Posts Tagged ‘Elizabethan curses’
Aside from writing some of my favorite villains in literary history, Shakespeare also wrote some of the most impressive verbal strings of curses I have ever read. One of the most memorable, and my personal favorite, is this exchange between Gloucester (soon to be Richard III) and Queen Margaret (whose position as Queen had recently been usurped during the War of the Roses by Richard’s family). Historically, she shouldn’t be in this play at all, but her presence adds quite a bit of prescient anxiety and an outside voice to remind those involved what can, and she hopes, will, happen to them too. Every scene she appears in includes a venomous warning to those around, but I’ve included here only my favorite. What do you think?
Richard III, Act 1 Scene 3
What, were you snarling all before I came,
Ready to catch each other by the throat,
And turn you all your hatred now on me?
Did York’s dread curse prevail so much with heaven
That Henry’s death, my lovely Edward’s death,
Their kingdom’s loss, my woeful banishment,
Should all but answer for that peevish brat?
Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven?
Why then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!
Though not by war, by surfeit die your king,
As ours by murder, to make him a king!
Edward thy son, that now is Prince of Wales,
For Edward our son, that was Prince of Wales,
Die in his youth by like untimely violence!
Thyself a queen, for me that was a queen,
Outlive thy glory, like my wretched self!
Long mayest thou live to wail thy children’s death,
And see another, as I see thee now,
Deck’d in thy rights, as thou art stall’d in mine!
Long die thy happy days before thy death;
And, after many length’ned hours of grief,
Die neither mother, wife, nor England’s Queen!
Rivers and Dorset, you were standers by,
And so wast thou, Lord Hastings, when my son
Was stabb’d with bloody daggers. God, I pray him,
That none of you may live his natural age,
But by some unlook’d accident cut off!
Have done thy charm, thou hateful wither’d hag.
And leave out thee? Stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me.
If heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace!
The worm of conscience still be-gnaw thy soul!
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv’st,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be while some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog,
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell,
Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb,
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins,
Thou rag of honour, thou detested-
Let me know what you think of our good Queen Margaret. Too venomous? Did she go too far? What if you heard someone saying the (albeit rough) translation of some of those lines to you today?