Shakespearean Insults

Shakespearean InsultsOne of my favorite stand-by fun lessons is to allow students to create Shakespearean insults. The Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series volume with lessons on Romeo and Juliet has a handout I’ve used since 1997, when I first taught the play, to create insults. Though I consider myself fairly technologically savvy, I found out today the handout may almost be obsolete.

Within moments of my introducing the assignment, my students were happily mixing and matching words to create insults and hurling them at each other (without my prompting, even). I have only two copies of C.T. Onion’s glossary left (I used to have five; what happened to them?), so we were trying to share, when I remembered the Shakespeare Pro app on my iPhone has a glossary based on David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words, so we added my iPhone into the mix, and before long, I was telling students about the app and suggesting that if they had iPod Touches or iPhones, they might like to talk their parents into letting them purchase the app. Within moments, one of my students with an iPod Touch found a Shakespearean Insult generator (iTunes link) app and had downloaded it. He showed me some more apps, including this one (iTunes link), which looks similar to what I was asking students to do today. Several students had their iPods and iPhones out, checking out Shakespeare, and one of my quieter students pointed out to her classmates that they could download the text of Romeo and Juliet (iTunes link) as an app. One student asked excitedly if they downloaded the app, could they ditch their heavy books? I said sure, as long as they wouldn’t have trouble finding their place, and I pointed out that in fact, one of my eleventh graders did just that last semester when his class studied Macbeth.

All of this might sound really obvious in schools where technology is wholeheartedly embraced, but it was interesting for me to watch the students using these tools to study a text I studied in high school. I remarked to my department chair the other day that I wished we could forego books if we wanted and allow students to download their books, including those fat, expensive anthologies, onto a Kindle or iPhone/iPod Touch using a Kindle app. Think about how much less it would weigh, not to mention texts can be more interactive, and students can annotate them and keep them.

6 thoughts on “Shakespearean Insults”

  1. I don't have an iPhone, but I do have two paperback books of Shakespeare's Insults–there are many out there, and I usually hand one of them to the student who finds it impossible to express him or herself without an expletive. Once they find a creative, relevant curse, they are allowed to use it for whatever or whoever frustrated them. It was a great day when someone called me a "fustian knave" and then took heat from the rest of the class for disparaging my outfit! We also visit the

    Shakespeare Insulter from our blog:

    So much for the complaints that Shakespeare can't be relevant 400 years later.

  2. Great information. We just began R&J this week. I'd love to use this information.


    Our principal has stated that students are not to use phones or electronics of ANY sort in the classroom. We're a middle school, so I sort of understand it. However, we also have in our long school name the word "technology."


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