Under the heading of ‘swearing’ we include any emphatic expressions in which the speaker makes an invocation to affirm something or to make something happen. In this sense it is more narrowly focused than the notion of ’bad language’, which includes a wider range of intensifying expressions, some of which are mild (such as verily), some much stronger (such as whoreson), and some very strong or rude (such as figo). Several items permit varied amounts of force, such as beshrew (‘curse’, ‘devil take’), which is mild when used by Theseus in TNK II.iv.63 but strong when used by Richard in R2 III.ii.204. Intensifiers of this kind are illustrated in the A--Z section. The description of swearing is massively complicated by the influence of expurgators during the period. The ‘Act to restrain Abuses of Players’ of 1606 made it illegal for players to ‘jestingly or prophanely speak or use the holy Name of God or of Christ Jesus, or of the Holy Ghost or of the Trinity’, on pain of a severe (Ł10 ) fine for each offence. The late plays were obviously affected by this law, as well as performances of the earlier plays, and large-scale but erratic expurgation affected the First Folio (1623), as seen in any comparison with earlier Quarto texts (e.g. before God often replaced by trust me).
Modern editions, having restored original text as much as possible, provide evidence of a remarkable number of swearing expressions. This is chiefly a reflection of the range of characters in the plays - lords and peasants, old and young, men and women - whose swearing habits range from princely affirmations of honour (‘by the honour of my blood’) to servants’ allusions to horse diseases (‘bots on’t’),
and include many special usages, such as the clown’s comic use of ‘i’th’name of me’ upon encountering Autolycus (WT IV.iii.50), the puritan oath ‘by yea and no’ used by Falstaff in his affected letter to Prince Hal (2H4 II.ii.124), the fashionable swearing of gallants on items of clothing (Slender’s ‘by these gloves’, MW I.i.142), and the delicate nature of ladylike oaths - specifically as noted by Hotspur, who takes his wife to task for swearing ‘like a comfit-maker’s wife - “Not you, in good sooth!”, and “As true as I live!”, and “As God shall mend me!”, and “As sure as day!”’ (1H4 III.i.241-4). You can swear ‘by’ virtually anything you hold dear, and these expresisons range from the most sacred notions of Christianity to quite everyday notions of human behaviour and the environment. In the Roman plays, the Christian god is replaced by members of the Classical pantheon. In terms of formal construction, the commonest locution uses an introductory ‘by’ followed by the sworn phrase, but there are several other types of construction. These are grouped below in relation to the entities sworn by. No indication is given of frequency in the list, so it is important to note that some items are very common indeed, such as marry, sooth, and faith, and others are very restricted - sometimes even to individuals, who have their ‘favourite’ swear-words or versions of swear-words, such as Coriolanus’s swearing by Jove (Cor III.i.86) or Dr Caius’ French pronunciation as represented in ‘by Gar’ (MW I.iv.106).

God and his attributes

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
God, afore / God ’fore R2 II.i.200 before God
God-a-mercy TC V.iv.31 thank God
by God 1H4 II.i.37  
 i’th’name of God Ham II.i.76  
God, O Ham V.ii.338  
God bless us MND V.i.312  
God help CE IV.iv.127  
so God mend me AYL IV.i.174 amend, save
God save me 2H4 II.i.153  
as God shall mend me 1H4 III.i.243 amend, save
God shall mend my soul RJ I.v.79 amend, save
God warn us AYL IV.i.69 [unclear] protect; warrant
God warrant us MND V.i.311 preserve
God willing Ham I.v.186  
God’s bodkin Ham II.ii.527 dear body
God’s body 1H4 II.i.27  
God’s bread RJ III.v.176  
by God’s lid TC I.ii.211 eyelid
by God’s liggens 2H4 V.iii.64 [unclear] lidkins = dear eyelids
God’s light 2H4 II.iv.128  
God’s mercy AW I.iii.144  
God’s my life MND IV.i.202  
God’s peace H5 IV.iii.31  
by God’s sonties MV II.ii.40 saints
for God’s love Ham I.ii.195  
God’s me 1H4 II.iii.97 save me
God’s my life MA IV.ii.68  
a God's name TS I.ii.192 in God’s name
for God’s sake 2H4 II.iv.183  
good Father RJ IV.iv.21  
Got’s lords and his ladies MW I.i.219 WELSH
perdy Ham III.ii.302 by God [French: par Dieu]
perdie CE IV.iv.69 by God [French: par Dieu]

