Sixty-Two Insults (from Shakespeare)

SA/SA, piano

A choral duel for equally matched opponents. Wicked good fun!

Reginald Unterseher ยท Sixty-Two Insults (from Shakespeare), Reginald Unterseher
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Program Note

This is not a “nice” or “pretty” piece! It is more along the lines of “dramatic” and “expressive.”

This piece was conceived as a choral duel for equally matched opponents. The two sections have identical ranges and are likewise equally matched in the verbal abuse they heap upon each other. The words are taken from many of the plays of William Shakespeare.

Notes on preparation and performance

An essential aspect of the harmonic structure of the piece is the clash of major and minor. Do not find a middle ground; keep them very major and very minor.

Find all the meanings of the words and deliver them with clear intent. Think classical Shakespearean acting rather than TV or movie acting. It is full and strong, at all volume levels, but not screamed.

Imagine yourselves in full costume, on a set.

Clear, energetic consonants and tall vowels are very important. Especially in the word “Thou,”

Sustain the tall “AH” vowel, never let it spread to the sound you make when you get hurt, “OW!”

Remember to listen to the other part and react to what they are saying, so that your next words are a response to what the others are saying to you. The spaces between what you say, and especially the silences, are just as important acting moments as when you are talking.

That being said, when you are learning the piece, it might be a good idea to get several bits very thoroughly learned before trying to put them together. Measures 69-81 come to mind, though mm. 52-58 also qualify. Some physical distance between the two groups can work very well.

Experiment with varying amounts of staging– while the acting should always be full out, the amount of movement can vary widely from situation to situation.

The words are not part of modern, conversational English, so the audience may need some help understanding in addition to the singers simply saying them very clearly. The words could be printed in the program, but that gives away the joke. You could use projected supertitles like we do in opera, or some other way of showing the words could be devised.

There are so many different ways to deliver the insults! They can be given with a wicked smile and flashing eyes, with sudden fury, with calculated disdain, with indignation, with resentment, with annoyance, and with all sorts of other intentions and attitudes you can find in the thesaurus…


–by Sheila Dunlop & Reginald Unterseher

Thou art a churlish, clay-brained clot-pole!
Thou art an artless, boil-brained baggage!
Thou art a froward, frothy flap-mouth.
Thou art a pox-marked, puking foot-licker!
Thou, a mangled, mumbling maggot-pie!
Thou, a mewling, motly measle-monger!
No, Thou!
And thy moth-er? a hedge-born harpy!
Thy mother, a bawdy scut!
Thy father, a paunchy pig-nut!
Thy father, a spongy, spur-galled skainsmate!
Infected, ill-nurtured, gleeking, haggard, surly, spleeny, rank, reeky lout!
Puny pumpion, goatish, milk-livered, fly-bitten, gorbellied lout!
Thou art a logger-headed nuthook. Thou art a hastywited clack-dish.
Thou art a tardy-gaited giglet. Thou art a surly, half-faced hedgepig
Thy brother, Thy grandmother!
Thy sister, Thy great-uncle!
Thou art! Thou art! Thou! Thou! Thou! Thou! Thou! Thou!
Thou art! Thou art! Thou! Thou! Thou! Thou! Thou!

 Original Commission

This piece was commissioned by the Enterprise Treble Choir, Jolyn Glenn, director, and the McGloughlin Treble Choir, Kurtis McFadden, director. This commission was the first in what has turned into a continuing commissioning project. The YouTube video of the words features a recording by the original performers.

2 thoughts on “Sixty-Two Insults (from Shakespeare)

  1. Mark Tinkler says:

    HJust tried (succesfully??) to pay for a copy of 62 insults – but the website said that it couldn’t find it.
    No worries – is it possible to send me a Pdf??
    Great song!

    1. You did do it successfully! Score has been sent. Enjoy!

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