Off-the-cuff: Week of January 22, 2016
Don’t worry. This year’s first column is New-Year’s-Resolution-free.
By Allen Clark
Don’t worry. This year’s first column is New-Year’s-Resolution-free. It came to me as I was thinking about the experience of reading three Shakespearian comedies two months ago in preparation for three wonderful talks at the Greenwich Library by a visiting lecturer from Yale named Mark Schenker. (He has talked at our library in the past and will be doing so again in March.)
With that kind of immersion, one goes from stumbling over all the period words and phrases, and Shakespeare’s inverted (to us) syntax, into acceptance and then appreciation. I soon was wishing that we might have a bit more of that poetry and flair in our everyday English, not to mention texting world. To learn more, I ordered a couple of books from the library on Shakespeare’s vocabulary.
There are estimates of up to 2,000 words made up by Shakespeare. His 37 plays are full of them. Many are so commonplace now that no one would suspect their authorship. Words like “accommodation,” “countless,” “dwindle,” “radiance,” and “suspicious.” But then you come across his so-called “nonce words,” words that occurred just one time in his works. These are special.
I found a great mix-and-match flipbook (like the ones you had as a kid where you could put different noses with different lips on different faces for endless comic effect). Here, you could pile up insults as only Shakespeare could.
Don’t you recall King Lear’s faithful follower, the Earl of Kent, in Act 2, Scene 2, easily deserving of entry into the Guinness Book of Records, with his description of his steward, Oswald:
“A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service; and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.”
Well, it was just a short leap to see some possibilities in this season of presidential primary madness. As the debates get more heated and closer to voting time, can’t you just hear The Donald and Ted Cruz, even Jeb Bush and soft-spoken Ben Carson, dipping into Shakespeare’s bag of insults?
In fact, the idea is so appealing I am announcing my new parlor game, “Pin the Moniker on the Candidate.” The rules are simple. Each of you takes one candidate and then gets to pick 30 adjectives and 15 nouns out of a hat containing 300 insults, half of them Shakespeare’s finest nonces. Then start the debate.
Gov. Christie: (to Jeb Bush)
“You barren-spirited, white-livered, tardy-gaited pig-nut! You dull and muddy-mettled rascal! You tiresome, wrangling pedant!”
“Don’t be so beef-witted, Guv, you slubbering, plumpy bed-presser! You fat-kidneyed, horse-back-breaker! You quatch-buttock!”
“Shame, Donald, you boiled-brains, thrasonical horn-beast! You self-glorious, nook-shodden, rug-headed bull’s-pizzle.”
“Oh Senator, you tripe-visaged, eye-offending, mindless and tiresome geck! You filching, pilfering snatcher! You injurious, tedious wasp!”
“Senator, you barren-spirited, white-livered, fawning rabbit-sucker! You infectious pestilence!
“You pigeon-livered, cream-faced loon! You finical, deceptious fashion-monger!”
I hope to have a Democratic version of my new game, although I must say the GOP so far has much more low-hanging fruit. But in anticipation of Bernie continuing his standing in the polls, here’s a sample of what they might lift from the Bard of Avon.
“You have such a February face, so full of frost, of storm and cloudiness.”
“There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.”
“Thou mewling, hasty-witted hugger-mugger!”
“She does abuse to our ear; a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.”
There’s one left over, too good to leave out; use it where thee will: “Thou pribbling weather-bitten pumpion!”