Learn English through Insults by Shakespeare
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Why do we cringe when we hear "Shakespeare?"
If you ask me, it's usually because of his words.
All those thines and thous and therefores
and wherefore-art-thous can be more than a little annoying.
But you have to wonder, why is he so popular?
Why have his plays been made and remade more than any other playwright?
It's because of his words.
Back in the late 1500s and early 1600s,
that was the best tool that a person had,
and there was a lot to talk about.
However, most of it was pretty depressing.
You know, with the Black Plague and all.
Shakespeare does use a lot of words.
One of his most impressive accomplishments is his use of insults.
They would unify the entire audience;
and no matter where you sat, you could laugh at what was going on onstage.
Words, specifically dialogue in a drama setting,
are used for many different reasons:
to set the mood of the scene,
to give some more atmosphere to the setting,
and to develop relationships between characters.
Insults do this in a very short and sharp way.
Let's first go to "Hamlet."
Right before this dialogue,
Polonius is the father of Ophelia, who is in love with Prince Hamlet.
King Claudius is trying to figure out why Prince Hamlet is acting so crazy
since the king married Prince Hamlet's mother.
Polonius offers to use his daughter to get information from Prince Hamlet.
Then we go into Act II Scene 2.
Polonius: "Do you know me, my lord?"
Hamlet: "Excellent well. You're a fishmonger."
Polonius: "Not I, my lord."
Hamlet: "Then I would you were so honest a man."
Now, even if you did not know what "fishmonger" meant,
you can use some contextual clues.
One: Polonius reacted in a negative way, so it must be bad.
Two: Fish smell bad, so it must be bad.
And three: "monger" just doesn't sound like a good word.
So from not even knowing the meaning,
you're beginning to construct some characterization
of the relationship between Hamlet and Polonius,
which was not good.
But if you dig some more, "fishmonger" means a broker of some type,
and in this setting, would mean like a pimp,
like Polonius is brokering out his daughter for money,
which he is doing for the king's favor.
This allows you to see that Hamlet is not as crazy as he's claiming to be,
and intensifies the animosity between these two characters.