry IV for, “there’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune,” or “you poor, base, rascally, cheating lack-linen mate,” or “you vile standing tuck,” or “thou knotty-pated fool,” and to Henry VIII for, “you have as little honesty as honour.”

For the serious stuff go to King Lear for “thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle” or “most toad-spotted traitor,” and to Henry VI for “vile fiend and shameless courtesan” or “base dunghill villain” or “viperous worm,” and to The Merry Wives of Windsor for “thou art a Castilian King Urinal,” and to these for the fork droppers, “thine face is not worth sunburning” (Henry V), or “I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands” (Timon of Athens).

Any of these will stop the conversation short. Used by conservatives, they can prove that they can go back centuries for relevance not just decades. Used by progressives, they can prove that they can be pretentious and esoteric in any situation.

And after we’re finally tired of trying to prove something, maybe we’ll learn to talk again.

I’m a Memphian, and our times demand that we not remain “heedless jolt-heads.” (The Taming of the Shrew)


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