Friends, Romans, TPSers, lend me your computer screens! For this month’s top ten I doth presenteth to you the Top 10 Shakespearean Comebacks and Burns. If comebacks be the food of insults, play on…
#10: “Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.”
Sometimes, you just need to tell it like it is, and this insult from Shakespeare’s King Lear certainly does the trick. Whether you’re speaking to your cheating daughter Goneril or that annoying kid who keeps throwing grapes at you during lunch, this nugget of gold is quite effective. This comeback will have the unhappy receiver firstly trying to work out all the words you said, secondly quite burned when they do figure them out, and certainly disposed to never throw grapes at you again (or whatever annoying thing they were doing).
#9: “‘Moved,’ in good time. Let him that moved you hither remove you hence.”
When it comes to burning people, Miss Kate from The Taming of the Shrew has to be one of the grand masters. When Petruchio waltzes on in and declares, “Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife.” Kate puts him down like the professional she is, both playing on his words and seeing him to the door. So, ladies and gents, next time an unwelcome suitor appears at your doorstep or you just want some annoying person to remove themselves from your presence, this selection does the dirty work nicely.
#8: “Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit, for I am sick when I do look on thee.”
At #8, this Midsummer Night’s Dream line offers a lovely burn plus warning package. Before hitting your foe with the big guns, sometimes you need to give them a little warning first, whether they be a very-hard-to-extricate Helena, the bothersome kid sitting behind you in science, or that irritating fly buzzing around in your room. Whoever you’re dealing with, handle them like a champ by giving them forewarning plus a taste of what’s to come. Might you look a bit strange yelling this at a fly? Possibly. Is it completely effective? Presumably. Will you look like a master of burns and awesomeness? Absolutely.
#7: “Go, prick thy face and over-red thy fear, thou lily-livered boy.”
Proving to us that witches should always be listened to and are the sure way to an extremely happy life, Macbeth doled out his fair share of insults during his time. This particular one left its mark on a certain page boy, showing him who was actually the boss. So, the next time you see Birnam Wood approaching your castle, and you need to let your anger out somehow, just pull out this Macbeth line and get ready to fight like the righteous king (who would never kill a monarch for personal gain) that you are!
#6: “Heaven truly knows that thou art false as hell.”
Oftentimes, the vileness of certain unnamed persons is only visible to two people: God, and also you, Mr. or Miss smart, all-knowing person. Other people just don’t understand that when a certain person said, “Nice shirt,” what they really meant was: “I wish you would crash down a cliff, fall into a pool of mud, have a herd of pigs stampede you, and be made to live in a bird’s nest for the rest of your life. Also, I hate your shirt.” For all those sorts of people out there (the ones only you have unearthed), try this Othello quip on for size.
#5: “More of your conversation would infect my brain.”
Here at TPS, we value our brains very, very much. So, when people start babbling away about utter nonsense or begin downright insulting us, this can be extremely tedious. As our brains must be fed on only “be-verb free,” perfectly conjugated, beautifully formatted sentences, it is for our own sanity that we must protect them from all outside harm. Thankfully, Coriolanus is there with the perfect remark to keep your TPS brain nice and healthy from all the dangers you might face out there.
#4: “They have a plentiful lack of wit.”
Coming in at #4 is the prince of puns, as well as of Denmark, Mr. Hamlet! While screaming at the top of your lungs can be very effective, sometimes it’s the subdued remarks that really put people in their place. Whether you’ve got a Polonius on your hands or just some really dumb company, drop this little comment and you’re the new prince of Denmark! (or whatever city in which you happen to reside.)
#3: “I desire that we be better strangers.”
Ah, Touchstone, you never belonged with those rough and tumble folks from the Forest of Arden, and you certainly told them so. Like our stuck-up As You Like It jester pal Touchstone, if you ever find yourself as the only distinguished person in the… uh, do you call this a room? …take a moment, swish your radiant cape and allow it to glint majestically in the sunlight, and smugly deliver this little gem. You will probably have no hope of making friends with anyone in the vicinity after this; however, did you ever really want to anyway?
#2: “I’ll beat thee, but I should infect my hands.”
Is there anything better than the classic “I-would-do-this-thing-to-you-that-you-would-totally-deserve-but-you’re-so-vile-and-not-even-worth-the-effort-that-I-won’t-bother?” Whether you’re in Athens in the fifth century B.C., or a small Midwestern town in the twenty-first century, the recipient of this burn may have to go into extensive rehab. It seems Timon of Athens was social distancing before social distancing was cool. Oh, if only he had known about Purell…
#1: “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you.”
“What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?”
At #1 we have everyone’s favorite witty punsters: Beatrice and Benedick! Obviously, as demonstrated by Beatrice, the only proper way to greet your ultimate foe is by pondering (out loud of course) how they could still be talking, as no one even seems to care. Ouch. Not to be outdone by Beatrice, Benedick retaliates with another classic: pondering (out loud, what else) how Beatrice is even still alive. Double ouch. We hereby anoint you, Beatrice and Benedick, as burn and comeback champions of Shakespeare! May we all be as handy with our opponents as you are.
And there, most lovely ladies and lords, thou doth have it! Now is no longer the winter of your discontent. Fair is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and fill the air with your amazing new knowledge of Shakespearean comebacks and burns!