The evolution of written profanity began roughly in the
sixteenth century, and continues to change with each generation that
it sees. Profanity is recognized in many Shakespearean works, and has
continually evolved into the profane language used today. Some cuss
words have somehow maintained their original meanings throughout
hundreds of years, while many others have completely changed meaning
or simply fallen out of use.
William Shakespeare, though it is not widely taught, was not a
very clean writer. In fact, he was somewhat of a potty mouth. His
works encompassed a lot of things that some people wish he had not.
“That includes a fair helping of sex, violence, crime, horror,
politics, religion, anti-authoritarianism, anti-semitism, racism,
xenophobia, sexism, jealousy, profanity, satire, and controversy of
all kinds” (Macrone 6). In his time, religious and moral curses were
more offensive than biological curses. Most all original (before
being censored) Shakespearean works contain very offensive profanity,
mostly religious, which is probably one of many reasons that his works
were and are so popular. “Shakespeare pushed a lot of buttons in his
day- which is one reason he was so phenomenally popular. Despite what
they tell you, people like having their buttons pushed” (Macrone 6).
Because his works contained so many of these profane words or phrases,
they were censored to protect the innocent minds of the teenagers who
are required to read them, and also because they were blasphemous and
offensive. Almost all of the profanity was removed, and that that was
not had just reason for being there. Some of the Bard’s censored oaths
“God’s blessing on your beard”
Love’s Labors Lost, II.i.203
This was a very rude curse because a man’s facial hair
was a point of pride for him. and “to play with someone’s
beard” was to insult him.
1 Henry IV,II.i.26
Swearing by Christ’s body, (or any part thereof,) was off
limits in civil discourse.
“God’s Bod(y)kins, man”
The word bod(y)kin means “little body” or “dear body,” but
adding the cute little suffix does not make this curse any
“By God’s blest mother!”
2 Henry VI, II.i;
3 Henry VI, III.ii;
Henry VIII, V.i
Swearing by the virgin was almost as rude as swearing by
her son, especially when addressing a catholic cathedral as
Gloucester did in 2 Henry VI, II.i
Perhaps the two worst of these Shakespearean swears were
“‘zounds” and “‘sblood.” “‘Zounds” had twenty-three occurrences.
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