Shortening to ’Od / ’Ud

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
’Od’s heartlings MW III.iv.56 dear heart
’Od’s lifelings TN V.i.181 dear life
’Od’s me MW I.iv.60 save me
’Od’s my little life AYL III.v.43 may God save my little life
’Od’s my will AYL IV.iii.18 as God is my will
’Od’s nouns MW IV.i.23 wounds
’Od’s pittikins Cym IV.ii.293 dear pity
’Od’s plessed will MW I.i.245 blessed will WELSH
Ud’s pity Oth IV.iii.74  

Softened forms

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
by Cock Ham IV.v.62 God [often with bawdy pun]
by cock and pie MW I.i.283 God and the service book
Cock’s passion TS IV.i.105 God’s passion
Cox my passion AW V.ii.40 God’s my passion
by gar MW I.iv.105 French pronunciation of ‘God’
by gogs-wouns TS III.ii.159 God’s wounds

With ‘God’ omitted

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
’sblood Ham II.ii.365 God’s blood
’sdeath Cor I.i.215 God’s death
bodykins MW II.iii.40 God’s little body
death H8 I.iii.13 God’s death
’sfoot TC II.iii.5 God’s foot
mercy o’me H8 V.iv.66 God have mercy on me
mercy on’s WT III.iii.68 God have mercy on us
so help you mercy Ham I.v.169 God’s mercy
’slid MW III.iv.24 God’s eyelid
’slight TN II.v.32 God’s light
’swounds Ham II.ii.573 God’s wounds
zounds Oth I.i.87 God’s wounds


Item Example Gloss [where needed]
by Chrish H5 III.ii.85 SCOTTISH
fut KL I.ii.130 [unclear]’sfoot = Christ’s foot
by Gis Ham IV.v.59 Jesus
Jesu 2H4 III.ii.32  
Jesus 2H4 III.ii.214  
Jesu Maria RJ II.iii.65  
Lord Tem I.ii.411  
by the Lord 1H4 I.ii.39  
good Lord CE IV.i.48  
goodly Lord MV III.v.45 good Lord
Lord warrant us AYL III.iii.4 protect
by the Rood Ham III.iv.15 cross
by the Holy Rood R3 III.ii.75 holy cross


Item Example Gloss [where needed]
by my halidom TG IV.ii.132 what I hold holy
by my holidam RJ I.iii.44 what I hold holy; or: Our Lady
by my holidame TS V.ii.98 what I hold holy; or: Our Lady
by ’Lady Tit IV.iv.48 Our Lady
by’r Lady Ham II.ii.424 Our Lady
by’r lakin MND III.i.12 Our Lady
marry AYL I.ii.25 Mary
by holy Mary H8 V.ii.32  
by God’s mother, 3H6 III.ii.103  
God’s blest mother, H8 V.i.153  
by the holy Mother of our Lord R3 III.vii.2  


Item Example Gloss [where needed]
by Saint Anne TN II.iii.113 mother of the Virgin Mary
by Saint Charity Ham IV.v.59 [not a saint’s name]
holy Saint Francis RJ II.iii.61  
by Saint John R3 I.i.138  
by Saint Patrick Ham I.v.136 keeper of spirits in purgatory
by Saint Paul R3 I.ii.36  
by holy Paul R3 I.iii.45  
by the apostle Paul R3 V.iii.217  

