News Article

The most unkindest cuts of all

Brush up your Shakespeare

Climbing the corporate ladder — or just the jungle gym at school? Need something a bit more persuasive than ''Eat this, dirtbag''? Now you can try a different line on the bully at hand (but don't stick around to explain it): ''So, my good window of lattice, fare thee well; thy casement I need not open, for I look through thee.'' Love life gone sour? This will undoubtedly hasten the breakup: ''Sell your face for five pence and 'tis dear.''

You'll find these and 4,000 or so other put-downs in Shakespeare's Insults, by Wayne F. Hill and Cynthia J.Ottchen. A 1991 best-seller in the Bard's homeland (though its authors are Yanks who wrote the book while earning Ph.D.'s at Cambridge), the book offers a play-by-play (literally) rundown of Shakespeare's poison pen. From one-line venom-packed wonders such as ''Sell when you can, you are not for all markets'' to sublime soliloquies of scabrousness like ''Such a keech can with his very bulk/Take up the rays o'th'beneficial sun,/And keep it from the earth'' (that's ''fat'' to you and me), it's all here in one highly offensive — and portable — little volume.

''The insults are really more funny than they are mean,'' insists coauthor Hill, who dreamed up the book with Ottchen, his wife, when they began hurling Bardian barbs at each other after attending a production of Twelfth Night. ''They're good for warring couples. You can reduce the other person to laughter.''

There is, however, always another option. You can follow the advice Polonius gives to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet and ''give thy thoughts no tongue.''

Originally posted Nov 03, 1995 Published in issue #299 Nov 03, 1995 Order article reprints