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The Funniest Jabs Shakespeare Ever Wrote

“Prepare for mirth, for mirth becomes a feast” — so wrote William Shakespeare, who fully understood the importance of humor.

As an entertainer, Shakespeare had to capture the attention of the poor and wealthy alike, from common laborers who had to stand to watch plays (and were therefore known as “groundlings”) to lords and ladies who paid six pennies for a seat in the upper galleries. Tossing in a smattering of jokes, therefore, was a clever way to keep everyone — highborn or otherwise — amused during even the most somber of plays.

Some of Shakespeare’s most popular witticisms came in the form of insults. His jabs were surefire crowd-pleasers, certain to have the audience rolling in the aisles. Among his extensive repertoire is arguably the most epic insult in literary history, which comes from King Lear and includes such artfully vicious phrases as “an eater of broken meats” and “a lily-livered, action-taking knave.” Ouch.

Here are 11 more of the funniest put-downs and most merciless jabs from the world's preeminent dramatist.

Thou sodden-witted lord; thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows.
Thersites to Ajax in “Troilus and Cressida”

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Away, you three-inch fool!
Curtis to Grumio in “The Taming of the Shrew”

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I do desire we may be better strangers.
Orlando to Jaques in “As You Like It”

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There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.
Falstaff to Mistress Quickly in “Henry IV”

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Villain, I have done thy mother.
Aaron to Chiron and Demetrius in “Titus Andronicus”

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Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon!
Timon to Apemantus in “Timon of Athens”

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Either thou art most ignorant by age, or thou wert born a fool.
Leontes to Antigonus in “The Winter’s Tale”

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More of your conversation would infect my brain, being the herdsmen of the beastly plebeians: I will be bold to take my leave of you.
Menenius to Brutus and Sicinius in “Coriolanus”

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What, you are as a candle, the better part burnt out.
Chief Justice to Falstaff in “Henry IV”

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He's a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality.
A French nobleman about Parolles in “All’s Well That Ends Well”

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I am sick when I do look on thee.
Demetrius to Helena in “A Midsummer Night's Dream”

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Featured image credit: Print Collector/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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