Shakespeare 400: Forget The Sonnets, Have You Heard About The Swearing?

Shakespeare died 400 years ago today. For someone who lived so long ago and didn't write in modern English, it's incredible that his influence is still so prevalent throughout the world. We've all heard about his plays, his epic love poems, and his fabulous ruff. But what about the cheeky side of William Shakespeare?

The Early Modern English of Shakespeare's time is ideal for long-winded insults, writes The Telegraph. Imagine calling someone an "elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog." Taken from Richard III - Act I, Scene iii, this beautifully-written abuse is a keeper.

Tired of the same boring old "yo mama" jokes? Try "Villain, I have done thy mother" from Titus Andronicus - Act IV, Scene ii. Or perhaps "I scorn you, scurvy companion," said with an appropriate level of disdain. The more modern-sounding "I am sick when I do look on thee" from A Midsummer Night's Dream - Act II, Scene i, is a pretty good catch-all for when you're in a bad mood.

Shakespeare had a way with words, to be sure. But what else do we know about the man thought by many to be the greatest writer who ever lived? Well, for one thing, there are people who think he didn't write at all.

The Washington Post writes that "dissenters — known as 'anti-Stratfordians' — have argued that the true author may be Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford; philosopher-scientist Francis Bacon; playwright Christopher Marlowe; or even Queen Elizabeth I." It's not hard to think of Her Majesty calling someone a "poisonous, bunch-backed toad."

Shakespeare's Language Is Still In Everyday Use, Including These Insults
[Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images]The Bard famously died on his 52nd birthday, but his grave is somewhat of a mystery. Shakespeare is buried, along with members of his family, in the ancient church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon.

However, his tombstone is quite a bit smaller than the others, and archaeologists have used "ground-penetrating radar to explore the playwright's tomb and found 'an odd disturbance at the head end.'"

There is a legend, first written in the late 1800s, that Shakespeare's head was removed for a rich man who wanted a souvenir. So is Shakespeare's head missing from his tomb? Alas, the Church refuses to open the crypt, so the mystery might never be solved. There is an epitaph on Shakespeare's tomb which warns "cursed be he that moves my bones."

A better warning might be from Henry IV Part I - Act II, Scene iv; "Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's-tongue, bull's-pizzle, you stock-fish!"

Shakespeare has given us many widely-used phrases in our modern lexicon. These include "'break the ice,' 'brave new world,' 'heart of gold,' 'the be-all and the end-all,' and 'with bated breath.'" Let's not forget "Knock knock! Who's there," "salad days" and "all of sudden."

Shakespeare's Language Is Still In Everyday Use, Including These Insults
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]Sadly, "the rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril" from The Merry Wives of Windsor - Act III, Scene v, didn't make it to everyday use.

The influence of Shakespeare is felt today in almost every country in the world. According to US News & World Report, "half the world's schoolchildren are studying Shakespeare's plays. More Shakespearean productions are being produced worldwide than of all other classic dramatists together. A work of criticism on Shakespeare is published every 11 minutes."

The influence of a minor playwright from an obscure town in the English Midlands is mind-boggling. To put it another way, "he is, quite simply, the most interfered with and analyzed writer of all times."

There is no better example of "interfered with" than this; "in New Orleans last month...no less than 1,300 professors of Shakespeare studies (the kind of professionals mocked ragged in 'Love's Labour's Lost') danced in a conga in a jazz funeral for William."

What would Shakespeare say to that? "Thou sodden-witted lord! Thous has no more brain than I have in mine elbows." What else?

[Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images]