rose burning to illustrate top 5 Shakespeare insults on Stratfordblog

Top 5 Shakespeare insults

William Shakespeare penned some of the finest verses about love ever written. He also knew how to burn an opponent with a choice selection of words. The pen was certainly mightier than the sword for Shakespeare.

So how to choose the top 5 Shakespeare insults when the acid-tongued playwright gave us hundreds? Shakespeare aimed his Elizabethan burns at short men, fat women, thin men, actors, servants and noble types: no one was off limits.

I’ve waded through a river of poetic put-downs to find the 5 Shakespearean insults that tickled my ribs, split my sides and had me wishing for a worthy adversary. Feel free to whip these beauties out when next in need of a spot of Shakespeare-style sass.

Top 5 Shakespeare insults

Sell when you can, you are not for all markets - one of the top 5 Shakespeare insults on“Sell when you can, you are not for all markets”

From As You Like It

Ouch! What a way to tell someone to settle for the partner they’ve got, because no one else will want them. This stinging little barb comes from the mouth of Rosalind. It is aimed at Phoebe, who Rosalind has already claimed has “bugle eyeballs”. Calm down girls, he’s not worth it.

Villain, I have done thy mother - one of the top 5 Shakespeare insults on“Villain, I have done thy mother”

From Titus Andronicus

Shakespeare, thy burn is epic! William throws a “your mother” insult into the mix as Aaron taunts Chiron and Demetrius that he has bedded their mother. Spoiler alert: the two are later baked in a pie and served to said mother, proving that things can always get worse.

I do desire we may be better strangers - one of the top 5 Shakespeare insults on“I do desire we may be better strangers” 

From As You Like It

A polite way to tell someone you’d rather see much, much less of them. This is another Shakespearean scorcher from comedy As You Like It. Jacques and Orlando are in the midst of a feisty exchange of words when Orlando utters this famous line. It’s well worth a read.

Out of my sight! Thou dost infect mine eyes - one of the top 5 Shakespeare insults on“Out of my sight! Thou dost infect mine eyes”

From Richard III

This insult should always be followed by the turn of a heel and the swoosh of a departing cape; no other scenario would do it justice. Here though, it is Anne who spits the words at Richard. He is attempting to woo her at her father-in-law’s funeral. Classy Richard, real classy.

I do wish thou were a dog, that I might love thee something - one of the top 5 Shakespeare insults on“I do wish thou were a dog, that I might love thee something”

From Timon of Athens

Wow Timon, don’t hold back! There are a few ways to interpret this in the original text (Shakespeare was the master of wordplay) but as a standalone insult it works just fine.

Worthy contenders to be top 5 Shakespeare insults

“More of your conversation would infect my brain”

From Coriolanus

“You, minion, are too saucy”

From The Two Gentlemen of Verona

“Away, you three inch fool!”

From The Taming of the Shrew

“I am sick when I do look on thee”

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“You have such a February face, so full of frost”

From Much Ado About Nothing

William Shakespeare, you sassy fellow! Find out more about the witty wordsmith at Stratfordblog’s guide to Shakespeare: the basics.


Would you use one of these Shakespearean insults? Have you? Which put-down would you add to the top 5 Shakespeare insults? Post your comment below.

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