3.3.3 Non-verbal insults

In addition to creative name colling, further forms of insults can be found in Shakespeare's plays. One form constitutes non-verbal gestures that lead to verbal conflicts or fights. The next example shows such a form of non-verbal insult.

The following scene is taken from Shakespeares Romeo & Juliet. Additionally to being an example of a non-verbal insult, "this scene shows how polite behaviour and its violations are culture-specific" (Jucker/Taavitsainen 2000:85). This insult might be hard to grasp for us nowadays, because this non-verbal aggression is not used anymore.

Therefore, in order to understand this scene there are some historical and contextual details we need to know:

One the one hand we need to know that the two gangs, the Capulets and the Montagues have a rivalic relationship. Only when we know that there is also a tensioned atmosphere between the two families we can understand how one simple gesture can result in a street fight.

On the other hand we need to understand the actual insult. It is gesture that has not endured the centuries lying between us and Shakespeare: 'to bite ones thumb at s.o.' / also called:'fig of spain' was a disdainful and offending gesture in Early Modern England. (Leisli 1977:75).

SAMPSON

    Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them;
    which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.

    [Enter ABRAHAM and BALTHASAR]

ABRAHAM

    Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON

    I do bite my thumb, sir.

ABRAHAM

    Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON

    [Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say
    ay?

GREGORY

    No.

SAMPSON

    No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I
    bite my thumb, sir.

GREGORY

    Do you quarrel, sir?

ABRAHAM

    Quarrel sir! no, sir.

SAMPSON

    If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.

ABRAHAM

    No better.

SAMPSON

    Well, sir.

GREGORY

    Say 'better:' here comes one of my master's kinsmen.

SAMPSON

    Yes, better, sir.

ABRAHAM

    You lie.

SAMPSON

    Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.

    [They fight]

(Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. Act 1, Scene 1)