Insults in Taming of the Shrew

By in Communication on October 16, 2012

This is an extract from the Taming of the Shrew. In these following lines Petruchio insults his servants because he’s trying to show how Shrew-like Katharina is. There is a big similarity between his insults and our modern day ‘cusses’.

In the scene, Petruchio uses such profane language to express his distain at the service that the servants are giving. One of his lines says “you whoreson villian”. He is basically saying that the servant is a son of a “whore”. Nowadays, our generation would use SOB which means “Son of a B****”.

Another example is when he says “beetle-headed, flap-eared knave”. Petruchio here is insulting the servants’ physical features which is something we do nowadays a lot. So if someone’s head looked like a certain shape then they would get cussed with something that looked like that shape. An example of this is “Onion head” (for those with a circular head shape). The other part of that phase was “flap-eared”. Again this would be equal to someone cussing someone with big or wierdly shaped ears, maybe calling them “Rooney” (because he supposedly has large ears). Also, the word “knave” means dishonest, so nowadays we would call them a “gas” because they are saying things that are complete nonsense.

These are just a few examples of how our modern day insultive language is very similar to Petruchio’s own from century’s earlier. This is really no surprise as all words change over time and if you take a word and look back at where it came from it would look very different. This is the same thing for slang.

Ex. Clapped/Butters (Slang) = Ugly (English) = Vile (Shakespearean language)


Extract from Act 4 Scene 1

Petruchio: ………..Come, Kate, and wash, and welcome heartily. You whoreson villain! will you let it fall? Strikes him


Patience, I pray you; ’twas a fault unwilling.


A whoreson beetle-headed, flap-ear’d knave! Come, Kate, sit down; I know you have a stomach. Will you give thanks, sweet Kate; or else shall I? What’s this? mutton?

First Servant



Who brought it?




‘Tis burnt; and so is all the meat. What dogs are these! Where is the rascal cook? How durst you, villains, bring it from the dresser, And serve it thus to me that love it not? Theretake it to you, trenchers, cups, and all; Throws the meat, & c. about the stage

You heedless joltheads and unmanner’d slaves! What, do you grumble? I’ll be with you straight.


I pray you, husband, be not so disquiet: The meat was well, if you were so contented

One thought on “Insults in Taming of the Shrew

  1. 1

    This is a good explanation, Remi. It demonstrates a good command of the language and an ability to put it into the context of current usage.

    The next step for your analysis is to look more deeply into the language devices that are present. The brilliance of both Shakespearian and the language of Londoners today is that it sounds so good. Have a look for rhythm patterns, alliteration, rhyme, assonance..

    It’s always a pleasure to read your work. Tonight’s pleasure was your choice of the word “profane”. Such a perfect usage!


    Mr Waugh



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