Other Christian notions

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
by my christendom KJ IV.i.16  
a devil’s name TS IV.iii.92 in the devil’s name
what the good-year MA I.iii.1 what the devil [origin possibly: evil preventing a good year]
faith Ham I.v.135  
by my faith AYL IV.i.19  
in faith Ham V.ii.133  
good faith Cym IV.ii.302 in good faith
in good faith Ham V.i.45  
by my fay Ham II.ii.264 faith
i'fecks WT I.ii.120 in faith
for love of grace Ham III.iv.145  
grace to boot WT I.ii.80 heaven help us
by heaven Ham I.i.49  
mass Ham V.i.55  
by mass MA IV.ii.49  
by the mass Ham II.i.50  
by my soul MA V.i.262  
by my father’s soul H5 III.ii.87  
upon my soul TNK II.iv.16  
what the vengeance Cor III.i.261 what the hell

Non-Christian religions

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
by Apollo KL I.i.160  
by Castor TNK III.vi.136  
the gods Cor II.iii.53  
by Hercules AC III.vii.67  
by Jacob’s staff MV II.v.35  
by Janus Oth I.ii.33  
Jove AYL II.iv.55  
by Jove that thunders AC III.xiii.85  
by Juno KL II.iv.21  
O Jupiter AYL II.iv.1  
by Jupiter KL I.i.178  
by th'helm of Mars TNK I.iv.17  
by Mars his gauntlet TC IV.v.177  
by Mars’s altar TNK I.i.62  
by Pluto TC V.ii.105  
Pluto and hell! Cor I.iv.36  
by Venus’ hand TC IV.i.23  


Human being or attributes

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
body o’me H8 V.ii.21 my body, my life
live, as true as I 1H4 III.i.243  
complexion, good my AYL III.ii.188 cf. modern: pardon my blushes
death, upon my 1H4 V.iv.150  
death on my state KL II.iv.107  
hand, by this Ham V.ii.252  
me, afore Per II.i.80 before me
me, fore AW II.iii.25 before me
me, i’th’name of WT IV.iii.50  
life, on / upon my MW I.i.37  
whip me 3H6 III.ii.28 treat me as a criminal
whip the gosling Per IV.ii.81 confound the little goose
yea and no, by 2H4 II.ii.124  

Human values

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
fidelity, by my MW IV.ii.144  
forsooth 1H6 IV.i.157 in truth, truly
honesty, by mine TG II.v.1  
honour, by mine AYL I.ii.58  
honour, on / upon mine MM I.i.63  
loves, of all MND II.ii.160 by all love, for love’s sake
sooth TN II.i.9 [truth] truly, indeed
sooth, good TS III.ii.115 in good truth
sooth, in good 1H4 III.i.240 in good truth
troth MW I.iv.139 in faith
troth, by my AYL I.ii.84 by my faith
troth, good H8 II.iii.33 in good faith

Part of the body or clothing

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
beard, by my TG IV.i.10  
gloves, by these MW I.i.142  
hand, by my 2H6 V.iii.29  
hand, by this 2H4 II.ii.42  
hand of a soldier, by the AW III.vi.66  
hat, by this MW I.i.157  
head / heel, by my RJ III.i.34  
hilts, by these 1H4 II.iv.202 of swords
honour of my blood, by the 2H4 IV.ii.55  
hood, by my MV II.vi.51 of a mask
sword, by this H5 II.i.96  
troth and maidenhead, by my H8 II.iii.23 faithful virginity
white glove, by this LLL V.ii.411  
white hand of my lady, by the H5 III.vii.90  
will, by my LLL II.i.99  


Item Example Gloss [where needed]
clouds, by yond Cor III.i.50  
day, as sure as 1H4 III.i.244  
day, by this 2H4 III.ii.73  
elements, by th’ Cor I.x.10  
light, by this KJ I.i.259  
light, by this good TNK II.i.320  
north pole, by the LLL V.ii.690  
world, by the LLL V.i.99  

Diseases, human or animal

Item Example Gloss [where needed]
bots on't Per II.i.119 horse worms
murrain on it, a Cor I.v.3 plague, pestilence
pox Ham III.ii.262 venereal disease, plague
pox, a 1H4 I.ii.47
pox on it, a Cym II.i.17 also: a pox on him [etc]

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