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In the play "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare, the author shows how two feuding families keep stoking the fire of hate and prejudice by using insults. It may even be that the original insult or slight is so many generations far back that it has been lost in the mists of time and no-one remembers it any more. yet still the families fight, the cause is gone but the feud remains. The insult of biting thumbs in front of people was a degrading one and it is interesting to note that it was perceived for the aggrieved person to more honourable if he challenged it, than if he ignored it to keep the peace. Sampson knew full well that the insult would not go unchallenged and that there would be some fun in the form of a fight.
Start with the first act of Shakespeare's play and scan the lines; you will easily spot the insults that Gregory and Sampson hurl at Abraham. For instance, Sampson says that "a dog of the house of Montague moves me" (I,i,10), and Gregory derides Sampson as a "weak slave." Gregory replies that he will be a "tyrant" and will either cut off the head of the maid or take their "maidenhead." He continues, saying that he will "frown as I pass by, and let them take it as they list." Sampson asserts,
Nay as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them;
Which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it. (38-40)
As Benvolio enters, he shouts, "Part, fools!" But, Tybalt calls the Montague servants "heartless hinds," and challenges Benvolio, calling him a "coward." Then, when the old men, Lords Capulet and Montague hear, they rush to engage in the fray with Montague calling out, "Thou villain, Capulet..." (I,i,75)
Angered by the reignited conflict, Prince Escalus insults the men,
Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel,--
....you men, you beasts
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins....(I,i,77-81)
Furthermore, the Prince tells Montague and Capulet that they are partisans who possess "canker'd hate."
In a later scene, Romeo arrests the rambling Mercutio's monlogue with insulting words, "Thou speakest of nothing." (I,iv,102)
In the next scene, Tybalt espies Romeo and declares,
It fits, when such a villain is a guest: I'll not endure him. (I,v,64-65)
Capulet tells Tybalt he is "a saucy boy," and he is a "princox."
In the next act as Mercutio and Benvolio search for Romeo, who has snuck into the Capulet orchard, Mercutio refers to Romeo's previous love, "that same pale, hard-hearted wench, Rosaline (II,iv,4), and does not spare Tybalt his disparagement, either: "More than Prince of Cats, I can tell you" (II,iv,19). When Benvolio notices that Romeo approaches, Mercutio then calls to Romeo, "O flesh, flesh,/how art thou fishified!" (I,iv,38) and Romeo continues the battle of wits with Mercutio telling him that he has "more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than ...I...(I,iv,70), and Romeo eventually tells Mercutio that he is "far and wide a broad goose."
Distracting them from their banter is the nurse, whom Romeo sees as an object of sport and ridicule: Here's goodly gear! (I,iv,92) with Mercutio joining in the raillery by exclaiming, "A sail! a sail!" as she possesses so much material that her servant Peter much carry it. He then refers to the nurse as "a bawd" and "a hare," punning on the word whore.
Then, of course, there is the fiery encounter between Mercutio and Tybalt in the first scene of Act III as Mercutio again names Tybalt the "Prince of Cats," and initiates an argument with him:
Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of
meat, and yet thy head hath been beaten as addle as an egg for quarrelling...(III,i,24)
When Romeo appears, Tybalt tells him, "thou are a villain" (III, i,60),but Romeo refuses to fight; Mercutio turns his cholera upon Romeo, "O calm, dishonorable, vile submission! (III,i,72), drawing his sword and calling Tybalt "a rat-catcher." When he is wounded, Mercutio expends his remaining anger on Romeo, who has come between him and Tybalt:
...a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to sscratch a man to death! a braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic! (III,i,
More insults are hurled in the final act when Paris enters the tomb of Juliet and discovers Romeo. Believing that Romeo has come to defile the grave, Paris speaks harshly to him,
Stop thy unhallow'd toil, vile Montague!....
From beginning to end, Romeo and Juliet is replete with passages in which the "two households" exchange insults.
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